As a sophomore, I took a class on Christian missionaries in Asia, creatively titled “Jesus Comes to Asia.” For the final exam, we had to write some short essays on two novels we read for the course. I never thought I’d quote it in a writing class, but one of my essays concluded as follows:
In Endo’s novel, the Asian Christian convert, Kichijiro, comes to Asia. In Spence’s novel, the Asian Christian convert, Hu, quite contrastingly comes from Asia. Although its setting only a century after Silence renders the prefiguration somewhat premature, the reversal evident in The Question of Hu is nevertheless indicative of the transition that is to soon occur. That once in Europe “Hu begins to preach”—even if only mockingly or coincidentally—is a sure sign that soon Jesus will no longer just come to Asia (Spence 84). In just a matter of time, Jesus will come from Asia.
Reading this passage two years later, I am almost shocked by how much it relates to my current project about Catholicism in Asia. Let me explain…
The first half of the class focused almost exclusively about how Christianity was introduced to Asia. Foreign missionaries from Spain, for example, were instrumental in converting the natives of the Phillipines to Catholicism at the beginning of the Age of Exploration. Later, Jesuits priests took the Faith to India, Japan, and eventually China. By the time the class reached the ninteenth and twentieth centuries, however, a curious thing happened. Asia stopped importing missionaries and began to export them. Today, in response to the current crisis of faith in the West, Asia is sending missionaries to the very lands that once sent missionaries to it. This can be seen even locally, as two of the Catholic priests that serve in parishes here in Ann Arbor are Indian. Indeed, following the theme of the course, Jesus is coming from Asia, not just to it.
I think this issue opens up a whole new dimension of my project that, frankly, I had forgotten about. Before, I was viewing the East and the West a bit in isolation. In reality, though, it seems that they are much more connected than I thought. As I continue with my research, I will be especially attentive to the ways in which, centuries after being introduced to the Catholic Faith by the West, Asia is starting to return the favor.