A Present-day Good Samaritan
by Fr Barry Cairns
The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Van Gogh
May 1890, Saint-Rémy.
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands [Web Gallery of Art]
One of my recent side jobs was to teach for a term as a substitute lecturer at a junior college in Yokohama. There were 30 students in the class. Many were destined to be social workers in Christian-run homes for children with disabilities, retirement homes and hospices. Not one of the students was a Christian. For this reason, the dean of the College asked me to give a ten-week course entitled simply, ‘Christianity.’ At my request each student was to have a copy of the New Testament and a copy of Shūsaku Endō‘s Life of Jesus. (Both in Japanese as were the lectures.)
Fr Barry Cairns with First Communicant, Japan
At the end of the term there was an exam. I gave the students four essay-type questions. One was, ‘Open your New Testament at the Gospel of Luke, chapter ten, verses 25 – 37 and give a modern day version of the parable of the Good Samaritan.’
One student’s answer left me with a deep, lasting impression. I remember this student well. He sat in the front seat on my left. In the first class after the long summer vacation, he still seemed to have a holiday air. His hair stood in spikes that were dyed green. He wore long earrings. This is my translation of what he wrote ten weeks later.
When I was in my first year of high school I was the smallest in my class. My eyesight was poor and I wore thick glasses. I stuttered with nervousness when a teacher would ask me a question. I was not athletic and was bullied by my classmates. Even my homeroom teacher would sometimes imitate my stutter.
Fr Barry Cairns with Izumi and Mina, two 20-year-old parishioners celebrating Coming of Age Day.
I was lonely and my heart felt wounded. I used to take my lunch box to the far side of the sports oval and eat alone. One day a classmate came over and sat beside me. At first he just sat on the bench and was quiet. Somehow I felt his compassion. Then he said to me, 'I am of Korean ancestry. In Japan we bear discrimination as you know. I know what it is like to be bullied and lonely. Take heart and let’s face school life together. You are not alone.'
From that time a great healing began within me. I felt the beginning of a new self-confidence. Over the years this new life has matured. And here I am training to be a social worker to help the disadvantaged. I am here because of that Korean Good Samaritan who was so gentle with me. Now I am going to do likewise.
I took his paper to the dean to explain why I had given him an A+.
Columban Fr Barry Cairns, a New Zealander, was ordained in 1955 and has been a missionary in Japan since 1956.