In September 2012, 17 Vietnamese were sent as missionaries ad gentes within the context of the 143rd Salesian Missionary Expedition. Fr Thomas Huan, SDB, is one of these. He is part of the Province of Western English-speaking Africa (AFW) and wanted to share some reflections on the missionary life that he leads in Nigeria.
How do you feel after the first six years as a missionary ad gentes?
Initially we were like strangers in a new land, but gradually we became part of the new country and its culture. We were a surprise for the youth and for everyone else around us. We are asked many questions and this offers a good opportunity to share, to encourage young people to the vocation or to invite them to live as responsible citizens.
How was your missionary vocation born?
Missionary life is a vocation. God calls each of us in different ways and the way we respond is not always the same. In my case, I was a novice at Ba Thon, in Vietnam, and one day Fr Francis Nhat told us about his experience as a missionary in southern Sudan. He touched my heart and I thought: “I will be a missionary!”
How did your experience in Nigeria start?
Before leaving, I studied, read books, asked for information to those who already knew the country. When I arrived I observed this new land. I had no particular difficulties, but at the beginning it was not easy to win their esteem and consideration, even on the part of my confreres. Some moments were difficult. So I wrote to my superior and received strong encouragement. “Do not be sad, but live and behave well, so that everyone can love you.”
What did you learn from Salesians in Africa and from young people?
Africans are good and friendly. I admire young people who face all their difficulties, such as poverty or lack of work, with courage and positivity. They fight for their rights and during their conversations they say their opinion, frankly and without fear.
Do you have any advice for young people who wish to undertake the missionary life?
First thing, do not be afraid of different realities! Secondly, learn to take care of both yourself and others. Third, share your ideas with humility. And of course pray, because without prayer you lose the essential meaning of the mission.