IN THE PEWS: Jennifer Tran rediscovers faith

Jennifer Tran was baptized Catholic as a baby and has been going to Mass all her life. She made her First Communion and was confirmed, but something was missing. She had her doubts about the faith. It wasn’t until she became a Eucharistic minister that everything fell into place and she found her way.

You like to sing, play music and write songs. From where did you get your love of music?

Music has been a big part of my life since I was 12 years old. At that age, I was going through some rough times with myself. I was depressed. I suffered through depression at that age, until one day, I heard a song (on the radio) that helped me through my rough time. That song was “Because You Live” by Jesse McCartney. I still remember it to this day. Though Jesse McCartney’s meaning of the song is about a girl he loves and tells her that he’s so grateful for her being there in the world and that she means everything to him, I took his meaning into something greater.

Instead of a lover, I see the song in the perspective of family relationships and friendships instead of romantic relationships. A parent or guardian could be the one singing the lyrics in their viewpoint to their child. And the song would mean that the parent or guardian is so grateful for their child being here in this world and that their child means everything to them.

The same goes for friendships — best friends would be so thankful to have each other and love that they exist in this world, and they just mean so much to each other. From that, I was inspired to write music similar to this style. I started to think about the music that I liked listening to and turn the meaning of the songs into something more meaningful in life that can help not only me but also others, too.

What kind of songs do you write?

I write songs about life struggles and how to power through particular struggles in life, such as struggling with identity, struggling with friendships, struggling with family and struggling with hate and love. I also write Christian songs, mostly about ways to empower our faith and knowing how to love God.

You are learning to play the acoustic guitar and are an amateur pianist. What attracted you to those instruments, and what propelled you to learn how to play?

When I was 6 years old, it was required for my school that students needed to learn how to play one instrument. There were three options: the piano, the triangle and the recorder. I decided to choose the piano because it seemed like an interesting instrument and I liked the way it sounds. My peers and I would learn how to play our chosen instrument at school for an hour every week for one school year.

After school, I would practice playing on my electric piano. I kept doing that for a few years until I stopped because as the years go by, classes get harder, and I would have to devote my time to studying. I stopped playing until I was 12, and I played my piano again. I decided writing songs at that age to help me through my struggles and needed an instrument to do that, which is why I played my piano again.

After 12 years old, I kept playing my piano up until I was 18. I was in Proctor High School and was offered to take a music class for an elective and I had two choices, orchestra or guitar. I decided on guitar class because during my teen years. I had listened to a lot of music that involves the acoustic guitar, and it sounds beautiful to my ears. So, I wanted to learn it.

Your mother is 100 percent Vietnamese and your father is 50 percent American and 50 percent Vietnamese. You were born and raised in Utica. Your parents were born and raised in Vietnam. Please tell us a bit more about your family background and how the decision was made to come to the United States.

Both of my parents were born and raised in poor villages in South Vietnam. Though they lived in Vietnam, they didn’t know each other yet. They knew each other when they came to the United States, specifically in Utica. When they still lived in Vietnam, they were both struggling to live off of the very little money that they earned from their jobs.

Back in the 1980s, South Vietnam jobs were meager at paying a good wage compared to the United States. They made very little money. There was no such thing as minimum wage, but there was such a thing as a couple of bucks for an hour. They couldn’t live off with such little money for so long, and so they both wanted to move out of Vietnam and go to the United States to find a job that pays good enough for them to be able to live off of.

Both of my parents had to start working at a young age because their families were struggling. So everyone in their families had jobs. They all worked as farmers. My father and his family moved to the United States when he was a kid, sometime in the late 1970s. My mother made her decision to go to the United States by having to leave her family because she needed money to take care of her mother. My mom needed money for my grandmother to be well and healthy. That’s why my mom had to go to the United States.

My mom came to the United States in 1994. She was able to get help in learning some basic English in order to have a job. My dad, during that time, was working at a nail salon to earn money to support his parents and siblings. My parents then met in 1995, and a year later they got married and had me.

How do you believe becoming a Eucharistic minister and becoming a catechist in the Faith Formation program changed you?

For the majority of my life, my mother raised me to become a part of the Catholic faith. I was baptized Catholic. I had my First Communion in St. Peter’s Catholic School and had my Confirmation in our parish.

I admit that for the majority of my life, I was not committed to the Catholic faith even though I had gone to Mass and I had prayed with my mother. I wasn’t feeling God’s presence around me, not until Father Cesta gave me the opportunity to become a Eucharistic minister.

Since the day Father Cesta gave me that opportunity, I’ve felt like it was God’s calling to reel me into the Catholic faith by getting involved with the church. I am very grateful for the opportunity and the experience that I get to have in being a Eucharistic minister. I’ve been a Eucharistic minister for a few years now, and I still enjoy it, and I’ve been able to connect with some of our parishioners because of it, and I enjoy having to connect with them.

I recently was given the opportunity to become a co-teacher catechist for our Faith Formation this year, and I’m enjoying it so far. With having these experiences so far in my life, I’ve been able to feel God’s presence around me since, and I’m very grateful for these experiences and grateful to the people who’ve given me the opportunities. Feeling God’s presence has helped me build my Catholic faith, and I can proudly say that I am a Catholic that’s dedicated to her faith.

You mentioned your mom raised you Catholic and is very devout. Now that your faith has deepened, how do you think your mother’s guidance early in life affected you?

Early in life, my mom’s guidance affected me much because my mom never gave up on me even when I had my doubts about our faith. She kept me going forth with praying every day and going to church. My mom also prayed for me, too, to make sure that one day I will be able to truly believe in God, to love him, to learn more about him and find him in my path that God had planned for me.

Sometimes, people your age aren’t interested in religion. What is one thing you would tell them about the importance of faith?

Faith can be defined as a strong belief to trust in God. God is good all the time. We need to put our trust in God, to trust that God will be there for us, to be there for people who need him, to trust that God will protect us. We must have faith that we are going to be OK, knowing that God is with us. No matter what happens to us, to anyone in our lives, we must trust God, trust that in His power that they and we will be OK.

With your faith as an anchor, what have you learned about life with its ups and downs?

Life with its ups and downs are necessary. I’ve learned that the hard way. It is essential to go through hardships, challenges and suffering. Honestly, depending on how much a person trusts in God will determine whether it is necessary or unnecessary to go through the downs in life. For me, I trust in God, and for trusting Him, I know that I’m going through these trials to strengthen myself. Sometimes, I may not even know that I’m being tested by God, but I always end up getting stronger after the hardships. I then appreciate all the good things in life. A person doesn’t realize, doesn’t appreciate, isn’t grateful for the good things they have until they go through such hardship.

What do you hope the future holds for you and what do you plan to do?

I hope that the future holds a place for me to be a missionary. I’ve always liked helping people to the best of my abilities, help anyone in need to restore their life in any kind of way, by performing ministries of service. I’d like to be a missionary one day.

Jennifer Tran

Age: 23.

Family: Living with my mother, Hanh.

Education: Graduate of Thomas R. Proctor High School in 2014; associate degree from Mohawk Valley Community College in 2016; bachelor of science degree in business administration from SUNY Polytechnic Institute in December 2018; master’s degree in business administration in December 2019.

Things you like to do: Sing, play music and write songs; play basketball, volleyball, badminton, swimming and bowling.

Favorite movie: “The Letters: The Untold Story of Mother Teresa.”

Favorite book: “The Vow” by Kim Carpenter.

Favorite TV show: “Family Feud.”

Favorite musical performer: Britt Nicole.

Favorite quote: “The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don’t give up.” — Robert Tew.