by Johannes Tjendro
When more than 2,500 young people gathered at the Office for Young People (OYP) to celebrate their Catholic faith on a recent weekend (Jul 20-21), it was a cause for celebration for the Singapore Church.
Much planning was done to provide the right conditions for hearts to turn to the Lord at Catholic Youth Day (CYD) 2019, but all glory goes to the Creator who inspired every bit of creative touch employed by the 350 young people who formed the CYD service team.
God sowed seeds of inspiration in them, nurtured growth in their faith and caused them to bear fruits in abundance, as they reaped a mighty harvest for the Lord.
HE PLANTED THE SEEDS
Way back in April, when the seeds of inspiration were planted for a creative performance, production leaders Joel Lau and Stephanie Cheryl Lee took a leap of faith into unfamiliar territories.
Stephanie, a member of NTU Students Apostolate and intern at OYP, said she “was so excited and yet so apprehensive”.
“Would we really do it? Could we pull it off? Is this even possible?” she wondered then.
“However, in the entire process of preparing for CYD, there was not an instance that God did not guide us through,” she said. “As we prayed and laboured along side the Spirit, I encountered the creative and assuring Spirit of the Lord upon our planning. Each segment is carefully planted by the Creator himself.”
Stephanie recalled the first time seeing the whole production coming together, saying that Jesus worked all things for the good of those who love him, despite her human limitations.
“Even in our scrambling and running around, our shortcomings, failures and unpreparedness, he made a way, because he is sovereign over all,” she added.
Joel, who is a full-time staff at OYP, said the preparation process was “both exciting and scary”, as it was the first time OYP “tried to weave drama, dance, movement, testimonies and audio-visual elements together into a single story”.
He said the “many moving parts” required members to take on multiple roles in the production.
“However, it was very edifying for me to see their willingness to do more, and dedication to learn their parts week after week despite the demanding schedule of our practices. As the weeks progressed, I could also see the growth in their faith – overcoming their own feelings of self-doubt and growing in their ability to express themselves freely in worship of God. Through this production Jesus was also liberating them from fear.”
He added: “Jesus was truly the author of this production – first by inviting us to dream big and secondly gathering the right people to be part of the production. I felt that every person was uniquely called to be part of this production.”
One of them was 19-year-old lead cast Kristen Yeo, who played Joy. She shared how being part of the production “wasn’t easy” for her.
“I felt very inadequate and unworthy,” admitted Kristen, who had attended School of Witness 2019. “Many insecurities about my gifts started to surface during practices and I found it really hard to use these gifts for God.”
HE GAVE THEM GROWTH
Kristen’s struggle was not uncommon among the service team members, and the CYD experience proved to be an occasion of growth in their faith.
Michelle Gabriella Yong, 25, juggled multiple roles as a sectional leader in the choir and a befriender, as well as being part of the decoration team.
Michelle, who is a student at LASALLE College of the Arts, shared how she felt anxious, overwhelmed and exhausted.
“Somehow the weeks leading up to CYD just got busier and busier, with my personal and work commitments already being quite chaotic,” she said.
“I really loved being involved and doing CYD preparations but somehow, I was being swept in the currents of life that everything just came crashing at me. I was trying my best to handle things and get everything in order.”
It was thus timely that just a week before CYD, OYP chaplain Fr Jude David reminded the service team at a spiritual preparation session that it is not just the work of the individuals that bring people to the Lord.
“There’s power when two or three work together in his name. I want you to recognize the efficacy of the power of us working together, which will bring people back to the Lord,” he said.
“We will be strengthened in our own faith as we see God moves and works through us. While we bring the little faith we have, God multiplies and increases our faith.”
So despite feeling unprepared on CYD, Michelle chose to offer it up to Jesus who, as the event theme says, is “Name Above All Names”.
“I said to Jesus: ‘I surrender this day to you Lord. I can’t do this. I need you, please help me Jesus.’ It was that simple surrender, that simple whisper or cry to the Lord that graciously and miraculously pulled me through the day, and even allowed me to receive so much more than I had expected.”
