Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Call To Journey

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My experience of being attracted or drawn to the Good Shepherd mission is a story of journeying with people from all walks of life.  This story began in St. Bridget College, a school founded by the Good Shepherd Sisters.  I studied social work and head my practicum with the street children and youth from the urban area.  This was also my first exposure to the real face of poverty and deprivation.  And so, the seed of vocation to religious life started to sprout.

After college, Sr. Cora Demetillo invited me to work at the Euphrasian Residence (a teenage centre in Quezon City, Philippines).  It was to be a four-year intimate relationship with St. Mary Euphrasia.  I remember putting her photos on my table, and pasting some on the wall where I could see her each time I counselled a girl, because deep in my heart, I knew I was not alone.  Indeed she was ever present, touching the lives of every girl under our care.

In June 1997, I joined the Good Shepherd congregation.  During my Juniorate years, I was missioned to Good Shepherd Home, Legazpi City, Bicol and St. Bridget College, Batangas City.  Journeying with students, youth women in poor barangays was an experience of shepherding and being shepherded in return.  Their stories were my stories too.

In January 2005, I felt God calling me to another way of life; a call to leave the congregation and be a lay person.  My only prayer then was for god to lead me to be part of any Good Shepherd ministry.  The following year, I worked with the Good Shepherd Sisters in Tagaytay in their ministry for priests and women religious.

It was in Tagaytay that I met Sr. Susan Chia.  She invited me to work at the Teenage Centre, Ampang.  I arrived on 18th December 2007.  I started working with five girls.  Today, we have 17 girls full-time with us and another two on weekends.  It has been a challenging mission.  My consolation is the untiring support and guidance of the staff and Sisters here.  Theresa Symons initiated a staff fellowship once or twice a month.  It’s an opportunity to have peer support, games and laughter; to have dinner and break the word of God together.  Each time we meet, it is like drinking fresh water from the wellspring, and I am nourished and ready to move on and give of myself again for the mission.

The mission of compassion and reconciliation attracted me most in the Good Shepherd.  As I continue to give myself to the mission, I am being moulded in the process.

As I conclude, I offer this prayer, “Jesus, my loving Shepherd, thank you for calling me into the Good Shepherd fold.  You have been journeying with me in pasture and peril.  Thank you for the gift of St. Mary Euphrasia and St. John Eudes.  Their presence is very much alive as the Good Shepherd people carry out their mission in response to the signs of the time.

~ Alona Aguila  ~

Don’t Worry, It’s All Right

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Flowers

Frankly, I knew nothing about the Good Shepherd Sisters until I joined Mariaville Kindergarten in 2003 as a temporary relief gardener.  I am really glad that I took on the job.  It has since become my permanent job.

To me, the whole Good Shepherd organisation is built on two very important values – LOVE and RESPECT.  I can see that employees are treated with respect, regardless of whether you are white, yellow or black.  I may be a gardener, but the love and respect that I get from the Sisters are by no means any less than any other employee.

We have many problems in life, but the Sisters are always there to help with their famous advice – “Don’t worry, it’s all right.”  Simple words but very comforting and assuring!

The nature of my job requires me to work outdoors.  Believe it or not it pains my supervisor’s heart to see me out in the hot sun!  If this is not compassion, I don’t know what is.

After working six years in Mariaville, I have definitely grown.  Today, I am a more patient person.  I also feel needed in Mariaville, and this knowledge motivates me to work even harder, knowing that my services can help lessen the everyday burden of my colleagues.  I am very proud to say that Mariaville sees me as more than just a gardener.  They see the person in me.

I intend to stay on in Mariaville for as long as my health permits.  My only regret is not having joined the Good Shepherd organisation earlier!

~ Yeong Chee Kong ~

The Awakening

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What attracted me first was actually the Good Shepherd Himself.  Sr. Dorothy’s invitation to join the Lay Associates came at a time when I was searching to deepen my faith life.  I felt like I was being led along a certain path.

In the 60’s and 70’s, Sunday mornings were a painful rush.  It was a “going to church chore” with Mass at 10.30am.  This meant leaving the house at 10.15am, church bells would be pealing and I would be “crawling” in behind other late-comers.  Arriving in the nick of time, getting a parking lot was of course difficult.  I would eventually make my way into the church to find a space among all the other upstanding Catholics.  Needless to say, I was certainly not in a frame of mind to pay attention, much less to pray.

