Utume - Nairobi - Kenya, 25 January 2022 -- Cl Paul Quan was sent by the Rector Major to the then Anglophone West Province (AFW) with headquarters in Ghana, spread across 4 countries of Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana. After the re-configuration of the Western Africa Provinces in 2021 he is at present a member of the AOS (South Western Africa) Province and 3rd year theology student in one of the largest Salesian theologates in Africa, Utume in Nairobi.
Q: How did your missionary vocation come about? Some significant events or persons?
When I was in novitiate, I read the pilgrimage of a priest to India who narrated the journey of St Francis of Xavier in India. The journey of this great saint made me melt immediately. I then consulted with my novice-master that I would like to be a missionary in India one day. He, however, said that I was much better to change to other destinations if I were a missionary, for the confreres are many in India. They even have 12 provinces.
The consultation didn’t make me disappointed about my first wish. I understood the meaning of seeking God’s will. Continuing to cultivate the seed of the missionary vocation during the 3 years of post-novitiate, I eventually applied to be a missionary Ad-Gentes, even though my parents had not been delighted with my decision. Then I was properly sent to AFW province which included 4 countries: Ghana, Nigieria, Liberia and Sierra Leone. From there I’m assigned to work in Sierra Leone.
Q: What are the challenges or difficulties you faced in your life as a missionary?
Life in Sierra Leone is tough. The internet is very poor. Electricity is on for only half a day. I also have to cope with the heat of Africa, local food and language. However, the most difficult challenge I’ve faced is how to inculcate gratitude in children. The receiving mentality seems to be deeply rooted in their thinking which stops them from being generous with others. As Don Bosco used to say: Give me any child who has gratitude, and I will properly educate him to be a good person. Imitating Don Bosco, I also would love to help them in this particular aspect. “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Mt 10:8). I, therefore, have tried to witness by my daily life, so that one day they might realize giving is receiving, giving is more blessed than receiving.
Q: Look back on the first years of your missionary life, tell us your greatest joy.
What I am going to tell you was extraordinary to me. It was beyond my expectation. Besides looking after 5 primary schools in the different places, I assisted a junior secondary school (JSS), too. The Salesian principal of JSS said that he would like to have a brass band in the school. Even though I didn’t known much how to play various instruments in the brass band apart from the trumpet, I agreed to take care of it. Finally, we bought numerous instruments for the brass band. I subsequently learned how to play the other instruments online while I was teaching music theory in the school, helping the students how to read music notes. Once they know how to read music notes, they could be self-reliant to play the other songs when I left. Based on the experience of playing in the brass band that I got from the pre-novitiate to post-novitiate, I taught the students the same as I was taught. It was incredible. After two months, they started to play properly. The first song they played was “Amazing Grace”. Although they didn’t know its meaning, I would like to make use of it to thank God for the grace that He has granted to them and me. And the second song they played was their national anthem. Since I left, they have played without my assistance. It was just fantastic.
Q: Your word to the young Salesians who are discerning a Salesian missionary vocation?
As I faced a variety of difficulties in the missionary life, one Salesian Brother encouraged me: “Why do you let the difficulties put you down? You have already known those difficulties before going out of the country as a missionary. Wherever we are sent, and no matter how difficult it would be, remember always that a missionary life is a vocation from God. He chooses and sends us through our Rector Major as a successor of Don Bosco. Because of poverty, there are difficulties in those places, which is why we were sent. God will not send us to the wealthy and easy places. For He says: “I am sending you like lambs among wolves” (Lk 10: 3). Those difficulties make up the worthiness of the word “missionary” that a missionary has to be.”
I was encouraged by those words. Now I also would like to share with you, so that when you face with difficulties you may keep up your courage to overcome them. Wishing that you will always listen and understand God’s will. Pray for me. Thanks!