I spent the last week in the beautiful city of Dalat, Vietnam, a city filled with flowers, coffee, french architecture, strawberries, mountains, and more. The cool “spring-time” weather was a nice break from the heat and hustle of Saigon. This short excursion was filled with a visit to a silk factory, a coffee farm, two trips to waterfalls, rainbow sightings, an intense hike up Langbiang Mountain, walks down the streets of the famous night market, and an evening spent at the Truc Lam Buddhist Monastery.
Vietnam is a country which predominantly practices the Buddhist religion, with ten percent of the population being practicing Christians. I knew the adjustment from my faith filled college campus to this country was going to be a challenge and I was expecting my faith to be tested but I was not sure what to expect.
Growing up Catholic, my family would go to mass every Sunday, with an occasional skipping of one Sunday for family vacations here and there. If we couldn’t make it on Sunday, we would go Saturday night. This was all a part of my weekend routine. Now, as a 20 year old college student, I have decided to continue furthering my faith. I am blessed to go to a Franciscan Catholic College which gives me opportunities to grow spiritually alongside my peers. And it’s not uncommon for me to attend mass 2-3 times every Sunday just because I love the people who go and all that I get out of college mass. While College has truly taught me more about my faith, being abroad has pushed me closer to God than I ever thought it would. I have been forced to lean upon His strength when He was the only comforting and familiar voice I knew. I left for a country across the world with just Him and I, and I continue trusting that He is with me through this entire process.
This past week, my class was invited to a Monastery to have dinner and practice meditation with the Buddhist nuns in Dalat. It was a beautiful experience that I am very thankful for. As we entered, we were given robes and took our shoes off. We sat tall on pillows as the nuns led us in a meditation.
In the Buddhist faith, meditation serves as an important tool for practicing mindfulness, being attentive to the true nature of one’s body and thoughts. The nun led us in a ten to fifteen minute silent meditation where we were to count our breaths. However, I didn’t follow the instructions and rather than focusing on my breathing, I decided to use to this time to sit with God in prayer. (I get that this defeated the purpose of a Buddhist mediation but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do). This was a perfect chance to spend time in deep and meaningful prayer. No distractions! It was a form of my own meditation. This allotted time forced me into constant and undisrupted prayer.
I came out of this prayer time calm. I was able to acknowledge and thank God for the opportunities I’m having, the people I’m meeting, and the beauty of the country that I’m observing. However I also left with the strongest yearning for Eucharist. I have never gone this long without communion and I knew that prayer and rosaries were doing me good, but nothing is as important as taking part in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
So Sunday came and I found myself a beautiful Catholic Cathedral to attend. Mass was at 7:00 am but for all that God is doing for me, waking up early was the least I could do. The mass was in Vietnamese so I was unable to understand the majority of the mass, but I was able to tell what part of the mass we were on and “Amen” is a universal word.
Walking up for communion was honestly the greatest feelings I have experienced here. I imagine I looked like a little kid in line to meet a Disney World character. I was beaming, knowing that in a few more steps I would receive the Body of Christ. Language barriers have hindered my ability to understand at times, distance has made it hard, and fear has knocked on my door many times, but this entire experience has shown me that God is going no where. Whether it is in small town Connecticut, my college campus, or on the other side of the world, He is present always, in the hills and in the valleys of this journey.
While I am unable to be constantly surrounded with a church community like back home, I have been able to maintain my faith life through different ways.
- I started saying rosaries every night (additional rosaries when stuck on a bus with food poisoning for five hours).
- I start every morning with prayer time and praise time, recognizing the blessings in life at this time.
- I keep in touch with my faith mentors back home through email, listening to their encouraging words and testimonies.
- I talk about my faith with the people around me.
- I learn about the different religions in Vietnam. Educating myself about the religious beliefs of others gives me much insight to religion as a whole.
- I listen to a lot of “K-Love” radio station and contemporary “Jesus-music.”
- I have two praying parents and a whole lot of praying family members who are always there to support me on this journey.
- I read a LOT of Catholic blogs.
I am finding God’s presence in so many ways here. I am finding him in the beauty that this country has to offer, the kindness of the people I am meeting, the relationship with my parents and family members back home, and through the strength that I am surprising myself I have. It has been the biggest test of my life and especially with the start of the Lenten season. It is difficult not having a faith filled community to back me up, but this study abroad adventure was about focusing on independence, being alone, and recognizing all that I am capable of. I think it is important that I grow as a Catholic, just me and my God.
In His name,