“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” Heb 13:7
The leaders of the young adult communities at OYP share their experience in community and what prompted them to desire Christ more. May their testimonies shed light on what it is like to be a shepherd to others and increase your willingness to serve your community.
My name is Alvin Poon, from the community of 1 Peter. I have been working as a financial consultant for about eight years since I graduated, and was baptized as a Catholic about three years ago.
The lenses with which I viewed the world radically changed when I decided to follow Jesus. The apparent glorious idolatry of fame, power, materialism, and pride melted away in the face of Jesus’ love. I realised that there is more to life and found a deeper meaning than the temporal riches of the earth.
Having journeyed with the community of 1 Peter, it has been an incredible spiritual journey. I remember remarking to my wife then that, “You guys are so serious? You have AGMs?” For me then, I had the impression that the Cell Groups on Fridays were informal sessions to gather and discuss about the faith, perhaps a bible-study and intellectual formation type of meet-ups.
I started off being a Sunday Catholic, appreciating the homilies sometimes, on occasion, on a weekly basis. However, I came to be amazed at how faithful my peers in 1 Peter are: they lived their faith on a daily basis, not because of the fear of weeping and grinding of teeth, but because of the spirit and a real and intimate love with the Lord. During sessions, they shared their lives ever so genuinely, which was refreshing in a world full of facades. It was then that I began to model my life closer to Christ, on a daily basis too. Coming from a non-Catholic background, I felt that I had a lot to catch up on, in terms of biblical knowledge and tradition (e.g. praying the rosary and divine mercy, amidst other things), as well as having the humility to invite Jesus more and more into my personal life, and dying more and more of myself each day in carrying His Cross.
Gradually, as I grew closer to the community, I realized that this was what Jesus wanted – to be the head of a church whose body comprise of different strengths, to be accountable to one another. Jesus did not do everything himself although he could well have. He entrusted the apostles, and it was not just a matter of one, or two, or three. There were twelve of them. They had their shortcomings; they were almost devoid of prior experience; some even went back to their old ways after following Jesus for a while. Yet, after Pentecost, it was homecoming for them, it was a time they were filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed Christ as their Lord to the very end.
“Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). The Lord Jesus gave his life up for me, and being called to serve his people is nothing short of a privilege. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11). There will be times when the devil will come in sheep’s clothing, and temptations lurk. There will be obstacles and challenges and the path will not be easy. Yet, when the Lord calls, he will equip those very people with the necessary graces and talents to overcome obstinate challenges, and it is with the Lord’s grace and his help, that I hope to step up in 2017/18 and carry His Cross.
I was unprepared – extremely unprepared. So much to a point that when I was told via text on 18th April 2015 on that I was in the newly elected pastoral team, my first thought was to reject it.
A very close friend of mine brought me into Seven Graces in Dec 2014. I was just about to finish my 3rd year of work and at the same time felt very lousy about myself. I was unhappy at work, unhappy with my personal relationships and felt extremely distant from God. Who am I to help lead this faith community? I struggled with myself for a while until I recognize that God may have called me to this precisely for this reason. The invitation to be closer to Him and to make a better life. To be honest, a part of me also felt that rejecting God never seems right. So I took it up.
I’m really glad I did. Simply because just a couple of months later, it was clear to me why God wanted me there. During the first few months of journeying with Seven Graces (known as Budding Community then), I was really flaky. I remember many lazy Saturday afternoons when I found 101 reasons not to join and often found myself skipping sessions. Thus, putting myself in a position that seemed to scream commitment and presence was perfect. If there is any way to push me through something, guilt and obligations would be the best way to do it. Hence I started to attend sessions more regularly.
Obviously that isn’t the ideal or even of a reasonable attitude for a leader to accomplish anything of worth in community. But that was when God’s second mysterious plan kicked in. He also placed 4 other role models in the pastoral team with me. I remember my first pastoral meeting very well. I was quiet to a point where the others were asking me several times if I was OK. Truth is, I felt very unworthy because I became acutely aware of how I fell behind in faith knowledge and how I led my life in faith (or lack thereof). Hence I thought that others could contribute better and kept quiet. After that, I desired to read more, learn more and seek God more.
The other aspect that really attracts me is the love the other pastoral members showed. Never have I in my life watched people agonize and pray so hard for others. Probably for months initially however, I took on quite a naive and negative outlook on it, wondering whether they were wasting precious time worrying about others who are probably doing well in their lives. I got cynical and even wondered if they were trying too hard to ‘be nice’. However, in time, I found myself entering into the lives of others more personally and in a more authentic manner. Once that happened, I realized that we can never be ‘too nice’ nor can we put ‘too much effort’ into somebody else. I came to learn that the hurts and brokenness of this world is so real and that whatever little we can do, it may mean so much to others.
After a term of more than 2 years, I am frankly still struggling. Still struggling to sometimes see the light of Christ in my own thoughts and actions for others. But because I am struggling, I’m ever so grateful to be on this journey with a community that has frequently reminded me of God’s love in the little words and actions I see in each member of Seven Graces.
Being a Christian leader requires you to put yourself in situations of great uncertainty. These situations could be as small as having to bare your genuine self in front of your community, or having to figure out what direction God wants the community to take. But God calls us to have courage and put our trust in Him always.
Having served my community, Living Ark, for over a year, I have had my share of these situations, and I am most amazed when God uses issues to solve other issues. A little more than a year ago, we were wondering how to encourage stable attendance for our weekly sessions. At the same time, we were also worried about our then-small community welcoming newcomers. But God’s clever ways never fail to amaze. Little did we know that the newcomers He planned for us are the very people who were instrumental in building up our community for the next few months! I am reminded of Jesus asking the first disciples to make the counter-intuitive choice to ‘put out into the deep’, and surprises them with more fish than they could ever imagine.
Oftentimes, during these moments of uncertainty, I find myself turning to St. Peter for guidance. He was the rock on which Jesus built his Church, but I am sure that he did not have a heart of stone. Instead, he was not afraid to show that he was afraid. He was aware of all his weaknesses, and he laid them all out before Jesus. Yet, all Jesus asked of him was whether he loved Him. And it is that love which allowed God to work through St. Peter.
Most of the time, I am like the cowardly version of St Peter, hyper-aware of all my weaknesses, debating in my mind if I should step out into the water. And most of the time, after you’ve considered everything, it comes down to a matter of trust. Should I trust in myself to decide on what’s best for community? Should I trust in my community to love one another? Should I trust in God to continue guiding my community towards His kingdom? Of course! Though my own answers may waver and change, I know that He will continue asking me to trust in Him, to have courage, and to be not afraid.