HE PROVIDED SUNLIGHT
For Michelle and the young people – service team members and participants alike – God’s first act of mercy that day was to clear the skies for the outdoor space, defying the weather forecast.
“The clouds are cleared for you today,” Juliana Aloysius, OYP staff-in-charge of CYD, declared during the service-team intercession on Saturday morning.
Her prophecy held on throughout the day as Brother Sun shone brightly until the sunset Mass, celebrated by Archbishop William Goh, was completed.
At the audio-visual booth, Bryan Ong, 25, was caught in “a huge flurry of things to do, remember and be on top off”, but he said he felt a “very resolute sense of Jesus watching over all I did”.
“So even when I was neck-deep in editing videos, recording and trying to make things work, I knew Jesus was keeping me calm and focused, giving me the grace of craftsmanship to work through His glory and lifting me up when I felt overwhelmed,” the NUS Catholic Students Society member added.
Evening came and the F&B team worked to ensure the people of God were well fed. Behind the scene while the crowd had their dinner, the worship and production teams made final preparations for their segments, while munching on mini sandwiches.
Their excitement for the night was tempered with feelings of inadequacy. Some, when asked how they were feeling, could only mutter an “OK”. But they clinged on to the sure hope that God himself would go before them.
HE MADE THEM BEAR FRUITS
The worship team began leading the young people to seek the Lord in one voice. Hearts were moved, in fact, just by witnessing the mighty throng of disciples raising their hands and singing their hearts out in freedom.
Backstage, the production crew double-checked that things were in order, while the cast got into their characters. I was one of them; I sat still – nervous, but in awe of the great act of love that God was doing.
As the production opened, Kristen said she was able to surrender her character to the Lord, “to let her testimony be heard to all present there”.
She added that she was humbled and touched by the affirmations she received after the production, knowing that she was “part of God’s plan to renew and convert hearts”.
“I can truly say now that I embrace these gifts from God, because they are enough to testify to the great love of God.”
Great indeed is the love of God that many hearts returned to the Lord as the night progressed. Preaching after the production, Fr Jude led the young people to reflect on the story presented to them – how their lives might be just as broken and imperfect, and yet Jesus called them home to restore their lives.
The fruits of CYD were especially visible when the evening culminated in a time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, during which Fr Jude called on young people who wanted to come home to the Catholic Church to come forward and receive prayers.
REAPING THE HARVEST
Samuel Tan, 26, who was in charge of liturgy, said he was heartened to see young people desiring to deepen their faith.
“It brings immense hope for me, hope that we are not a dying church despite the statistics,” he said. “During the altar call, it must have taken a lot of courage to walk up given that some of them had left the church. I think that night many hearts were moved.
“As a service team member, it’s not about the success of the event but that people return to the Lord. That’s what gives us joy and makes our efforts fulfilling.”
Reflecting on the harvest of the night, Stephanie said she left CYD convicted of the faithfulness of God in making a way for his children to come home to him.
“As I witnessed the throng of people coming forward to the altar during the altar call, I was moved to tears. I experienced the tangible love of the father and his great desire for all to know that they are so deeply loved by Him,” she added.
“God is faithful to me, to our efforts to build His kingdom. My mere five loaves and two fishes may look pathetic to me but Jesus still uses them to draw people to himself. Truly he is the Lord, and I’m so proud to proclaim that this is the God I worship and live my life for!”
Joel said he experienced “a deep sense of communion” through the production.
“I saw how each member of the production team gave of themselves in a way no other could – their salvation story, their own struggle with brokenness, and their gifts and talents,” he shared.
“This unique gift of self was poured out into the Body of Christ in a way fuller than any individual could manage. In this communion, Jesus was made real and the hearts of the audience were opened to receive him in the Blessed Sacrament. It was a very blessed image of our One Church.”