Dreams Do Come True
by Fr. Timothy Mulroy, SSC.
Fr. Tim is the Director of the U.S. Region of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. This piece originally appeared on columban.org.
I first encountered Tien in Tokyo. He had traveled there from Australia, while I had come from Ireland. Both of us were Columban seminarians who had come to Japan in order to study the language and learn about missionary life. Both of us were twenty-seven years old.
During the next few years as I came to know Tien, I realized that while both of us had similar dreams for the future, his past had uniquely prepared him to become a Columban missionary.
One of thirteen children, Tien grew up in Vietnam as communism was advancing from the north to the south. At the age of fifteen, he tried to escape from his homeland by boat, but was caught and thrown into prison for three months. After his release, rather than return to school, he decided to assist his father who had a small business repairing musical instruments.
Knowing that he would be forced to join the army at eighteen, his father began to plan a second escape. However, this time Tien would not only have to concern himself with his own safety, but also with the wellbeing of his three younger brothers who were to accompany him.
It was a frightening and worrisome venture that tested and strengthened his faith. Together with forty-five other passengers, they endured cramped conditions on rough seas for thirteen days. Finally, weary but relieved, they arrived in Malaysia.
There they spent the following twelve months in a refugee camp, where Tien cared for his three younger brothers. Daily life was filled with hardships. Furthermore, remembering family members and their past life made them feel homesick, while thinking about their uncertain future provoked anxiety and fear. Yet, in the midst of such suffering, they learned to enjoy the small pleasures of life, and to be grateful for the concern and kindness of other refugees who shared a similar plight.
Then, one day Tien heard his own name and that of his three brothers called out over the loudspeaker of the refugee camp. Their prayer had been answered: the government of Australia had agreed to open its doors to them. A new day was dawning, filled with hope and promise.
After mastering English, Tien completed his high school education. Then, he decided to become a Columban seminarian. Today, Fr. Nguyen Xuan Tien ministers in the archdiocese of Tokyo, sharing his faith that overcame so many obstacles, and was sustained by so many acts of kindness from strangers. His journey continues to inspire others to hold onto their dreams even in the midst of desolation. His story is a reminder that all of us have a part to play in making such dreams come true.
Weekly Reflections on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.