They sent me to Vietnam.
In February of 2015, I was called to the office of the Student Master. He asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam -- I did not, but believing obedience works miracles, I agreed to go. Just like that I was going to Vietnam for the summer to teach my Dominican brothers English.
As a former middle school English teacher and always feeling called to the missionary life, I was, after the initial shock wore off, fired up about getting to spend a summer in Vietnam. I had never been to Asia nor had I ever lived for an extended period in a tropical climate. I also love food and trying new things. Add to all of this the opportunity to live with my Dominican brothers and to pursue our common life of prayer and study, albeit in a completely new and different culture, and I was stoked to go.
Life in Vietnam, to say the least, was tough. The heat and the humidity, the unrelenting heat and humidity, made it difficult to adjust physically. The brothers varying degrees of English competence and willingness to speak in English made it hard to adjust socially. Oh, and the food at the Priory was far from the quality of the standard Vietnamese restaurant. Dinner was mostly a close your nose, chew quickly, and swallow affair. (That is, of course, when they didn't serve durian. Durian smells terribly and the mere smell of it made it nearly impossible for me to eat.) Oh, and the morning bell rang at 4:30 am each morning to rouse us for Lauds and Mass.
This might defy imagination, but my summer in Vietnam was the best summer of my life up until that point. Here are three lessons I learned that are applicable to everyone's life, especially as we prepare for Lent.
First, when we strip away the many distractions in our life and get back to the basics, God does incredible work in our hearts. For two months, I did not watch TV, read blogs, surf social media, or even worry about anything so much as resembling a social life. My days were work, prayer, study, and community. It was heaven.
Too much of our lives are distractions. Think of how much reading or praying or fraternizing you can accomplish when you don't "Netflix and chill" or go on social media regularly. It's noble to give up one of these distractions, but why not go for the gold and try to sacrifice them all for Lent?
Second, not all coffee is the same. I did not drink coffee before I went to Vietnam. In fact, I had drunk only one cup of coffee before going there. I enjoyed greatly going with the brothers on a hot Sunday afternoon and having a cafe sua da (Coffee with sweetened condensed milk served in ice). I enjoyed it so much, the brothers gave me 20 kilos of coffee to bring back to the US. Knowing I would never drink that much coffee, I began to give it away to friends and family.
One problem: Vietnamese coffee is incredibly strong and is meant to be served in small doses. For weeks, my friends and family let me know how wired the coffee made them. One friend even thought he might be having a heart attack.
The lesson: Not all gifts can be given and used in the same way. Even a simple gift, when not used in accord with its intended purpose, can wreak havoc. Our Heavenly Father gives each of us similar gifts, charisms, and talents. We are, however, created by a unique act of Love. Therefore, we are all called to the same goal of holiness, but we need guidance and creativity in achieving this.
Third, don't drink snake wine. Not a whole lot to this one. Just don't drink it. Some stones are best left unturned. As Jesus said, "Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.'"
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.