Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)

I usually follow the various activities of dioceses and, from time to time, I look for information about missionaries going back to their countries of origin, due to health or advanced age problems. There are also missionaries who positively decide to return to their own countries. After years of experience as missionaries in Japan or elsewhere, they want to work in their countries of origin, making use of their past experience, once they realize the local churches are somehow well established. This is called "reverse mission."
The lack of priests at home, on one hand, and the wish to come in direct contact with the social issues in their countries impel some priests that are in the prime of life to start a new evangelization mission.
A missionary that returned to his country, 2 years ago, came to Japan again during the summer. He mentioned that, back home, he became very busy. Considering that he comes from a Christian country where the numbers of Christians cannot be compared to Japan, it should be natural that he would be very busy with so much work to be done.
One can imagine that this type of new evangelization is influenced by the lack of vocations in industrial countries and the change of attitudes among missionaries. In other words, missionaries of pre-Vatican II tended to remain in mission countries for all their lives. In fact, even now, one finds missionaries advanced in age that never returned to the countries of origin for more than 40 years.
This way of thinking is not found so often among those missionaries in their late fifties and sixties. Should their health be in better condition, missionaries willing to go to work in less developed countries would change their minds.

Up to now, I have been talking about priests and religious missionaries in Japan, but the same reverse mission, in a different manner, can also be seen among the laity.
Japan has a lay association, called Japan Lay Missionary Movement (JLMM). The candidates receive a training of 7 months, that takes place every year, from April to November and once they move to the countries of their mission spend 6 months studying the local language there. Then, after this one-year training, they start living and working as missionaries in various countries under a two or three year contract.
When the time of their mission expires they return home and make use of past experiences, by organizing new NGOs or working with already established aid groups. Some among them help in the training of new JLMM members. This is also a very important "reverse mission."
The fact that lay people are sent abroad, with a time-limit mission, provides them opportunities to spread the Gospel in ways different from religious missionaries, once they return home. Priests and religious returning to Japan, once their missions abroad end, will mostly work in parishes or in institutions run by the religious and not so much in other secular jobs, as lay people do.
Nevertheless, even if priests or religious missionaries abroad perform such reverse missions, after they return to Japan, the fact of having lay missionaries working in Japan might change the course of events. The reason being, that some lay missionaries become priests and, after working in Japan for a while, they are sent as missionaries abroad.
Actually, this reverse mission is still under trial in the Japanese church and I think it is important to make use of the experiences and opinions of volunteers with long years of service abroad and of lay missionaries. And again, such attitude is an issue that has a great meaning for the evangelization of Japan.
JLMM has lay missionaries working in Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Micronesia and East Timor. Their activities in each place depend much on the personal qualities of the people sent. Lay missionaries live near the people and work in the promotion of ethnic minorities, health and literacy education and other similar programs.
People interested, please, contact
JLMM office
(Tel.03-5414-5222 / Fax03-5414-0991)
http://jlmm.net/  e-mail:jlmm@jade.dti.ne.jp
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