“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 ~