Singaporean Elaine Seow, a Masters degree holder, recently made her perpetual vows as a Verbum Dei Missionary
"I THOUGHT THAT it was going to be a normal retreat – normal in the sense that you get touched by certain experiences, and then recharged, you get back to your normal way of life, and that’s it. But I forgot that God is never normal, and at the least expected times, He acts in ways that we can never understand," says Elaine Seow, a Verbum Dei Missionary who professed her perpetual vows on Nov 29, in Taipei, with almost 200 family members and friends witnessing.
Her parents, Doris and James Seow, as well as 31 other Singaporeans were among those present. The Mass was celebrated by Taipei Archbishop John Hung Shan-Chuan, and concelebrated by nine priests.
The retreat that Elaine refers to was one led by the Verbum Dei Missionaries in 1998 in Singapore.
At that time, Elaine had just graduated from her Masters Course at Nanyang Technological University, and was looking for a quiet but rejuvenating time to get her started on her career as economic analyst. But God had other plans, and in a prayer with the word of God, she experienced the call of the living God: "Why spend money on what cannot nourish and your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and you will live. I shall make an everlasting covenant with you" (Isaiah 55:2-3).
"It was something and someone whom I could not ignore, an attractive pull that challenged my whole way of life. At that time, I didn’t think of consecrating myself as a religious, but I knew deep inside that something had to change radically," Elaine recalls.
That started the journey of discernment and discovery that brought her to the Philippines for
the formation course, and to Taiwan, where she spent the last seven years as a missionary, studying theology and actively promoting the Verbum Dei charism. "And not only had my life changed, my sister Sandra also had her world turned upside down."
Sandra too is now a Verbum Dei Missionary in Singapore.
Born in a Catholic family active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the parish of the Holy Cross, she was awakened, at a very young age, to the idea of mission when she saw a documentary on Doctors without Borders, about medical personnel who try to aid people in the poorest and most war-torn areas.
However, she took economics as a major in university because of the changed concept that it was money and not just medicine that helps people to get out of poverty. Then why now dedicate her life as a Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity, in a community that stresses not social help but "Prayer
and the Ministry of the Word"?
"As I grew up, it became clearer that nothing material and nothing on this earth can ever satisfy the human heart," she recalls.
"My own lifestyle was comfortable:
my parents tried to give us everything possible, I went places, met friends, had good relationships,
but the song of U2 kept echoing in my mind, ‘But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’."
The 1998 financial crisis was also a wake-up call not to place hopes on money and false securities
because that crisis affected the Master’s thesis that Elaine was working on. "It was then that God
called me through His word and I experienced a deep sense of peace and fulfilment, and a deeper joy than touring Europe for a whole month had done for me," she says. "Only God can satisfy the abyss that is within each heart."
For the Verbum Dei Missionaries, an encounter with the living Word of God, that is Christ himself, is the key to any social or personal transformation. And looking at the world and its many problems, it is evident that people need to learn to listen to God, to learn to live out His word, and to share it with others.
Elaine’s mission experience in Taiwan is varied, "from aborigines, to university professors
and students, to couples and children, from Catholics to people who do not know Christ", all need to personally know the God who knows, loves and calls each one of them from their mother’s womb.With regards to her vocation, she likens herself to a match in God’s hand, which although provides a small light, nevertheless lights up the darkness and shows the way. And for constant encouragement in the mission land where the Chinese language poses an everyday challenge for someone who used to dislike the language, she recalls Archbishop Oscar Romero’s words: "We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promises. We provide yeast that produce effects far beyond our capabilities. We may never see the end results but that’s the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are ministers, not messiahs, prophets of a future that is not our own."