Interview with Matthew Nguyen, Salesian Lay Missioner
Vunabosco, PNG, 6 June 2019 -- Matthew is a 23-year-old Salesian Lay Missioner born of a Vietnamese family in the USA, with a vocation dream.
How has your journey in faith been until now?
I am what you would call a “cradle” Catholic, meaning since I was baptized as an infant, I’ve been brought up and educated in a typical Catholic home environment. However, in many ways, my faith journey has brought me places I’m still asking God for the grace to understand why. For most of my life, I’ve been enrolled in Catholic private schools, learning catechism through basic religion classes. It wasn’t until I was home-schooled and studying the Baltimore Catechism that my interest in my faith increased. Since then, many people in my life have encouraged me to be a priest, and so most of my life was centered around that main goal. Leading youth groups, participating in parish functions, and working various jobs in the archdiocese were just the foundations of my young adult life. Soon, I entered the seminary and explored the discernment process in a radical way. There, it was me and my Lord in the chapel many times, and I strived to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I eventually decided that the seminary was not where God was calling me to stay, and after much guidance from amazing priests, I ventured on to discern elsewhere.
My faith journey has been simple in nature, yet robust in love and the goodness of people. I’m here in Papua New Guinea not on my own, but with me, the love of our God and the Body of Christ. At this moment, I’m merely discerning the path God has set for me while trying to love as much as I can.
How did you get in touch with the SLM (Salesian Lay Missioners)?
This is actually a pretty funny story that kind of outlines my discernment into the seminary. I was studying for my final exams one day and my mother sends me a text. She expressed that she felt I was still unsure about the decision to attend seminary and sent me the website link for the SLM website, she knew how much I liked to work with youth. I didn’t think much about it, considering I was busy studying and almost forgot about it. Towards the end of the year in seminary, I was exploring missionary options and reached out to a couple friends. One of my friends suggested I come out to a discernment weekend to one of the missionary organizations they were applying for as well. Believe it or not, it was the SLMs. The rest is history being written in Papua New Guinea.
Most memorable moments of SLM formation and before send off?
Personally, our cohort of SLMs was a special bunch. We all clicked right off the bat and we felt comfortable sharing our lives with each other in such a great way. We really became a family before we had to go our separate ways and we still keep up with each other through group chats!
One night, we were heading home from a fundraising carnival we helped to set up at a local Salesian parish and on the ride back, we all prayed for and over each other. We prayed for God to give us the grace to be the best missionaries He was calling us to be. And we ended the night singing our favorite song “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” by Elvis Presley. We actually made a video about it on our Youtube channel in our respective assignments! Check it out!
You have received PNG as an ‘obedience’ destination, right? How did you feel then and how do you feel about it now?
We had some input as to where we would be assigned, but the choice ultimately fell to two places: Papua New Guinea or Malaysia. I was at a point in my life where I had already takenk a leap of faith signing up to be a missionary for a year, and so wherever I was to go, I had resolved to make the best of it. Looking back on it, I’m glad we were able to be here in Papua New Guinea. Although I prefer colder weather, I’m happy that my missionary partner Stephen is comfortable, he comes from a very warm part of the States. I’m also getting a little tan, so that’s a plus!
What did you learn so far from the PNG youth in Vunabosco? What do you admire? What do you like to correct?
From the very beginning, I was impressed by the boys’ zeal for life. They were so happy to welcome us on the first day at Don Bosco and every day since then, they’ve surprised me with how much they love being young and alive! I guess most of my admiration for their love for life comes from growing up in such a determined lifestyle where I knew exactly what was going to happen next. Here, the boys take everyday like a new opportunity, although sometimes to get into trouble.
One of the things that’s been tough to handle here sometimes is the perspective of collectivism that contradicts a lot of my American individualism. Most of the time, the pressure to not let down the community ingrained in the boys leads to positive results. The classes are some of the most respectful environments towards teachers I’ve ever been in and many of the boys finish their work in a timely fashion. Yet, like we’ve seen so far, if the leader/or the loudest member of the group decides to make a bad decision, everyone else follows suit. This leads to problems such as cheating, covering up rule-breaking, and ultimately, not taking responsibility for their own mistakes. It’s been a doozy to address as the year goes on, but there are improvements in some of the boys’ integrity as the year goes on. I’m hopeful!
What are your challenges with the SDB, youth, and teachers in Vunabosco?
The only thing to note really is that for most of the Salesians here, but for Fr. Casper, this is their first year here at Don Bosco. So even though the guys here have filled similar roles before, the adjustment period to the local way of life has been rough for a lot of us. This is true especially since Fr. Casper has been needing to attend many meetings out of province.
What makes you happy there?
Many things make me happy here, but I think what makes me the happiest, is being able to share in moments of happiness with others. Stephen and I reflect sometimes about our life here out on mission, and we realized something that contradicted our previous notions about being a missionary. The hardest things to handle on mission wasn’t the cold showers, oversaturation of rice at meals, or foreign illnesses, but the things we carried with us that didn’t count towards our travel weight limits. Many things we’ve been dealing with at home came with us to PNG, and most stress and anxiety stems from those sources. I’ve found that centering myself and refocusing on what I was called here for, helps me to be the happiest. In many ways, I’m finding myself more free to serve, to love, and to be, just by being with these boys who expect nothing but love from me. Pray for us!
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