“I am among you as the one who serves”

Scholastic Joseph Nguyen Van Luong SJ (extreme right) with JRS Bangkok staff

As a young Vietnamese Jesuit in the process of formation, I came to Thailand for my regency after completing a three-year philosophy programme in Vietnam. In the first year, I learned Thai at Union Language School in Bangkok. Learning a new language was tiring but interesting. I really enjoyed going to the language school, as I made friends with people from many different countries.

After studying Thai for a year, I was sent to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Thailand to serve in the Urban Refugee Programme (URP) in Bangkok. This was my first occasion to work with an international staff. My colleagues were from France, Pakistan, Somalia, Australia and Thailand. It was also the first time I spoke Thai and English.

As a reception manager, I had to use both languages in order to help clients from Pakistan, Somalia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, and Ethiopia. Sometimes I was a Vietnamese interpreter, too, for our clients from Vietnam.

At first, I lacked confidence and was stressed because I was not sure of my capacity to do the work. After all, I was just a young scholastic in the procession of formation. However, my job was an invitation to take responsibility. I adapted and learned. Gradually, I gained confidence and skills.

One challenging aspect of my work was to listen to clients and make decisions from the evaluation of their situations. Sometimes, I had to say no to people who came to JRS asking for help. It was always difficult to say “I am sorry; JRS cannot help you today”. I always wanted to help. Unfortunately, there was the reality of JRS’ limited budget.

While working for JRS, I learned much from both clients and colleagues. Helping clients improved my communication skills especially listening and problem solving, and of course my language skills. My colleagues taught me the value of teamwork.

Serving others at JRS was a spiritual training that made me aware of my strengths and weaknesses. It also increased my faith. I would like to thank God for this opportunity that enabled me to meet staff and clients. I believe that JRS is one of God’s projects. Despite human limitations, God’s projects succeed because He is always with His people. God always provides a way to take care for all of His people.

I will pray for the clients and refugees in detention for them to see the light of hope. I also pray for the staff of JRS to continue their job and guide them in the light of compassion, accompaniment, service and advocacy. [Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific]

Scholastic Joseph Nguyen Van Luong SJ is a third year Regent in Thailand. He entered the Society of Jesus in 2010, a year after graduating from Hanoi University of Culture. He took his First Vows in 2013 and studied philosophy at St Joseph Jesuit Scholasticate in Thu Duc District, Vietnam