Papua New Guinea: Salesian Lay Missioners Renew Their Adventure with the Papua-Solomons Vice Province

07 Feb 2019

(ANS – Port Moresby, PNG – February 1) – The Salesian Lay Missioners of the New Rochelle Province had sent missionaries to Papua New Guinea from approximately 1993 to 2005. Since last year the provincial of the new Papua New Guinea-Solomon Islands Vice-Province (PGS) has sought to revitalize the presence of lay missionaries. This year a lay volunteer from Ecuador and two from the USA are coming. Below is an interview with the two SLMs who have arrived from America and recently concluded their cultural introduction to their host country.

Please, introduce yourselves briefly.

My name is Stephen Stafstrom, 21 years old. I come from Florida. I graduated last May  from the University of Central Florida. All my life I have been surrounded with witnesses of “yes” to God’s call in their lives. From my mother’s example as a youth minister at my parish to the name of my parish itself, Annunciation, the theme of choosing God’s will for your life has always been apparent; I have tried to live my life accordingly.

My name is Matthew Nguyen, 21 years old. I come from Texas, and I graduated from college in 2017. My parents immigrated to America during the Vietnam War when they were very young, and consequently, I was raised in America, learning English and assimilating into the culture. I speak no Vietnamese, and many times would have to learn a little Vietnamese here and there to communicate with some of my peers. This taught me what it means to be unable to communicate efficiently with others, yet I have also learned the joy of being able to communicate at all.

How did you come to know the Salesians?

Stephen: It was only in the fall of 2017 that the call to spend a year or more of my life in foreign mission crystalized. From there my story is a story of God clearing the way for me to find the Salesians. Briefly, I talked to our campus minister, who suggested a few great options (SLMs included). During my research on the Salesians, I was able to speak with a former SLM who had served in Ethiopia and Rwanda, and our conversation only confirmed the charism I most identified with. Next, I received confirmation from numerous friends and acquaintances along the way. Indeed, the Lord has put me on a journey to mission with the Salesians.

Matthew: When I went to college, suddenly I found myself surrounded by friends who were on fire for spreading the faith, called to do more than just “be holy.” But I started to discern being a missionary only a couple years ago when I met my very devout, very zealous friend at university who was on fire for sharing her faith with others. A few years later she mentioned she was looking into the Salesians among other things. I hadn’t heard that name in almost a year, and I went back to my texts with my mom only to realize it was the same program she had texted me the year before. Mother knows best, I guess.

Can you say something about your just concluded initial introductory course for new arrivals to the PGS Vice Province?

Stephen: The introductory orientation for five days upon our arrival in Port Moresby, guided by Fr. Alfred Maravilla, provincial, deepened our understanding of culture and gained us an appreciation for how the way of Don Bosco works with local Melanesian traditions and values.

Matthew: I found the introductory orientation like a breath of fresh air, giving me life and peace in what will be my home for a while. To be able just to live with my brothers here helped me realize that God was here before me in this place. Now he is just asking me to experience his love and mercy in a new way. These first five days I spent eating, learning, walking with the people here, and they have made me fall into the unitive love of the Trinity. My brothers and sisters have welcomed me with open arms. I don’t know if I’m ready, but I’m not afraid to follow anymore.

What can you say at the start of your missionary experience?

Stephen: Now that I’ve arrived in Papua New Guinea, God has further confirmed this call to mission through the support, kindness, and welcome of the people and the Salesian community. PNG is beautiful, and every day I am fascinated anew by something unique and wonderful.

Matthew: If mission is a call, I had the opportunity to answer. Papua New Guinea responded with a resounding “Hello!” I’m extremely excited to continue the conversation with our Lord as I meet him in every person who offers me welcome and love. I know we have much more to learn and are very excited for every opportunity we’ll have to serve and deepen our own faith this year. I recognize that I may have more to receive than to give. I desire to continue to grow in humility and to understand more intimately the value of community. I hope my missionary service will increase my dependence on God and develop the virtues of charity and love.