My Walk in the Clouds: Experience as Overseas Training Program (OTP) in Papua New Guinea

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I am Son Vu, also known as ‘Joseph’, a Divine Word Missionary (SVD) seminarian from Vietnam. I have been in Papua New Guinea for two years: six months for studying English at Divine Word University and Tok Pidgin in Kunjigini and almost one and a half years for my pastoral experience. I am very grateful for this meaningful mission experience in Simbu Province, Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

I have made new friends in my English class, whose backgrounds were from different countries. There were also a few SVDs, like Fr. Jokri Krisantus, who had just arrived then from Indonesia, Fr. Dongming (Joseph) Cheng from the People’s Republic of China, one SSpS sister from Madagascar and from Chile and some national staff of Divine Word University (DWU). I was lucky enough not to feel homesick of my country because I enjoyed the company of my ‘wantoks’, two visiting Vietnamese OTPs from Australia and of course, my partner, Frater Huyen (Joseph) Tran. More than English, I have learned how to interact with people from other cultures and knew more about this country. After English, I had more opportunity for enculturation in learning Tok Pidgin and meeting with the local people in the villages. I also went to visit the outstations and stayed with the people in the village, eating what they ate like saksak, yam, binatang blo saksak. This made me understand the life of the people in the coastal areas.

After the Pidgin course, I was assigned to Dirima Parish, located at Gumine District, South Simbu Province. Dirima Parish is on the top of the mountain, almost 2000 feet above sea level. I really like Dirima for its pristine environment, breath-taking scenery, fresh rain water and clean air. I enjoyed the long walks to the different outstations; it afforded me a deep connection with the wonderful Creation of God. I observed the different formation of clouds, the beautiful sunrise and sunset and the refreshing water flowing from the mountain. In this place, I was able to connect with God and did a lot of personal reflection while walking. Being with nature is being with God.
In the main station of Dirima parish there are five main clans, namely: Kibaku, Aleku, Milinkane, Bomaigaulin and Bregaulin. They speak the Golin language, which is the common language in the South Simbu. Dirima Parish has five outstations: Gumine, Kawadian, Mirima, Ninawana and Omkolai. It also looks after two quased-parishes: Nondri, with seven outstations, and Yuri, with six outstations. Dirima in itself is not too big but together with the three parishes of Dirima, Nondri and Yuri, it is really a big area and a real bush place.

In Vietnam, there are not many mountains. For this reason, it was really challenging for me first time because I didn’t have experience how to walk on steep trails of the mountain but now it is ok. I had the chance at this time in my life to walk up and down the valley and up again. That was really a great time for me. I usually went together with Fr. Peter Kim and or Fr. Dongming Cheng to the outstations. I enjoy walking to the outstations. Now I became a muscle man with strong legs. I still remember my first time when I reached the first outstation I was catching my breath like a man running to win a race. We rested and had some “kaukau” (sweet potatoes) given by the people, the staple food here. People here are so generous with us. I could remember the many times they came and gave me support, for example, fruit, vegetables, bilum and cash too.

As for community life, it was my first time to live in an international community. The relationship with others is not an easy thing, because in the community we have different cultures and different ways of thinking. However, I think my relationship with them in our community was good. I felt happy and at home to stay in Dirima with my parish priest Fr. Peter Kim, assistant parish priest Fr. Dongming (Joseph) Cheng, the SMMI sisters and the people. That was the chance for me to learn how to stay in an international community. This was also similar in our SVD Simgo District Community. But with the love of God, we can do everything.

In Dirima community, we come from different countries: Father Peter Kim is from South Korea, Father Joseph Cheng is from China, seminarian Kenneth is from PNG and I am from Vietnam. We are Asians and use chopsticks. Sometimes we use chopsticks for eating. I tried to overcome the challenges by being more open to talk so it could help me understand more.

In my interaction with SVD Dirima and Simgo District community, I felt comfortable as I lived in a home there with our confreres. I had the chance to see and talk to great long-serving missionaries in PNG during SVD District meetings. I was grateful that they gave their time to talk to me and share their experiences. I am very proud of their work in PNG and their great work, their contribution for Papua New Guinea.

I came to realize that to work in such mission places it demands love, patience, dedication and commitment, the Apostolate, love and enthusiasm that defines the missionary. The mission in Papua New Guinea is challenging and unlimited, and to you all the missionaries working in such environments, I highly respect your missionary spirit of dedication, commitment and love in working with the people of God in such difficult areas. I really appreciate SVD PNG Province for giving me the chance to come and see your Province. Thank you to all the SVD missionaries in Papua New Guinea who supported me during my Overseas Training Program. 

By: Son Vu, SVD.

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