Christabel (far left) after a fellowship meal with a fellow parish missionary and two youths from the Genesis Faith Community. Photo: Christabel Neo
It is in giving that we receive
With the flexibility of time afforded to her as a freelance make-up artist, Christabel Neo serves as a parish missionary to the youth community in the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Growing up as a cradle Catholic in a family of four, I had never given much thought to my Catholic faith. Being Catholic was just part of the culture that was passed down to my sister and me through my parents. Though we were baptised and enrolled in Catechism classes, we never knew why we had to go or even needed tobe baptised a Catholic.Not understanding my faith well enough, I grew distant from God and slowly drifted away from the Church.It was only after being introduced to a vibrant Catholic community at university that I first experienced authentic Christian living and the joy of the Gospel. This was the turning point in my faith journey.
Love changed my heart
I attended retreats, forged genuine friendships and experienced community life. Through these, God gave me the grace to encounter Him powerfully. I began to realise that the purpose of my life was to know, love and serve Him, but I just did not know how and what I had to offer in service to Him. In response to the grace given to me, I began going for daily Mass and devoting parts of my day to personal prayer. I offered whatever help I could to my university community and served in the confirmation retreats in my parish – the Church of the Risen Christ. As I continued to foster a closer relationship with Jesus through prayer and service, I started feeling much more alive in my faith. However, this radical change in my way of life was not well received by my family. Having to face disapproval from the people closest to me was difficult and truly heartbreaking. Yet, this led me to love them in a new way as I began to also pray for them, which to me was another experience of grace.
The call to service
After graduating, I naturally had to move on from my university community. I joined a young working adult community at the Office for Young People (OYP). I knew I needed a space where I could be supported and nourished in faith, but I did not know where God was calling me to serve. It was not until I was approached by my spiritual director, Father Justin Yip, the assistant parish priest of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that I felt the Lord calling me to a specific mission. He was looking for a parish missionary to provide formation, coordinate activities and, most importantly, individually journey in faith with the youths. In my spiritual journey with Fr Justin, I came to recognise how necessary it was for the youths in the parishes to be mentored and journeyed with, and that was a need I felt God was calling me to fulfil. While discerning, I struggled with anxieties about the sacrifices I would have to make to truly serve this community. I would have to set aside my Sunday afternoons, as that was when the community would meet. As a make-up artist, that meant I could no longer schedule appointments on Sundays, which is common for wedding engagements. Coupled with the commitment of attending my own community sessions at OYP, it also meant that serving as a parish missionary would also lead to sacrificing some family time. Other anxieties also came from the lies that I would tell myself that I was not good enough and I did not have much to offer. I was worried about not being able to add value to the faith of the youths whom I would journey with. Despite these thoughts, I chose to answer the call and began serving the youth community in January 2021.
It has been almost two years since, and in that time, I have realised that these doubts crippled me more than anything else. It has also been a great joy letting the Lord restore my self-worth through the mission He has called me to. Now, when faced with such uncertainties, I find myself turning to prayer and surrendering to Him. Through my service, I have come to recognise, more and more each day, that He is truly the master of my life. I know now that my service is not about what I can do but what God can do through me. I believe that God often calls us to service that sanctifies us, that to serve Him is often more for the sake of our salvation and less for His sake. Many people could be doing what I do and be just as capable, if not more, but He still chose me to do it. Serving as a parish missionary to the youths may not be as high a calling as being a priest or a nun, but in my exercise of faith and service, I have come to accept a fundamental truth of Christian life: that it is only in the giving of ourselves to God that we truly receive.