Going with family to Madonna Heights at Christmas and Easter was a little better.  There was no rush of any kind.  However, one Good Friday sometime ago, I woke up with promptings in my heart.  I asked myself two questions – Where was I going? What was I doing with my life?  Something within me led me to make my confession, after a long lapse.  That experience was an awakening, a sort of home-coming as well.  I felt the Good Shepherd stretching out His hands to bring me back into the fold.  It felt very good.

The stirrings within continued, and I wanted to know more about this Good Shepherd, because somehow I knew that henceforth, He was going to be very much a part of my life.  I found books to read and tapes to listen to.  And O what joy, I found myself in Fr. Griffon’s bible class.  I learnt to make the bible my friend.  It was, and still is, there that I found encouragement and hope.  It was also within those pages that I found solace.

Sr. Dorothy’s invitation opened even more doors.  I learnt to pray, to be more compassionate.  I learnt to listen.  St Mary Euphrasia’s inspirational sayings kept me from straying and I am ever mindful of the Good Shepherd in my life.  Her wisdom and her words, like ~ O how dear persons should be to us.  There should be no limit to our zeal and generosity in assisting them, or A desire to be noticed and applauded is a great misery, are guiding posts.

Consequently, I have made Psalm 131 (130) my own.  It is as if the psalmist had me in mind when he wrote:

“Yahweh, my heart is not haughty,

I do not set my sights too high

I have taken no part in great affairs

In wonders beyond my scope.

No, I hold myself in quiet and silence

Like a little child in its mother’s arm

Like a little child, so I keep myself.

Let Israel hope in Yahweh

Henceforth and for ever”.

~  Dr. Carol Gunn  ~

Yes, I’ll Go!

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“Yes, I’ll go,” my simple response to a friend’s invitation.  Or so I thought.  She had wanted my company to visit Restful Waters for the purpose of making a small donation in support of the Sabah girls’ concert in Singapore.  That was in 2006.

My instant “yes” was motivated solely by a curiosity to see the inside of a convent of which I had heard much but seen little, other than the exterior.  Little did I expect this one visit to change the course of my future; a future that sees my personal and spiritual growth, a future that sees my career closely intertwined with the Good Shepherd mission.

Standing at the doorway of Restful Waters was this lady who introduced herself simply as Lucy.  She did not wear a nun’s habit or the signature veil.  She was very friendly and cheerful though.  I forgot about my curiosity behind the visit.  I remember leaving Restful Waters that afternoon thinking she could not be a nun as she was not dressed like one.  Today, this recollection never fails to bring on a smile.  I have since realised that my perception of a nun then was as obsolete as the typewriter.  The Good Shepherd sisters have indeed moved on with the times.

As Lucy shared earnestly with us the hardships of the rural poor and the programmes being run by the Good Shepherd sisters in Sabah, I could not help feeling drawn to the Good Shepherd mission.  I wanted to remain in contact, to understand more about the Good Shepherd Sisters, their ministries, history, foundress and mission.  As the saying goes, the rest is history.

At Restful Waters, I never fail to feel a sense of welcome, warmth, love and peace.  There is something very special about the place, a special feeling which I cannot fully explain.  Over morning coffee, Sr. Lucy and I will reflect on the day’s gospel reading and how it relates to us in today’s context.  These morning sessions are very inspiring to me as I start each day.  I now read the Gospel and see people and things in a very different light.  The Gospel has become very real and I have learnt to relate it to my life.  Reading the Gospel is now a totally new experience.  It is more than reading the text, it is also about listening to the special message that Jesus has for me each day.  This marks the beginning of my spiritual growth.

As I got more and more involved, from being a participant in Restful Waters programmes, to being a volunteer and now a member of the staff, I take pride in being among ladies who have the audacity and courage to face the challenges that come with change.  Personally, it took a while before the imaginary barriers I had put up with the Sisters started to crumble.  Hence, I can understand the difficulties of the Sisters in accepting lay people into their fold as partners in mission.

I am privileged to witness many instances where Good Shepherd partners rose to the challenge to answer the call for help – from human trafficking to education for children, from victims of natural disasters to women who experience abuse.  The Sisters and partners had been quick to respond and take appropriate action.

I recall one Easter Sunday night.  The phone rang.  It was a call from someone in Malaysia.  It was for the Province Leader.  She took the call.  Her face suddenly looked grave, and her tone was serious.  After she hung up the phone, she informed the few of us at Restful Waters that a group of 14 trafficked women needed help.  A flurry of activities followed – making telephone calls, coordinating with relevant groups, information gathering, packing foodstuff, blankets, towels, toiletries, plates, cups, and cooking utensils.  Within one hour, the Province Leader set off with a small group, driving across the causeway to provide shelter, care, love and support to the trafficked women.

