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Strangers in a strange land

How faith helps us face the unknown

In 1993, during my second year in seminary, we celebrated a first as we welcomed two new seminarians from China. It was a wondrous experience for both the seminary community at large as well as for my class, as we welcomed Peter and Joseph into our midst. I vividly remember the stories Joseph and Peter shared with us during those first few weeks. They had no idea they were going to leave for studies in the United States until just a few hours before their departure. They had almost no time to say their goodbyes to family and friends. Both had learned a little bit of English, but there was much more for them to learn. They shared about the very difficult conditions faced by the Catholic Church in China at that time as well as their amazement at the openness and tolerance that is a part of our society.

As they shared their stories and as they grew to become an integral part of the seminary community, I couldn’t help but marvel at their willingness to come to a strange land with its strange language, culture and customs. It was hard to imagine being in their shoes, leaving behind everything that was familiar and comfortable and loved, taking the risk to enter into unknown territory. Yet they would say again and again that God had been so good to them in providing them with this opportunity and that they trusted in faith that God would see them safely through, permitting them, in time, to return to their native land.

People like Joseph and Peter and Vy Than, who is the subject of this month’s cover story, have a great deal to teach us about how we can, like them, face unknown territory with faith, hope and trust in God. When Vy and her family came to the United States from their native Vietnam in 2000, their experience was much like that of my classmates, Peter and Joseph. With the same trust in God’s goodness and with the support of a loving faith community, a strange land, filled with the unknown, has become a new home. Vy’s experience has deepened her love for God and her trust in God’s goodness.

As Lent begins, each of us is standing at a gateway that can lead us into unknown territory. How will our spiritual lives grow and change in the weeks ahead? Who will we be as people of faith when we emerge from Lenten quiet into Easter glory? Will we make good use of the days ahead as an opportunity for individual and communal growth, or will we just mark time until Easter is here once again? This is unknown and challenging territory. Yet Vy, Peter and Joseph teach us that we can see this experience as an opportunity to trust even more deeply in God’s goodness and willingness to see us through. They also remind us that we have a responsibility to support and encourage one another as faith-filled companions along the way. And so our journey in FAITH continues.