I was introduced to the work of the Good Shepherd Sisters way back in the 1980s through my initial contact with late Sr Susan Chia and my professional work at the Students Care Service, and the Community Chest of Singapore of which Marymount Centre was a member for a period of time.
As my friendship with Sr Susan grew, so did my involvement in the work of the Good Shepherd Singapore/Malaysia Province. Susan would share passionately with me on the various ministries in the Province. She would share stories of the poverty of the villagers and the women and children who were survivors of abuse whenever she returned from West Malaysia and Sabah. Sometime in 2006, Susan invited me to be a volunteer (the term 'lay mission partner' was not used at that time). I accepted her invitation to chair the management committee of a new ministry - 'Good Shepherd - Restful Waters' - set up by the Province Leadership Team (PLT).
The work at Restful Waters enabled me to work closely with Sr Lucy Chia and other Good Shepherd Sisters in the Province, the lay leadership and staff, and volunteers. I learnt much from Sr Lucy close-up as she lived out her Good Shepherd values. Over time, my interactions and friendship with the mission partners offered me new understanding and some insights into the world of the religious sisters, and the Good Shepherd Congregation. I learnt about the history of the Congregation and its Foundress, St Mary Euphrasia. I was impressed by the global reach of the Congregation. I read, and witnessed the zeal, compassion and courage of Good Shepherd Sisters in action all over the world and how they try to emulate Mother Foundress and her love for children and women who were poor and marginalised.
In 2014, I was surprised by an invitation from Sr Dorothy Khaw, Chairperson of the Mission Link Committee (MLC), to take on the chair of MLC following her plan to retire as the Chairperson. The MLC was formed in 2006 by the Province Leadership Team and tasked primarily to strengthen religious-lay partnership, and promote formation of lay partners in the Province. While I had served the MLC as a member for some years, I was, nonetheless, hesitant to undertake this huge responsibility. I prayed over this matter, and I thought SME would like to see me responding courageously and positively to this invitation. When I finally agreed to take on the role of chairperson, I claimed Sr Dorothy as my mentor in the MLC. She agreed to guide me along and I teasingly call her 'boss' whenever I see her.
Looking back, there is no doubt that the Mission Link Committee had contributed immensely to building trust and cementing religious-lay partnership through its annual gatherings, publications and activities. These are very deliberate intra-Province efforts to develop partnership and encourage networking at all levels. In the first three years of the MLC, energy and effort were expended to gel the MLC team itself, besides the extensive discussions, exploration and clarification of the terms 'partnership' and 'co-responsibility'. Due to the structure, there was also the challenge by lay partners to defer to the religious sisters on ministry/management matters. Today, this is a non-issue, and we are all simply Good Shepherd mission partners, working in consultation with, and respect for, each other in the interest of the Mission. Credit goes to Sr Dorothy and the PLT for their hard work, openness and tremendous support.
The MLC itself has since moved beyond its initial objectives. Today, it also serves as a sounding board for the PLT or any ministry leadership to discuss ideas and macro issues. The team is cohesive and open to listening to each other. MLC has also recently successfully advocated for the establishment of the Mission Enrichment Office to address the need for more structured formation programmes within the Province.
This being its tenth year, it is timely for the MLC to review its terms of reference to support the Province‘s new directions after its Chapter in September 2016.
In conclusion, as an active lay mission partner, my sense is that the Good Shepherd Province of Singapore/Malaysia and the Mission Link Committee may want to focus, over the next few years, on the twin critical areas of leadership development, and good governance to support the Mission’s sustainability.
On 5th June 2017 participants gathered at Restful Waters, Singapore for an English language programme, which also offered time-out to learn and refresh the Spirit
The Good Shepherd Mission Team in Singapore describe the steep learning curve they travelled in enabling a community in Padaviya, Sri Lanka to have new healthy water systems
Sister Inigo Joachim, from the Sisters of St Anne, presents a two day retreat to more than 40 Good Shepherd Mission Partners - sisters, staff and volunteers
Comprehensive overview from the GSAPP team - how Good Shepherd Partnership for Mission is developing in this region