We continue with the story of Daniel Lindbergh Lang, a 24-year-old from North Las Vegas, who is now serving with the Catholic St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society in this part of Asia. In this second story, he talks about how much of an influence his mother had on his returning to her homeland and how he is drawn to this part of the world.
APRIL 30, 2022
I feel at home serving in Asia, more than many with whom I speak tend to expect. Though I come from the United States, I am part Asian, Chinese to be precise. Through my other side, my ancestry is European. I have come to identify strongly with Chinese overseas and in the States. Yet growing up, I knew little about my Asian heritage.
Mother was Chinese. Named 林月君 Lín Yuèjūn, she immigrated to the U.S. from Hunan, China. She taught me some Mandarin when I was growing up. But having few fellow Chinese with whom my siblings and I could speak in Bedford, Indiana, she had not pushed us at that time to master the language.
I began to study Mandarin in earnest at uni, attending for my first time a school that offered the language. I began in 2015, at age 18. I learned best, however, through being in mainland China in 2017 and 2018, and in Taiwan in 2018 and 2019. These trips deeply connected me with my Chinese identity. Through scholarships and with help from relatives to whom Mum wanted to introduce me, we arranged for my 2017 trip.
Mum was killed crossing the street on a Monday night in Vegas in May 2017, when an inattentive taxi driver struck her. I learned this before dawn the next morning over the phone with my father. I sobbed. When Mum passed, I was dreaming, at uni in Reno asleep. She was 51. I was 19.
I walked to my parish at Our Lady of Wisdom Newman Center sometime after my tears dried. I sat down with Fr Nathan. I shared with him how before I heard the news, I had just awoken from the most ethereal dream. It softened the news of my mother’s death. I thanked God for that dream. Fr Nathan affirmed that the gift of faith enables us to recognize the Spirit in moments like these. He encouraged me to hold close the gift of my mum’s life. The next day, I disembarked a flight. I returned to Vegas.
In Vegas, however, the house to which I returned no longer felt like home. And the week after, I was still scheduled to fly to China, to be overseas for my first time. In fact, the last text I received from Mum, Monday morning, was that she received my visa and would ask my little brother to show her how to scan it that night. She never had the chance. That Friday, I finished her obituary. That Saturday afternoon, I delivered her eulogy. I resounded my resolve to my dad, teachers, uncles, aunts, siblings and friends—I would go to Mum’s homeland, China.
The Sunday morning that followed Mum’s funeral came a solemn Mothers’ Day. Our pastor homilized about a family who had lost their mother too before the holiday. Dad and I felt touched. A couple mornings after, my family buried Mum. A couple nights later, I boarded the flight to China.
I felt relieved to find in China Catholic Mass. Sundays, I sang for both the English and Mandarin music ministries, despite speaking Mandarin poorly. I remembered how when Mum sang with the music ministry in America, she too sang in her second language.
In China those mere weeks and months after Mum’s death, I felt tremendous consolation. I felt moved to have attended Mass in an area named for 徐光啓 Xú Guāngqǐ, whom I learned worked closely with a figure who had fascinated me since high school, Matteo Ricci. And I felt such love from those I met. I felt through how people smiled at me, how they spoke, a touch of Mum with me. Those I met seemed moved and inspired too by my story. My Mandarin skills improved markedly that summer. When I came back to America, I yearned to be back in China.
On a US government scholarship, I returned to China the next summer in 2018 to continue language studies. That winter, for my honors senior thesis, I decided to learn about the Catholic faith of Chinese-speaking young adults in Asia. With support from grants and Maryknoll missionaries, I studied this in Taiwan.
During what was my third trip to Asia, Taiwan’s believers were the first through whom God asked if I was on mission. Some wondered if I was a priest or seminarian. I was simply a student, I replied—a lay Catholic like them. After Taiwan, having for my first time fundraised, I embarked on the World Youth Day 2019 pilgrimage to Panamá. There, during my semester before graduation, I encountered not only our Church in Asia but around the world.
By Spring 2020, I had been teaching English in Asia, as my mother had. She taught English in Hunan’s Central South University for several years before leaving for US in 1993.
I was a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia. Yet then the COVID-19 pandemic arose. From Asia, where I felt home, I had to leave.
Amid tense Lenten packing days, I said farewells to an American couple who were serving God’s people. They spoke directly — they urged me to consider God’s call to mission. With the words they gave to me, I considered this, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in His way” (Psalm 37:23).
Next week: How Lang’s seen God author his life, even through tribulations.
Previous week: From Vegas to Asia – Daniel Lang on a mission for God