By Theresa Nguyen, VIDES USA (2015-2018)
In the summer of 2015 I entered an unknown stage of my life – entrusting into God’s hands my life for the next year as a VIDES volunteer missioner. What started out as a one-year commitment turned into two…and then three years.
After paying off all my school loans, I decided to resign from my job and finally give of myself fully. This decision brought me to Scotland, Poland, Italy, Canada, and Switzerland. I always wanted to dedicate some of my time to missionary work and to live out Pope John Paul II’s call, “Totus Tuus”. This need for more led me to encounter the Salesian sisters (sponsors of the VIDES program) and their charism – empowering women and youths to be protagonists of their lives through education. In countries which seemingly had everything, I found youths thirsting for more and longing to fill a void they could not quite describe – a spiritual desert. As I soul-searched, I found solace and meaning serving the youths seeking their purpose in life and breaking society’s spiritual poverty norms through my shared struggles and encounters. If I had not trusted in God’s guiding hands I would not have had such wonderful experiences.
Wherever I was, whatever I did, whether praying, working, cleaning, cooking, eating, or talking, the Salesian joy was infectious and the more I learned about their founders, Saint John Bosco and Saint Mary Mazzarello, the more I grew to love their ways with the youth. At the end of the day, I came to discover that despite each person’s differences we share a common ideal – happiness.
As I opened up to all the possibilities of life, I found myself in Geneva, Switzerland as an Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice (IIMA) Human Rights Office intern.
Anticipation, trepidation, appreciation… these were the words that went through my mind as my alarm suddenly shook me out of sleep at 5:30AM, which would become the norm for the next few months. Finally, our internship group could go and pick up our United Nations badges. Upon eating breakfast and wearing our Sunday best, we were out the door by 6:25AM to catch the number eight bus to Palais des Nations. Our group got off the Appia stop and walked towards the United Nations building prepared to go through security. Luckily, there was not one person in sight – just us. It was a miracle!
In front of me, I was holding onto my badge – a most precious identity. The IIMA Human Rights Office had entrusted to me the great task to help represent its organization as an intern. For the last two and a half years, I had worked with the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, Figli di Maria Ausiliatrice (FMA), who founded the institute and its lay missionary organization, Voluntariato Internazionale Donna Eduazione Sviluppo (VIDES), to promote and defend the rights of women and children through education. Now, here I was, again, thousands of miles away from home continuing to share their mission commitment. This time, I was at the heart of their mission to help bring witness to why we were at the United Nations, which was to encourage a world where young people may realize their full potential.
Why me? What would I be able to share?
Inside the place where change happened, I felt even smaller. I had come to Geneva with uncertainty and without much faith in my abilities to be a voice for change, yet, here was a great opportunity to grow and learn.
As an intern, I had the opportunity to sit in on United Nations meetings, draft reports, write web articles, and create presentations to be shared online and distributed to the sisters in the field. Notably, each of the interns, including myself, had the opportunity to give oral statements in front of State ambassadors and representatives during the Human Rights Council session. This was a lifetime experience!
Sitting at the UN, I could see how Saint John Bosco’s dream to empower the youth is realized today because, while we have young missioners all over the world, we were here at the world stage to be the very face and voice of the Institute. I, without any knowledge of international relations and human rights law and only fluent in one language, may have felt small, but through humility and God’s grace, I could achieve many things I did not think was possible. How certainly blessed I was!
Therefore, in light of my VIDES volunteer mission thus far, my only request is, “Why not start now? Why not trust in God’s merciful love and compassionate hand?” You see, for me, no matter where I am, I know I can count on Him to be my refuge, my comfort – my home.
Your fellow missioner.