With God’s helping hand leading the way, a Tonganoxie couple has decided to become lay missioners in East Timor
by Jill Esfeld Ragar
TONGANOXIE — At a time in life when most people retire to a world of leisure, Sacred Heart parishioners John and Cindy Korb are moving halfway around the world to a new challenge.
Instead of taking up golf, the Korbs will be immersing themselves in a new culture, a new language, and a very dif- ferent lifestyle. They will be lay missioners in East Timor — a tiny, struggling new country located on an island in the Indonesian archipelago.
“Things have just worked out too perfectly for this not to be meant to be,” said Cindy, shortly after she and her husband sold the home they’ve owned for more than 20 years, and possessions they’ve treasured even longer.
As the Korbs tell their story, it’s easy to see that, indeed, God’s hand has been clearing a path for them all along the way.
OF ONE MIND
Cindy and John met at Emporia State University where they both earned degrees in elementary education. Both went on to get their master’s degrees and taught in Tonganoxie where they raised their two daughters.
The Korbs shared a spirit of charity and considered joining the Peace Corps when they first married, but instead devoted their energies to serving others through their work, their church and in- volvement in their children’s activities.
In 2005, their oldest daughter, Katrina, graduated from college and moved to Kenya, East Africa. They went to visit her and were introduced to an organization called Homeless Children International. The Korbs worked with Kenyan children that summer and were so moved by the experience that they returned in the summer of 2007.
“It’s just a great feeling to have kids hold on to your hand with gratitude,” said John. “They realize education is their only hope of getting out of poverty.
“We dearly loved working there and that’s when we started our plans to retire early. We weren’t sure of [which] organization yet, but we knew this is what we wanted to do.”
At the time, the couple figured they had two years until they could retire. They began searching the Internet for possible opportunities to serve overseas. Their search almost always brought up the Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM).
“And then, last summer,” recalled Cindy, “I went to [the MKLM Web site] and it popped up that they were having a discernment weekend at the end of July . . . and the date to register was that day.”
John was working outside in the yard at the time. When he came in for lunch, Cindy pinned him down.
“OK, John, how serious are we about this?” she asked.
“Let’s just do it and see what happens,” he replied
Cindy called MKLM two hours before the deadline and reserved space at its July discernment weekend in New York.
That summer, the Korbs’ youngest daughter, Andrea, had just finished graduate school and was home looking for a job coaching college basketball. They wanted her to come with them to New York, but she was hesitant.
“We were going to meander around and then spend this one weekend at Maryknoll,” said Cindy. “Andrea’s quandary was: She had several resumes out, and what if somebody should call her for an interview — she’d be on the road.”
Finally, the night before John and Cindy left, Andrea decided to go with them.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Cindy said. “We were in New York and [Andrea] got a phone call from Hartwick College (in Oneonta, N.Y.), asking her if she could come for an interview. She said, ‘Yeah, I’m two hours away.’ She went to the interview and got the job.”
With both daughters employed away from home, the Korbs felt even more certain of their decision. The discernment weekend solidified that decision by answering all their questions and showing them that MKLM fit their needs.
Andrea said she is very excited for her parents.
“They’re both extremely generous people who like to help out others,” she said. “This is definitely something they’ve always wanted to do, and I’m really happy for them.”
And Katrina, who first introduced her parents to international travel, is a lecturer at a university in Nigeria and looking forward to hearing about their adventure.
“It’s so important that faith be lived out in practical ways and one good way to do that is to serve cross-culturally,” she said. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity for them.”
Once the Korbs knew they wanted to be lay missioners, they went through a thorough application process and then flew back to New York for an interview. At that time they learned their missionary opportunities would be in Kenya, El Salvador, Cambodia or East Timor. They were given several weeks to research, pray and then submit a location preference in writing.
“Initially, we thought we wanted to go to Kenya,” said Cindy. “But Kenya was only in need of medical help, so then we started thinking Cambodia.”
“Cambodia had two things that bothered us,” said John. “We knew the language was extremely difficult and the humidity and heat are really powerful.”
They had similar reservations about El Salvador.
East Timor needed educators, but the couple understood the area was isolated and Internet access was limited; they weren’t comfortable losing contact with their daughters.
In the end, their prayerful decision was no decision at all.
“We said, ‘We’re open. Wherever the Lord needs us, that’s where we’ll go,’” said John. “We did put in writing that we had to have Internet access.”
As time passed, John learned more about East Timor and began to feel perhaps that should have been their choice. He even learned that the Internet was now accessible from the city of Dili, where they could easily travel each weekend.
One day when they were out walking, John confided his feelings to Cindy and was surprised to find that she also had been thinking about East Timor.
When the regional coordinator for East Timor called the couple, he was in for a surprise.
“He started out by saying, ‘I know it’s not one of your top choices, but would you consider coming to East Timor?’” recalled Cindy. “And I just laughed and said, ‘That’s kind of where I figured we would end up.’ And he said, ‘What?’”
Cindy and John have been spending this year preparing family, friends and themselves for their new life. The couple has finished up duties at school and church, sold their home, and purchased a small house in Tonganoxie that they refer to as “home base.”
John’s mother, Dorothy Korb, who is a Sacred Heart parishioner, said she’s proud of her son and not surprised at the couple’s decision.
“Ever since he was a little kid, he’s always wanted to go overseas and do something,” she said. “I hate to see him go that far away, but I think it’s wonderful, and I just hope everyone prays for them.”
Father Mark Goldasich, pastor of Sacred Heart, said his congregation has that covered.
“We’re going to do a prayer service and blessing for them,” he said. “They’ve always been very generous and compassionate people, and always very helpful around the parish.”
Fellow parishioner Pat Walker, who has known John since grade school, said her support will go beyond prayers because the couple give her confidence in MKLM.
“When we give [monetary donations], we want to make sure it’s going to help people — not to help support administrators in a better style of living,” she said. “With John and Cindy, we’re very confident in that.”
The couple will go through a 13-week orientation beginning this September. Five weeks will be devoted to learning the Austonesian language Tetum. They’ll leave for their assignment sometime next January.
They admit it hasn’t been easy, but said their strong Catholic faith has helped them come to terms with letting go of the past and looking toward their future.
John finds strength in saying the Prayer of St. Francis each morning.
“We’ve been blessed in so many ways,” he said. “The things we’ve accomplished are beyond my dreams as a little boy on the farm. It’s time to give back; we really feel strongly about that.”
“And the things we thought were precious, they’re just material things,” he added. “People are important. Helping others is important. Being able to put a smile on a child’s face — that’s precious.”
Father Goldasich said his personal prayer for the Korbs is that, through this new experience, they gain a sense of what good people they are.
“They’re truly embarking on something so different at a time when most people are winding down. They’re going into a mission country, learning new customs and [a new language — it takes a special gift to do that.
“I’m glad they have that gift and they have the courage to go out on a limb and undertake this. I have no doubt they will do marvelously.”