It was an Easter experience with a difference for me that night.  I saw the love of the Sisters reaching out to the helpless women.  I saw their courage in action, driving to Johor in the night, never mind that they were not very familiar with the directions.  I witnessed how God provided for His people.  It was divine providence that a friend had left her care at Restful Waters for the Sisters’ use as she was going to be out-of-town for a few days.  I saw hope for the hapless women.  And I saw a new purpose and direction in my own life.

As I continue on my life’s journey, happy and blessed to be a part of this Good Shepherd family, I am confident that with ever-increasing zeal and unity among us, we can make a difference in touching lives and giving hope.

I conclude with the words of Jerry Ellis who said, “We’re all only fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make!

 ~  Melina Ong  ~

An Attraction And A Privilege

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In 1999, I was a writer in search of meaning, my sense of importance diminishing in the face of  others’ suffering.  I signed up for a counselling course, and interned at the Good Shepherd Centre in Yishun.  The healing I witnessed in that centre has remained with me to this day.

During a group counselling session based on the centre’s Six-Step programme, an Indian maid stood up and, for the first time, in a soft tremulous voice, spoke of being abused by her former employer.  She had cried for hours when she first came to the centre, traumatised by the shock of having her arms and body slashed with a fruit knife.  A young Chinese woman, speaking in halting Mandarin, had been so cruelly abused by her father-in-law that her body shook, her voice quavered, and she gasped for breath when she tried to describe how her father-in-law had abused her.  How could she have allowed herself to be so wounded psychologically, you wonder.  How could years of verbal abuse create this shivering rabbit, afflicted by arthritis?  And she was only aged 30, with a six-year-old daughter and a sickly husband in hospital.  Her in-laws had blamed her for her husband’s illness.  Another young woman, a nursing student, was cruelly abused by her father when she was a child.  He beat, slashed and hit her till she bled, and forced her to lick the kitchen floor when she failed in her schoolwork.  Today, she shrank from human touch.  Touch signalled pain.  She avoided it instinctively.  And yet as a nurse, she had to touch and sometimes be touched.  She sought help from the centre.

These women of diverse ethnicity and backgrounds came to the centre for help.  And help was given (with a large dose of hope and courage) daily and unstintingly by the Good Shepherd sisters, staff and volunteers.  During the two years I was there as an intern, and later as a volunteer, I saw the healing that took place in the women despite their pain, troubles and tears,

A visit to the centre by Sr. Cecilia Liew piqued my interest.  This grave sister was a quiet rebel.  I liked the keen critical intelligence tempered by humility.  I had often thought it must be hard to be an intelligent, yet humble nun in a male-centred church.  And then came the unexpected meeting with Sr. Susan Chia by the dustbin just outside the convent in Nallur Road, a nun who overturned my assumptions about the mothers superior of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS).  I was drawn to their work and way of life.  As a writer, I was curious.  What made these women choose to live this way?  And the sisters have opened up to me most generously.  Sr. Susan and Sr. Joan Lopez, indeed many of the sisters in the community (too many to name) have humbly subjected themselves to my questions about the RGS’s way of life and their interpretation of `charism’ and `zeal’.  Their humility, their openness in speaking of their struggles, doubts and pain in facing change, and willingness to listen to the sceptical lay person; all these are lessons for me.  I too will grow old and be questioned by sceptics some day.

And one more thing that drew me to the RGS – the community’s care of the old in their midst.  From the sisters who cooked and sewed, to those who taught and served in schools and churches, everyone’s past contributions are recognised.  I have witnessed how the sisters in Marymount had looked after Sr. Ita, who was frail and blind before she returned to the Lord.  This acceptance of frail old age and disability, and the sisters’ daily act of care and communication with the feeble members in their midst, speak so loudly of their charism and zeal.  I cannot help but marvel at the silent devotion of Sr. Cecilia Cheang leading a blind Sr. Ita daily to the dining table and settling her down.  Is this special care for Sr. Ita alone?  The thought had crossed my mind.  I checked past records in their Annals.  The answer is `No’.  Other aged, sickly sisters had been similarly cared for.  But sadly, due to the dwindling numbers of young sisters and the increasing number of the old, this act of sisterly care might have to change.

After knowing such women, how then to break away?  I have to stay, and journey with them, for it is a privilege.

~ Suchen Christine Lim  ~