Kevin Kho of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Claremont is one of 20 young women and men whom the Salesians of Don Bosco have commissioned as lay missionary volunteers.

Formally called Salesian Lay Missioners, they will serve at missions of the Salesians, the Salesian Sisters, or of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, South Sudan, and the United States for a year. Most will begin their service in September.

Kho, 22, is the son of Donald and Leno Kho of Rancho Cucamonga, and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., with majors in biochemistry and theology. On Sept. 3 he was scheduled to depart for Gumbo, South Sudan, a suburb of Juba, the nation’s capital, where he will teach in the Salesian school and parish, assist in the youth center, and provide services to refugees from the violence taking part in other parts of the country.

Through this service, Kho said he hopes to “grow in my faith and relationship with God” and “to experience the joy of the poor and be able to incorporate that joy to my own life.” He joined the SLMs because “teaching, coaching, and working with a parish were all possibilities in Gumbo,” and he finds the SLM “emphasis on presence extremely important in service.” The faith component of this form of volunteer service is also very attractive to him.

The commissioning took place Aug. 14 at a Mass at the Don Bosco Retreat Center in Haverstraw, N.Y., within a retreat that included the 20 SLMs and about 35 Salesian priests and brothers. Salesian Father Thomas Dunne, the provincial superior, presided at the Mass and the rite, and Salesian Father Mark Hyde, director of the Salesian mission office in New Rochelle, preached the homily.

Father Hyde observed that each of the SLMs had heard Christ call her or his name and had responded with a willingness to head into a place unknown to make Christ known and carry on his mission of sharing the Father’s love for humanity. Like the saint of the day, Maximilian Kolbe, they’re called to “give up” and to “hold fast,” to give up their lives — or a piece of their lives — for the sake of others, and to hold fast to the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel.

The 15 women and five men range in age from 20 to 31 and include a married couple. They come from Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

They include graduates from Bowling Green, De Sales, Indiana Southeast, James Madison, John Carroll, Long Beach State, Northern Colorado, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. Edward’s, Seton Hall, Southeast Missouri State and Vanderbilt universities, Belmont Abbey and Cabrini colleges, and a cadet on leave from the U.S. Military Academy.

Several have been employed for a few years since college — in church ministry, in hospitality and in education.

As missioners they will serve in youth centers, orphanages, middle schools, high schools, catechetical programs and retreat programs. Those who will teach in academic settings will instruct mostly in English language, computer science, accounting, and secretarial skills.

They expect to serve primarily with a “ministry of presence” and to grow as Christians by loving, as unconditionally as they can, the children and young adults to whom they are being sent.

The 20 volunteers had a rigorous screening before being accepted into the program. Immediately prior to their commissioning they had more than three weeks of orientation, which included an introduction to St. John Bosco and the Salesians (life, spirituality, educational method), cross-cultural training, a week’s service in a Salesian summer day camp, and a retreat. Most will have a month or so to close up personal business and say good-byes before departing for their assignments.

The Salesian Lay Missioner program — based at Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, N.Y. — has sent hundreds of young (and sometimes older) volunteers to Africa, Asia, Latin America and U.S.-based missions over the last 30 years.