Fr. Tam Nguyen, SVD, and Christmas in Togo

Far from the bright Christmas lights and sounds of jingle bells, Fr. Tam Nguyen celebrates Christmas on the other side of the world

The following message was sent by Fr. Tam Nguyen, SVD to the DWC community through Fr. Ken Anich, SVD. Fr. Tam is a graduate of DWC.

Dear Ken,
The pour-house picture reminds me of the coziness of Christmas at DWC. We are in the same spirit of Advent, but it’s really a different world. It’s dusty and dry here now in the North of Togo. There is no white and green color around, no Christmas tree and lights…
It’s the hamatan season (dust storm from Sahara). The people start burning bushes to clean up the field which makes it more difficult to breathe, not to mention the air is already full of dust. I don’t know why they still do the slash and burn here, but it seems like it’s the fastest way to clean up and hunt field rats and other wild animals. It’s amazing how they manage to put out the fire (not with water but with sticks) when it gets near houses. So far I haven’t seen houses burned down or the people get hurt by fire. One night a mother brought to the mission her 2 year-old boy who was burned from head to toe and his skin was completely removed; he was so white that I thought it’s a baby who just came out from his mother’s womb. I thought he was burned by the fire, but it was a hot big pot of the local drink that he accidentally felled into. He was still breathing when we reached to the hospital that is 60km away, but he did not survive the next day. I have been bewildered by the question how a person can be prepared for something like this? Advent is the time of preparation, of joy and hope, but I find it hard to preach the message as seeing people living in poverty and dying everyday.    
I am working in the area that I had spent my first Christmas in Togo back then when I did my OTP in 2004. I always wonder how God has brought me here again. I remember how I was so homesick and wanted to go home the next day when I got here. I admired and wondered how the early missionaries were able to live and work here. I thought I could never do it. Now each day coming home from villages on the same road that I was on 6 years ago, I feel amazed. I am doing what I thought I could not do. Being here today brings me closer to the heart of my missionary vocation. I love adventure and God has given it to me. I love helping and God has given me the chance to help. It seems like God has always been ahead of me leading me to where I would be able to realize later. So, I learn to trust Him more as each experience encountered. My journey has been long and far, yet near and close to what God has created in me.
Thank you for your email, especially for helping me forwarding my greetings and updates to confreres and friends at DWC. I thank God for the encouragement and thoughtful words from them, my teachers, mentors and friends that continue to walk with me in the mission of God.  I thank God also for the generous hearts of our benefactors that God has sent to help us to do His mission.
I’m doing fine with the help of the new confrere from Indonesia. We are the same age and work well together. We have created successfully a new parish administration and catechist team that really brings in a new spirit to the parish. I’m happy that people respond and collaborate. Since I got here, I have applied some of the ideas in my MA thesis on the four marks ofa missionary parish: inviting, listening, celebrating, and collaborating. Last Saturday I gave the Advent recollection to the catechists and teachers in the parish (we have two Catholic elementary schools, middle school, high school, and vocational school), and it went well. There were 54 participants. I was deeply touched by their confessions. Some have left the church for a long time and it was the first time they came back and felt whole again. I concluded the recollection in my homily that God has given us a new beginning today and let us not forget it tomorrow. I took pictures with them so we can be reminded of the blessed moment of this Advent 2010. I plan to do this again for them during Lent.
Wishing you and everyone at DWC a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.