By Emilie Ng
MOTHER Teresa’s biography includes a chilling period of darkness that was said to have lasted more than 50 years.
Biographies say the Albanian-born beatified could not feel God, so she looked for Him in the thousands of abandoned men and women lined up on the streets of Calcutta.
Ireland’s patron St Patrick also wrote in a diary entry about his six-year enslavement after being captured by pirates in his home in Great Britain.
The six years in captivity, as he explained in The Confession of St Patrick, was an essential ingredient in his spiritual life.
To know that saints have lived through such a lonely and often despairing life brings St Stephen’s Young Adult Ministry member Jessika Trieu immense comfort.
The 32-year-old has experienced more trauma than most would in a lifetime.
In 1987, at just five years old, the Vietnamese citizen travelled with her mum, dad, younger sister and 52 other refugees on one tiny, human-powered boat through the South China Sea.
Their destination was unknown, and the possibility of death was very real.
“When we went from Vietnam to Australia in late-December 1987,” Jessika said, “I asked my dad about food and drinks, and he said they had only brought enough for one day.
“Everything was gone after one day. Then we were just floating. Everyone was hungry.
“It was seven days, seven nights.”
Jessika said her mum’s constant prayers saved their family and the majority of refugees on the boat.
“Mum was holding her Rosary at that time, and it snapped,” Jessika said. “She quickly tied it back together, but something in her heart told her the journey was going to be rough.”
Thai pirates, threatened by the tiny boat, attacked the Vietnamese refugees on the first day.
“The pirates thought that we were fishing, but they didn’t believe we were just trying to get out of the country,” Jessika said.
“They took whatever possessions we had – gold, photo albums.”
Jessika believes God’s mercy saved her and her mother from being paired off and raped by the pirates, who had taken numerous other women from their ship.
Two men were thrown overboard that day.
While the pirates threatened the refugees’ lives, they also provided two essentials, food and water.
“The pirates came as a blessing in disguise, because they fed us for a few more days, and gave us water,” Jessika said.
Four pirate attacks threatened to kill the refugees during their seven-day journey.
“Every time an attack was going to happen, my mum’s Rosary broke, and it broke four times,” Jessika said.
A fifth ship sailing towards the boat turned out to be a rescue fleet from the Malaysian government.
Jessika and her family remained in Malaysia for eight months before the Malaysian Red Cross contacted a family member living in Brisbane.
“We could have died at sea but God’s mercy let us live,” Jessika said.
While being a refugee at sea had its own terrors, Jessika said it was nothing compared to the fear of being disconnected from God.
After discounting God and her Catholic faith for six years, Jessika went into an almost five-year-long depression after breaking up from a long-term relationship in 2007.
Jessika’s only comfort was to enter the first church her mother walked into when they landed in Australia, St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane.
“I was living a fun life for myself, but one that would have had no hope with Him,” Jessika said.
“The day I broke up with my man, that was the first Sunday that I came back to church.
“I came and I cried in front of God.
“I cried for healing, to accept the situation, and prayed for one year that we could be together.
“For me, ending that long-term relationship was the start of my walk with God.”
After learning that her former boyfriend had been arranged to marry in India, Jessika turned once more to God.
“I kept going back to St Stephen’s and it became part of my life,” she said.
Soon, Jessika’s schedule, which normally involved chauffeuring her young sisters to tutors across Brisbane, became empty on Sunday.
After praying about a place to serve, Jessika felt God was directing her towards the St Stephen’s Young Adult Ministry.
Jessika said YAM had completely changed her life, and given her one of her greatest joys, being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.
Her first night of helping with the distribution of Communion was Palm Sunday, a day Jessika will always remember as the first time she held the Blood of Christ.
But like Mother Teresa and St Patrick, Jessika’s story is not without a moment of desolation.
“When that time came it was rougher than the sea for me,” she said.
Decked in a white laboratory coat and fulfilling her normal duties as a medical scientist, Jessika heard God pose a question that made her doubt faith and everything she had just accepted as biblical truth.
“It was as noisy as this but I was able to hear Him,” she said.
“When God wants to talk to you, He will talk to you.
“He knows when you’re ready but he doesn’t care about the environment you are in.
“He said, ‘Jessika, do you know who I am?’
“My first response was yes, but the second time disturbed me.
“I was scared. That was the first time in my life I was scared. I wanted to be alone with God.
“I was so lost. I felt dark, angry, hurt, empty, isolated.”
Jessika said she was unaware but at the time, these questions and doubts were the beginning of a genuine dialogue with Christ.
“I didn’t know I was already talking to God, having internal conversations with God,” she said.
“I said to him, ‘Why have you abandoned me?’
“I began to understand what Jesus was saying on the Cross.
“I told Him that I didn’t know Him, but I wanted to know Him.
“I said, ‘If St Patrick prayed for you six years, I’ll pray 60 years’.
“I spent two months in discernment, asking for comfort, and every time, I prayed on my knees, crying.”
Filled with doubts but without losing her faith, Jessika searched for answers at YAM’s formation nights, The Vine, and Verbum Dei community’s Scripture study sessions, School of the Word.
In February, with the help of YAM “shepherds” including Sr Thao Nguyen, Fr Michael Grace and Fr Neville Yun among others, and with a sound understanding of Scripture, Jessika said she realised that God had not abandoned her, but was strengthening her with the supernatural gift of faith.
What she assumed was abandonment, was actually God increasing her faith, making her rely on Him every second of the day.
“When I was younger, I listened to my parents about Jesus, but now, I am following Jesus’ examples and listening to God, walking His path and growing into the woman that he is creating me to be,” Jessika said.
“God was ever so patient with my transition.”