Seven years. That’s how long Babes and I held the Singles for Family and Life ministry in Hong Kong as couple coordinators.
During which period, as members of the Family Ministry helped guide the spiritual journey, young men and women transition from teenage life and most of their adult life just before they choose their vocation.
Seven years. That’s how long it’ll take for chewing gum to digest, some say. And a little less than 10 percent of a human being’s average lifetime. But that’s just a short time. In perspective, if the Earth existed for 24 hours, humans only emerged in the last three seconds. And within that timeframe, we have managed to exploit the world to our advantage. Yet, despite the advances in technology and healthcare, we remain mortals. We celebrate great grandparents who set milestones by breaching the century mark.
Where am I driving at?
Seven years may belong to those who wait but sadly short for those who take one day at a time and enjoy every moment. So for us, counting the years was both a mix of ‘how did we manage to stay this long?’ and ‘I am getting used to it that it’s sad to leave this ministry.’
For me, the seven years was just a subset of an era I got to know and be proud to belong to the Couples For Christ Family, which has seen a few name changes since I joined. Before accepting the role, I was a member for a decade and met friends like Baba, Dodo, Tintin, Junjun, Sasa, Cissy… I guess you got the hint? We joined household meetings, group discussions, sports fests, and fellowships. Some of us left for greener pastures, got married, or pursued other challenges.
And soon as I got my permanent resident status in Hong Kong, I lost my job, got married, and had to contend as a “freelance consultant” while seeking employment. It took longer than expected, but the new challenge of taking care of SFL Hong Kong became one of my focus, hoping that the ones who anointed us in late 2011 made the right choice.
We endured a steep learning curve in the initial weeks, learning the ropes mostly on our own. At such point, I wondered if accepting the role was a wise move, sometimes questioning if my wife’s initial thought was correct. The new position also required us to spend more time with the ministry: arranging teachings such as Christian Life Seminars, securing venues, assigning speakers, and buying meals. In some cases, we hosted full-time workers at home, learned to play guitar for worship, or studied talk outline as speakers. It was exhausting, but we endured and continued to press on until we finally produced our first graduates.
Flashback: Once Zandro, Mike, Peter, and Mark got married and Eboi, Dodo, Chito, and Gino moved to Manila, the singles ministry somewhat became dormant during my time. To avoid going through the same outcome, we rallied the new grads. We hoped that fresh from their transition as YFL members, and new members will find the SFL worth embracing, and get rid of the boring label it was known then.
Then, our assignment expanded from just looking after weekday SFLs to including members with weekend household groups. At the time, I thought there was a gap between the two groups. During our time as SFC members, each group had its own set of activities, such as event presentations. It was made that way because of availability and scheduling issues. But we also thought that as one unified ministry, there should be no distinction between these groups.
Even if that meant we had to spend twice the time to look after these groups, we thought we made the right move. That’s because it helped members get to know more about each other better.
Along the way, new members joined, some were integrated, and a new breed of leaders accepted their roles as household servants. That meant the expansion of household groups, even though we also had to do some BOMB (bring old members back) campaign for those who went missing in action. Changes also took place in the Family Ministry. But since nobody was able or willing to take over our position, we held on to the role for a while.
As much as there were plenty of ups, there were downs as well. Some members were involved in conflicts with the ministry, with some leaders openly confessing to me their frustrations. When we had fellowships, our leadership was questioned because a social media post showed us raising bottles of beer as a way to celebrate the weekend. When we missed our flight back home from the Batangas World Singles Congress, I heard negative feedback, albeit indirectly.
We never claimed to be perfect leaders, that is why we always told SFL members that we are with them in their spiritual journey, and not some spiritual adviser who belong to a class above them in holiness. As we acknowledge our shortcomings and failings in leading this group, members can easily relate to our daily struggles.
Such experiences could have easily prompted us to wave the white flag and give up. But we stuck with these fine men and women of Christ.
By then, the calendar of activities became more defined. Household meetings were held regularly, and the source of topics was plenty. Assemblies were still not routinely done due to challenges in the venue, service team availability, and sometimes clash with significant events. But we managed to gather the group on other occasions such as fellowships, where some inactive members show up. There has been a regular representation from SFL Hong Kong to the World Singles Congress, and echo conferences became one of the highlight events of the year.
Outreach programs, service to the Christian Life Seminar, and Live Christ Share Christ became the norm. And as members became more involved with service to parishes or organizing Liturgical Bible Study or household meetings within their limited schedules, I noticed their spiritual maturity and felt a sense of accomplishment.
When I got a job offer to work in Sydney, it meant that whether someone is ready to take over or not, we had to relinquish our role.
I soon realized that the longer we hold on our responsibilities, the higher the separation anxiety we felt. Even though it meant we’re freed of our time, we still longed to do the service no matter how exhausting it can be. For instance, we missed being part of the Family Ministry service team on significant events or serving as choir at St Vincent Parish.
In retrospect, it was a well-spent seven years. Yes, we had our struggles. There are frustrations and unmet expectations that some members faded away. Some relationships were broken, and friendships tarnished. But as servants dealing with grown-up Catholics who can decide on their own, there’s only so much we can do.
After seven years, our time is up. It’s long overdue. But moving on does not mean letting go. Distance may separate us, but the seven-year bond will continue throughout our lifetimes.