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This family portrait depicts Lang at his 林 Lín family's ancestral home in the Hunan Province, under the City of Shaoyang, in a part of Dongkou County. Taken August 6, 2017, it was during this visit that Lang learned about his family's genealogy book, just three days before visiting his mother's birth city, Shaoyang.

God’s authorship, spanning generations and places

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 third story, he reflects, in honor of both Mothers’ Day and the fifth anniversary of his mother’s passing (May 8), on how he has felt led by God, who is “the author of life” (Acts 3:15). 

MAY 7, 2022

Tomorrow on May 8 is both Mothers’ Day and the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing. For these, I write to share more deeply the strength and hope I have had through God, whom this Easter season I’ve contemplated as “the author of life” (Acts 3:15). Despite the hardship of losing my mother so suddenly, I love how my patron St Paul had written, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10). 

I reflect on identity, through encounters both recently in this part of Asia, and within the past five years, since Mum’s death. I entreat you to join me in pondering the love with which God spoke in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Through such experiences, I hope you may consider how God has formed you too beyond your greatest knowing. 

At St Paul’s Hill in Malacca with the statue of St Francis Xavier.

I have felt fascinated these past weeks to recognize how coincidentally (providentially?) related my identity is to the people I serve. This spring, my first Paschal Triduum overseas, I celebrated in the historic city of Melaka. Our mission’s own patron St. Francis Xavier had preached at St. Paul’s Church during the mid-1500s. And even before knowing that, the city excited me for its place on the Straits of Malacca. I remembered studying this during world history in secondary school.

In Melaka, I felt profound delight as I learned about the Peranakan culture of Straits Chinese. I recalled a similar feeling of an encounter five years ago in Guangzhou, China. I was visiting a sibling of my Hunanese cousins for a weekend reprieve. The preceding week, on an emotional trip to my late mum’s hometown, I had reached it on the rainy day of what would have been Mum’s 52nd birthday. 

After that moment in the Hunanese hometown of my beloved mum, this visit to Guangzhou 2017 was the first time I encountered with depth a notion of ‘overseas Chinese.’ I realized that from my mum’s 1993 decision to cross the seas at age 27, we too are overseas Chinese. In fact, Guangzhou’s Cantonese atmosphere reminded me of Chinese places in America. I even spotted my mother’s Chinese surname 林 Lín around. I felt some connection. Yet we were from Hunan, not here. My relatives affirmed to me that my mum was a pioneer, the first to travel from China. 

A year and half later, I was in Taiwan in 2019 to learn more about Catholicism there. With joyful curiosity, multiple Taiwanese would ask if I too was Taiwanese. I explained my family actually comes from the mainland. I felt touched nonetheless to be among those who would see me as one of them. I remembered my patron St. Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22). I clarified my family comes from Hunan, as I learned many Taiwanese ancestors come from Fujian. Yet people still mentioned that my mother’s surname 林 Lín was quite common among them. 

Three years later, amid the COVID-19 pandemic back in America, I secured this past winter a U.S. government scholarship to deepen my Mandarin language studies. Seeking to learn more literary Mandarin, I decided at 2021’s end to translate a 家谱 (jiāpǔ) genealogy book. In fact, it was my own family’s, from which I had taken photos during that somber yet ethereal journey five years ago to mum’s birthplace. 

From the genealogical record, I discovered with awe that our family traced an unbroken Hunanese lineage to 1195 Song Dynasty China! My siblings and I would be the 29th generation from our earliest recorded 林 Lín forefather. Yet seeing the record stop in the 1100s, I inquired from my mum’s nephew raising his family in America what he knew of our origins. 

My cousin’s response stunned me. I stumbled upon the solution to a puzzle I did not know to solve. Around the Song Dynasty, he said, our ancestors came to Hunan from… Fujian. 

This spring, among the Missionaries of Charity in preparation for mission, I served a man whose surname was Lum. His family came from southern China. Tattooed on his shoulder was the 林 character. He felt glad to call me a brother. I realized 林 takes many forms. Now serving in this part of Asia, I have felt gleeful to meet many who share 林 as well—often as Lam, Lim or Lum. 

In Melaka, I spent my allowance on a wooden keychain with 林 proudly displayed. In my human way, I find some thrill in the chance encounter with a soul I can confidently conclude must be an extra-distant relative. I trace this connection to the grace of the person my mother was and the decision she made, four years before my birth, to journey from China overseas. Now, as an American Chinese, I too cross the seas, at first from age 19, and still at 24. I marvel at how God’s authored my life. 

I close with the greater wonder than these chance commonalities. We all share a common ancestor—through God, with Christ and in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul affirmed, “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5). So, dear brothers and sisters, regardless of the joy I feel in meeting those with whom I relate easily, I must remember how our human commonalities surpass all divisions. So I praise God that within these fantastical stories there remains this common truth. 

Happy Mothers’ Day! 

Next week: Amid coming Feast Days, Lang’s walk with the Saints, eternal companions of God. 

Previous weeks: 

Chinese ancestry, Mum’s death and first journey to Asia (April 30)
From Vegas to Asia – Daniel Lang on a mission for God (April 22)

Lindbergh in Malacca during this year’s Pascal Triduum.