By Theresa Carson
Divine Word Missionaries Carl Gales and Derek Nguyen professed perpetual vows at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Chicago on Sept. 18.
Divine Word seminarian Derek Nguyen, 33, ponders the journey that brought him here, he thanks five people in particular: his godfather, Monsignor Tuan Joseph Pham; a cousin, Kenny Nguyen; Drew Anh Vu and Lam Phat Vu, who taught him how to fish; and Lily Hoang Lan Do, a woman whom he met through his godfather and who encouraged his physical, spiritual and mental well-being.
“They helped me tremendously through my spiritual journey,” he said. “When I reflect on good things that happen in my life, I think of them.”
That journey began with a precipitous beginning. Derek was born to Vietnamese parents while in a Malaysian refugee camp. He was declared dead shortly after birth. To save him, a recently released prisoner donated blood to the infant. And thus begins the story of Derek Nguyen.
“God always sends his angels,” said Derek as he reflects upon his times of need. Two years ago, during his Cross-Cultural Training Program in Mexico, he again needed those human angels.
“God send angels in [the form of] people, pastor and the community,” he said. He spent the first four months in Mexico City, learning Spanish. He then went to Jalisco to do ministry in a parish, assisting in a small chapel, working with the youth and visiting elders.
The language barrier was difficult to overcome, but Derek used his sense of humor to communication with people.
Each week, he traveled to a different chapel in the area, celebrated the Word and took the Eucharist to the people. With the youth, he collected food and distributed it to the less fortunate. Often, he would sit with elders to talk, pray the rosary and eat with them.
“God has blessed me, so I go to others to give blessings, friendship and journey with the people,” he said.
During his time in Mexico, he developed stomach issues. “The people came to my aid,” he said. “Whatever I experience in the future, God will always provide for me.”
Among his blessings, he counts the many people who sent prayers and money that he used to buy blankets, food and other necessities for the impoverished families he met.
“I felt special, an instrument of God, because I was doing what God would have done,” he said. “Through journey be open, be humble because with humility you can continue to serve people because Jesus would serve. Jesus would do mission. His mission is my mission. By being open, I allow different possibilities to shape and form me to become a better person and humbly serve God.”
In May, Derek will be ordained to the priesthood. He will serve his first assignment in Ecuador.
“I’m adventurous and will use what I learned in Mexico,” he said.
He and classmate Carl Gales will be ordained as deacons in October, and they will continue their studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. During that time, Derek will serve as a transitional deacon at Holy Child Jesus Parish in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood.
To learn more about Derek, we invite you to read “Silence Not a Given for Divine Word Frater Derek Nguyen.”