Scholastic Min John Kim SJ, YIUTSARI Jesuit Centre for Migrant Workers, Gimpo, Korea
I would like to speak about a foreign worker I tried to help. When I met him, he asked me to help him to change companies. From the first, I realized it would be difficult. At present our Korean government imposes some impediments toward migrant workers changing companies because employers want the migrants to continually serve their company. I explained to him that we would have a difficult time getting him released from the company. When I contacted the company, the company's response came as no surprise. The employer shouted at me: "Are you Korean? If so, you should not help this migrant. Why do you bother me? Mind your own business." If the company had violated Korean labour law, I could have followed the correct legal process. However, he wanted to change the company because of cultural differences, so I could do nothing except trying to persuade the employer.
In my experience, it would be extremely difficult to persuade employers to release the migrants. In this case, I failed to do so. I said to the foreign worker, "I am sorry. I am afraid that you will have to work in this company till the end of your contract." I felt really sorry for that. Surprisingly, he got very thankful to me. "Brother, thank you very much. I am just satisfied with your endeavour to help me." I was surprised. Why does he give me gratitude? I just failed to help him...
I am working in our Korea Province Jesuit Centre for Migrant Workers. Previously, the area where we stay was famous for agriculture. But now companies have begun moving into this area because of the low price of land. Now, out of a total population of 238,000, around 30,000 migrants live in this area. 7 years ago, the Jesuit Centre where I work was founded to help these migrants, whose numbers grew and grew. The main concern of the Centre is placed on social services for the migrants.
The experience which I described to you happened months ago. I confess that this man touched my mind. Before this experience, I unconsciously thought that if I failed to help the people, I failed in my mission, so I got depressed. I was accustomed to evaluating my job based on success. He changed my viewpoint. He was ready to give thanks for even tiny things. He could find a thankful thing even in failure. On the contrary, my eyes were directed only at success. I realized that I had made a mistake in defining my job. I decided to change my mind. What is the significance of the presence of the Jesuit Centre? We find it not in the efficiency of our apostolic activities, but in living and sharing with the migrants. Ironically the Korean name of our Centre is Yiutsari, i.e., Living with Neighbours. At the end of my regency, I come to realize the real meaning of my mission. The focus of this mission, the reason why I was sent to the Centre, was not primarily on successful engagement but on accompaniment with neighbours. I will soon enter my theology studies in preparation to become a priest. My regency has given me a special chance to reflect on the real meaning of apostolic life.
Sch. Min John Kim SJ (top row, centre)
YIUTSARI Jesuit Centre for Migrant Workers