He boarded a cargo ship at San Francisco, which made the trek across the Pacific Ocean to Korea. "But as I went up to the top deck and I kept looking at San Francisco. The lights got dimmer and dimmer and I got more panic-stricken, turned around (and) there's nothing but darkness in front of me," he said.
"So as a human I had a lot of tears in my eyes. 'Well, I guess I'm in involved, I guess it's too late, I can't swim back'."
Yet when he arrived, he experienced the aspects of mission life in a foreign culture that can be overwhelming. "You really know your limitations when you're in a foreign environment. You have to get used to the food, the way people think – it's everything, it's different. Especially in Asia," he said.
Yet, he also felt "the romance of a mission."
"When people are in love you notice it right away," he said. "And a missionary has to fall in love somehow with the people he came to serve. And one way to be able to do that is learning the language."
Learning the language takes time, Fr. Hammond said, with a few humorous anecdotes of when he mixed up words that sound very similar to each other but have vastly different meanings.
Once in the confessional, he said he told one young person after another to pray a decade of the rosary as their penance. Yet because of how he pronounced his words, their literal translation was to go have a beer.
"So you go through the anger and frustration, all the things that any human person does, and then all of the sudden a Korean comes along and they help you say a few words, you gradually work into it," he said.
To be a missionary is "to be like the bamboo tree," he said, "because what's important about the bamboo tree is they put their roots down deeply and they're usually in a grove together. And that's what I think a missionary is – we must put our roots in deeply, but it takes time. You can't do it overnight."
There are two languages missionaries must learn, he said – the language of the people they serve, and "the language of the heart."
"I have to say this prayer every day when I get up: 'Lord, make my heart be like a Korean'," he said.
(Story continues below)
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For decades, Fr. Hammond has served in Korea. He makes trips twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, into North Korea with the Eugene Bell Foundation to treat persons suffering from multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Over the course of three weeks, the staff visits 12 tuberculosis centers in four provinces in the western half of the country.
Since 1995, Fr. Hammond has made 50 trips into North Korea to treat patients. "Not one of them [the trips] has ever been the same," he said. "There's always some difficulty or something that you don't expect. But I like to think of them sometimes in a more spiritual way, God loves to send us surprises."
Many people in the area test positive for tuberculosis, which is contagious through the air and can lie dormant for decades and attack when a person's immune system is weak, Dr. Stephen Linton, founder and president of the Eugene Bell Foundation, said.
In North Korea, "virtually everyone over 20 has had a brush with TB," he said, and several hundred thousand people per year are treated for it by the United Nations.
However, a particularly serious strain of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis is able to withstand the normal six-month drug treatments, and around 4-5,000 people develop this disease per year in North Korea. Those suffering from it have "failed treatment multiple times" and are "critically ill," Dr. Linton said, and will die within five years unless they receive the medication necessary to treat it. The international cure rate is only 48 percent.
The foundation treats around 1,200 patients per year for 18 months, at a cost 100 times that of treating regular tuberculosis, Dr. Linton said. The work must be done outside to prevent the airborne spread of the disease within an enclosed space, which means the work is sometimes done in the rain or in the North Korean winter.