By Theresa Carson
Shyness and a propensity for motion sickness are not common traits among missionaries, but Father Vu Nguyen Do, 34, is not going to let such inconveniences interfere with his call to be a missionary. When told that he cannot achieve a goal, he doubles down to make it happen. He has the grit of his ancestors.
Because of their devout Catholic faith, the elder generations of Father Vu’s family migrated from northern Vietnam to the south in 1954.
His parents worked in the fields in the Mekong River Delta in southernmost Vietnam. This region is the world’s second largest river delta and is often called the “rice bowl” because of the prolific amount of the grain produced there. In the region of Cần Thơ, Father Vu experienced a peaceful, rural upbringing.
In his village, he had a close relationship with priests and religious sisters. He said that many people in Vietnam hesitate to approach priests because the religious are revered and seen as having a high rank in society.
However, Father Vu said, “I was not hesitant. They fed me. I play around with them. I couldn’t have reach this point in life without them. They shared meals with me and supported my school work financially and spiritually.”
He doesn’t let fear or hesitation stop him. As a child, despite feeling anxious, he typically was one of the first students to raise his hand in class. The first time he read the Scriptures at Mass, his legs shook. He grasped the pulpit to steady him and continued to read.
“Little by little the environment changed me,” he said.
The same holds true for his life on the road. For the first 17 years of his life, Father Vu did not venture beyond 50 kilometers (30 miles) from his hometown. The narrow, bumpy roads in the area make for difficult travel.
In fact, the first time that he rode in a bus, he became nauseous. He was traveling with classmates to a computer science conference where they would compete in a robotic contest. But that trip did not deter him from eventually journeying farther and farther from his home.
After receiving his high school diploma, Father Vu considered joining the Society of the Divine Word, but the nearest novitiate was in Nha Trang about 600 km (375 miles) away from Cần Thơ. Instead, he decided to study computer science at An Giang University in Long Xuyen City, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2006.
Following college, he entered the diocesan seminary. Yet, the thought of becoming a missionary with the Society of the Divine Word continued to occupy his mind. While studying with the diocese, he attended Mass, formation programs and meals with diocesan candidates.
“I was an outsider, but they welcomed me,” he said.
When he announced the news that he intended to join the Society of the Divine Word, he surprised many people. They thought that his personality was more suited to a monastery.
With a subtle smile, he recalled the response of the people closest to him when he told them of his plans. “I said, ‘I joined the Society of the Divine Word.’ They said, ‘I think you are wrong,’ I always had the inner motivation that tells me, let’s try. I believe that God can change me.”
He traveled to Nha Trang to enter the community there. In 2008, he professed first vows with the missionary congregation. Then, he took one of the greatest leaps of his life. Having never before flown on an airplane, Father Vu accepted his superior’s wish that he go to North America for his graduate studies and experience missionary life.
“Even though I was scared to death, I got the interview with the U.S. Embassy,” said Father Vu, whose only knowledge of English at the time consisted of a handful of words, mostly foods such as water and orange juice.
During his six years in the United States, Father Vu fulfilled his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in San Bernardino, Calif.; earned two degrees from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; received a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate; professed perpetual vows in 2016; and wrote a self-published book about the Catholic Church in Vietnam.
He hopes that the book, “Animating Missionary Discipleship: Mission Theology and the Mission of the Vietnamese Catholic Church,” will encourage dialogue between people of faith and the Vietnamese government so that together they foster a welcoming and harmonious society.
This summer, Father Vu will return to Vietnam for his first assignment. He will serve as assistant to the provincial of the Vietnam Province. He also hopes to teach the English language and to continue to pursue higher education in the future.
Of his amazing journey to date, he simply said, “Somehow, God whispered in my ear.”