The Impossible Dream: Genevieve Ng’s Story
I grew up in Singapore, in a Zen-Buddhist family, in an environment that allowed me time and space to develop and grow, to dream and fantasize. Living near the sea, I delighted in gazing at the sun setting over the water, dreaming of one day flying over the beckoning horizon and beyond. At the time it seemed like an impossible dream.
There was another ‘beyond’ that beckoned me. My father died when I was 14½ years old. He used to tell us that the one thing that mattered was to seek the Truth. Following that injunction led me on a religious search. One day I heard about “the Novena”. I thought it was some kind of show, and went to the church to see. What I experienced there drew me in. I encountered Jesus and fell in love with him. From then on “all I wanted was Christ Jesus” and to pass on this passionate love of mine (and his) to all I meet.
Through the Redemptorist priests in Singapore I heard about the Missionary Sisters of Service – then known as Rosary House Sisters – and their mission among people ‘beyond’, on the margins, geographically, socially, economically and also of the Church. I was drawn to this mission like I was drawn to the “impossible dream” of my childhood years. 5 June 1958, I boarded a Boeing 707 and flew from the Equator to a land and people I did not know, except through the exchange of a few letters with Father John Wallis and Sister Teresa Morse.
Arriving in Tasmania, I was faced with multiple challenges. It seemed almost everything was different from what I had known – the climate, the food, even sleeping in a bed with a layer of blankets. And there were the deeper differences, of culture, ways of thinking and relating…. But I was young and full of life. I revelled in the newness of everything and learned to adapt without losing my own heritage and identity.
After completing my initial formation, I entered the ‘highways and byways’ mission. I started out on the mission team of pastoral and formation work. We worked in pairs on a round of periodic visits to parishes around Tasmania. Then I was assigned to mission centre work, first at Longford, and later, Scottsdale. The mission centre gave opportunity for continuity of contact with the people. We visited all the country towns of the parish, teaching the weekly religion period in the schools, visiting families, working with Young Christian Workers and adult faith development groups. I loved the continuity of contact with people, especially youth and children, learning together and sharing activities with them, like cooking fried rice over an open fire.
From Tasmania I went to Parkes NSW and was introduced to the outback in areas such as Bourke, Wanaaring, Tibooburra. It opened me to the vastness of the country and the rugged resilience of the people, especially the Aborigines. We travelled miles and miles of red dusty roads and tracks to seek them out, and for a brief time share their lives over a cuppa, a meal or an overnight stay. I often found myself reminded of the song: “Give me land, lots of land with the starry skies above. Don’t fence me in.” Subsequently I also came to know the southwest of Queensland and the Eyre Peninsula and Inland of South Australia. My years in these places stretched me beyond what I had ever dreamed. The training of catechists and leaders for the liturgy of the Word for children was added to my work in these places.
When, after the end of the Vietnam War, refugees were accepted into Australia, I worked for several years with them in their re-settlement, first in Hobart and later in Adelaide and Whyalla.
Before making my perpetual vows in 1967, I returned to Singapore for a holiday, the first of regular visits over subsequent years. It was a wonderful reunion with my family. Imagine my delight when, in 1992 I was commissioned back in my home territory, into the highways and byways of Singapore and Malaysia, and occasional visits beyond. My impossible dream has come full circle. I am back with my own people, sharing with them the Good News of God’s immense faithfulness and love. That faithful love has sustained me over the years, especially through the people who love me, hold me, and walk with me in times of trials, sorrows, fears and joys.
My Buddhist roots, which taught me that religion is life, love and living, found a fuller flowering in my life as a Christian. The commandment of loving God with my whole being, heart, mind, soul and strength, set me free for adventure, energised by the passionate love of God. As I look back over the journey of my life, I am deeply grateful for all that has been.