By Genevieve Especkerman
I was a cradle Catholic and a Sunday Catholic growing up. By the time I was 13, I had stopped going to church, so I never went through confirmation classes and or had any experiences with community.
Just before university started in 2014, I attended the Awaken retreat. It was my first tangible experience of God, and I had a newfound conviction of wanting to live out the faith in my life. However, the next day, I went for arts camp, and without a community to continue supporting me on this faith journey, I lost everything that I had gained, and spent my first year of university in the secular world. I fell away from the faith again and struggled a lot with going for Sunday mass alone every week as well.
This whole time, my Awaken facilitator kept encouraging me to join the Catholic Students’ Society (CSS) community in NUS. I guess I had this innate desire to grow in faith, so after a year, I decided to go for cell group meetings at the start of year 2. Just before I went for my first cell group meeting, I made this “bet” with God that I would give Him this yes, and at the end of the semester, if no friends or community was found, then I would not return anymore.
The semester went by quickly and I still could not find a community, but something kept me going for Cell Group(CG) every week. CG had become a respite for me, where I could share about my life and talk about things that mattered.
By the end of the semester, I got to know a group of friends who really gave me a first taste of community– we would go to lunchtime mass together and then spend time hanging out almost every day. They also introduced me to the Office for Young People (OYP) and I attended the Combined University Retreat which OYP ran in December 2015.
Up till that point, I had never had the experience of prayer ministry. On the first day, there was a session where we were all sitting down in the hall with our eyes closed, and were asked to raise our hands so that the prayer team could pray for us. I still remember that I was sitting in the first row, right in front of the stage. I closed my eyes, and put my hand up. Then, the prayer teams started to pray. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard– the sound of people praying for others. CUR really sparked in me this desire to belong to a community, so I started attending CGs all the time, and in as many OYP events as they organised.
As I kept attending events, I slowly started to get to know more people, and started to understand what a treasure Catholic friendships are. These friends slowly became my closest friends, something that I never thought was possible just a few years back.
The support of community has really carried me through the times in my life when I struggled
For several months, I was in a relationship which I knew was not good for me. At the same time, I was too afraid to let go for fear of loneliness. However, a Catholic friend reminded and challenged me that I was made for more, and the security that she would be there to support me helped give me the courage to finally break off the relationship. On the night that we broke up, I was feeling so lost and did not know what to do. Then, I remembered what she told me on the phone just a few hours ago, “Call me when you reach home, I will be waiting for you no matter how late”. I went upstairs to my room and called her, not knowing what else to do. She stayed on the phone with me and both of us just cried together for almost half an hour. Then, she did something that only Catholic friends could– she prayed for me, when the thought of prayer was not even on my mind. She prayed for me when I could not.
Even as I tried to recover from this relationship, I struggled quite a bit. During the School of Christian Leadership(SOCL) this year, I received an image in prayer – I was like a little girl, holding Jesus’ hand, climbing up a high flight of stairs, and at the top of this flight of stairs was victory and freedom that Jesus had won for me. Every day, I would take one step up towards victory. Sometimes, I would let go of Jesus’ hand and try to climb on my own, but then I would fall back down. Those were the times where I had thought prematurely that I was okay, only to realise from my emotional reactions that I really was not, and had not recovered. However, I also saw in that vision, Jesus, together with my friends, supporting me from the bottom, so that I would not fall more than one step down. I was grateful for friends who would check up on me consistently; knowing that I could talk to them anytime, their reminding me to offer up my struggles to Jesus, their presence to pray with and for me, really helped to pull me through that period of my life.
Community serves as both accountability and support
Another instance where community kept me on my walk with Jesus was soon after SOCL. Even after receiving and claiming this freedom that Jesus had won for me, I started to fall back into my old ways of self-consciousness and awkwardness, and had decided not to go for Nox Gaudii in June. That night, several friends texted to ask why, and firmly reminded me of this freedom gained, and to question myself on my intentions and reasons for not going for the time of worship and fellowship with the rest of the Catholic community. That helped to set me back on the straight path toward Jesus, instead of straying off like I had unknowingly been doing.
The community has truly been a source of support and strength for me; to know that they are there to pull me back firmly but kindly, to set me back on the path towards Jesus. To know that they are friends that not only tell me what I want to hear, but what I need to hear. Friends who push me to grow deeper in faith and knowledge of God, and motivate me to always choose Him. To pray for me when I cannot pray for myself.
This all started with the one, first step of deciding to go for cell group back in year 2. If you are a university student reading this, I challenge you to also attend CGs when school starts, to have a constant throughout the semester, and be among like-minded brothers and sister who hold each others’ hands to run towards Jesus together!
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