Darkhan Oratory was the first activity of the Salesian mission in Darkhan City, the second biggest city in Mongolia. It started in April 2005 when just two Salesians begun their ministry there. One of them was Fr Andrew Nguyen Trung Tin, who today tells us about his experiences in the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky”

We first arrived when the country was still covered by winter snow, white everywhere and we took a tour around the market and village roads. It seemed that no one saw us because the people were huddled up inside their gers or houses and the children were in school.

We started with just a few balls, taking them to a school and asked permission to play with the children. The school manager allowed us to do so and so equipped with balls and candy, we got to know the Darkhan youth and became friends with them – to the point where some of their parents even entrusted their children to us to keep them safe until their return home after school!

Just to be present with the young is already a meaningful missionary action says Fr Andrew (left)

After some time, we invited them to our Salesian house, so that they slowly became our friends in the Don Bosco playground, school and youth centre. In this way, the children and youth learned the meaning of Oratory, the place for prayer, recreation and a house for them to stay, to be really themselves - like at home.

Now, after 15 years, the mission for the youth is still going on, even though some difficulties are present. Us Salesians, with our lay mission partners and Salesian Co-operators run the Oratory here daily - really 24/7. Although we don’t have a gym, hall or proper place for indoor games or larger recreation rooms, nothing gets in the way of our daily Oratory for the young.

I don’t know in how many places around the world the Salesians are running an Oratory like at Darkhan. Within the limits of the Mongolian social system and the harsh weather, we are doing our best to be with the young. The summer heat (30° C) is one thing, but during the 6-month long winter, the extreme cold, (-30°-40°C)! can get to the point where the basketball won’t bounce anymore after mere minutes outdoors - so you have to use all your strength of hand and arm to make it bounce and play! In fact, the ball lasts only a few weeks and is destroyed fast, bursting because of the cold! Such is life during the Mongolian winter!

Despite the harshness and difficulties posed by the Mongolian winter, Basketball remains a popular sport!

But even during these tough times, the young people come here daily with their friends, their smiles and their happiness for Oratory time. We also have a small library for them, music classes, humanity lessons, farming during summer, outings, tours around the country, sometimes they allow us to go abroad with a message and our music and dancing group.

Twice a month we host a formation session for youth leaders to foster a quality group experience. There is also an evening class for the poor youth, assisted by our staff and Salesian Cooperators. We also provide some food for dinner, cooked together by the youth and our staff, then after study time before returning back home one Salesian shares a Goodnight.

Nowadays we have training for basketball, volleyball and football and the 'coaches' are some of our past oratory members, who have grown up and now return to take care of their younger 'siblings'. On Saturday evenings after sport, the young people gather in front of our Mary Help of Christians statue to recite one Mystery of the Rosary and after the Goodnight, there is the send-off with some candies.

All of us Salesians in Mongolia are missionaries - once you are a foreigner, and not so young anymore, to follow the youth in the Oratory is physically a massive challenge, it's not easy: to assist running and playing, waiting at the side of the playground for your turn without moving - you are soon frozen! It's not easy to be outdoors during the whole Oratory time from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm daily or one hour more on the weekends.

Such is our life and mission here in the Darkhan Oratory: Here in Mongolia just to be present with the young is already a meaningful missionary action and I view it as my sacrifice and penance! Sometimes we Salesians wish to do many things, dream big - but our reality does not allow us so!

Even our own confreres sometimes don't like the way we are doing it - since it seems like they do nothing! But if you ask the Darkhan young people around here what kind of Salesians they need - they can tell you – they just need presence!

With thanks toANS