Following the Hand of the Lord

Ervin TanFeature

Joel briefing the delegates at the Archdiocesan Assembly 2022. Photo: VITA Images

Following the Hand of the Lord

Currently serving in the Archdiocese’s Digital Church Office, 29-year-old Joel Tan shares the journey God has taken him on, a path borne out of a love for the Church.

Growing up, I was very aware of God’s presence in my family. As a young boy, I would always look forward to the rosary months of May and October, for that was when the extended family would gather to pray the rosary in Teochew. Back then, I was not so much attracted by the prayers by the delicious potluck food and time to play with my cousins. Being brought up in such an environment allowed me to witness many miracles around me. What was especially edifying was the realisation that my parents lived contrarily from the world. They modelled the faith by showing sacrificial love for us and were also loving and helpful to others. Through them, I was assured that God loved me. Being certain of the presence of this God whom I believed in, I became involved in Amplify, the youth ministry at the Catholic Spirituality Centre, in 2008. In serving in the retreats, I learned about the brokenness of others and started to question why such suffering was allowed and the part I was to play in God’s plan of salvation.

Casting my nets

Fast forward a few years, I began a journey of discernment to discover how God was calling me to participate in His plan. This eventually led me to enter the seminary in 2019. As a seminarian, I was privileged to visit the different parishes, ministries and schools, especially the hospitals and hospices where I helped in pastoral care. This exposure allowed me to see how God moves powerfully through His Church in the many facets of life. It was truly enlightening as it gave me a better understanding of the Church in Singapore. However, after completing my first year, I was unsure if I was called to continue on this path. As seminary formation is ultimately still part of the discernment process, I felt I needed to take a break and discern outside of this environment. After another two years of discernment outside of the seminary, I eventually felt convicted that God was calling me elsewhere.

Using my gifts

Before joining the seminary, I had been working in a start-up in New York. I could see how technology disrupted industries and brought about greater efficiency and convenience to the ordinary person, something which I thought was quite lacking in the Church. Being from a technology and information security background, I pitched the idea of a digital platform for our Catholics to share the faith and access common services to the Archbishop’s Communications Office (ArchComms). Along with some volunteers, I did a small presentation of what that could be, which generated some interest back then. Nevertheless, as the call to the seminary came first, that project was parked aside. However, as our providential God would have it, Wong Toon King, Head of the Digital Church Office and leading the digitisation masterplan of our Archdiocese, approached me after hearing from ArchComms that I was taking a break from the seminary. He invited me to join the Digital Church Team that was established in the midst of the Covid pandemic. The setting up of the myCatholicSG platform was the most pressing need at that time. Through the lens of faith, I saw that this call was meant for me. Truly, this was a sign of His love for me. God provided me with an opportunity to offer myself and the gifts He has blessed me with for His greater glory. I learned then that when God calls us to follow Him, He does not want us to stop being who we are and throw away our gifts or talents. Instead, He wants us to fully utilise them for His purposes. Eventually, I joined the team in March 2021 as the product lead and technical engineer at DCO.

Trusting in Him

I have shared with many that I consider this a dream job. There are numerous challenges working in DCO, where there is much to do with so few people. We are always looking for people to join us in this vineyard. Oftentimes, it can be quite draining to bear the load of the mission with a team in which only two are full-time workers, while blessed with a small group of dedicated part-time volunteers. However, I am immensely grateful that the Lord has called us to labour in this mission. Responding to this call was not difficult at the start, but now and then, the allures of the world would beckon, and I would naturally fantasise about what I could have had and earned if I worked in the secular world. The fear of losing out is a reality that I face since, at this age, one would typically be building a career in one’s prime. I often wonder why I still grapple with this when I was so ready to give it all up when I entered the seminary. However, I recognise that this is a different state of life, and responding to the call of service is not a one-time decision but a commitment to say “yes” every day. Moreover, as I continue to struggle with the Lord and prune my heart, the words of my spiritual director bring me God’s consolation of peace — “With open hands, we give what we have first received, and we receive what we will divest, once again. This is what blessings are: the sharing of life and love, the sharing of faith and God.” I pray that I may have the grace to continue saying yes and give of myself to God in the capacity that He calls me to, every moment of my life.

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