For decades, Andrew Goh has been using dialects to teach the faith to the elderly. Annabelle Liang catches up with him.

Mr Goh using props to teach catechism in the home of an elderly person.

Come rain or shine, Mr Andrew Goh mounts his maroon scooter to perform his daily mission.

For the past 24 years, the 80-year-old has been teaching the Catholic faith to elderly and sick people in the comfort of their own homes or in groups at churches.

“All the young people go to RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] classes,” said the seasoned catechist. “Nobody works with the elderly. They are neglected.”

Mr Goh, who introduces the faith to these people upon request, is multilingual. He converses and prays with his students in English, Mandarin, and the Peranakan, Hokkien, Hainanese, Teochew and Cantonese dialects.

At the first session, he teaches them about the Trinity. Then, he teaches them how to make the sign of the cross. He also uses visual aids such as hand-coloured diagrams to tell the story of creation. “I found that it’s very easy for people to understand,” he said.

Some of the visual aids that Mr Goh uses in his ministry.

A string of pearls illustrates a parable where a merchant sells everything for what he values. To show the effects of bad habits, Mr Goh wraps a bicycle chain around his arms.

Among the curious items in his backpack are mustard seeds, a jar of rice, a bag of dirt, paper cutouts that look like communion hosts and children’s books. “This is mind therapy. Once they can envision something, they can remember,” Mr Goh explained.

To teach the names of Jesus’ disciples, Mr Goh weaves a narrative. He associates the apostle Philip with the popular brand, which manufactures colour televisions.

A typical session lasts for an hour. Often, he is asked to return. After 13 to 26 lessons, depending on the student’s health, baptismal arrangements are made after the person has indicated his or her desire to become a Catholic.

Formerly an insurance agent, Mr Goh missed out on a promotion and quit his job in the late 1980s. A friend asked him to attend Novena Church. He went and was later baptised at the Church of the Holy Family in 1991. “Then I served Jesus instead of serving insurance,” he quipped. “I wanted to go out and spread the Good News.”

He became a full-time funeral minister and later a communion minister. At that time, the late Fr Alfred Chan, who could speak several dialects, was holding catechism classes for the elderly at Holy Family Church.

Mr Goh tagged along. He had grown up speaking Peranakan and Hokkien, but also managed to pick up Hainanese and Teochew. Cantonese was the hardest to master, so he watched cooking shows by chef Martin Yan.

In 1993, Mr Goh printed out name cards in the hope of reaching out to elderly people in their homes. Only three people were interested. Later, however, the number grew by tens before reaching a peak in 2005, when he helped 103 people to be baptised.

Last year, 68 people were baptised, bringing the total number he has helped become Catholics to 1,427. He has 360 godchildren.

Mr Goh uses a scooter to get around.

Mr Goh currently helms weekly classes for the elderly at Holy Family Church (see story below) and the Church of Sts Peter and Paul. When Novena Church re-opens later this year, he is set to lead classes there as well.

On Sundays, another group gathers at his house where he lives with his wife, who is a free thinker. They have two children.
He does not charge for classes or home visits. “What God gives me for free, I give you for free,” Mr Goh said. However, he accepts donations to cover transport.

Mr Goh is also looking for people to continue his unique ministry. For months now, a few younger persons have been helping with his classes. One has started to make visits on his own.

What Mr Goh teaches “is very basic stuff,” said Fr Damian De Wind, who oversees the catechetical ministry at Holy Family Church. As most of Mr Goh’s students are elderly, “it isn’t easy to comprehend much more.”

Sometimes, Fr Damian skims through Mr Goh’s worksheets to ensure they are aligned with Church teachings. “Andrew is a unique person. Definitely, we need pastoral care from someone like him, who is able to relate to the elderly,” said Fr Damian.

“I think he is living up to Vatican II, which is about the empowerment of laity. This is where a lay person can play an important role, teaching catechism to the housebound, elderly and dialect speaking.”

If you would like to help, or know of an elderly person who would like to know about the faith, contact Mr Goh at 6348-0169 or 9115-5673.

A typical class at Holy Family Church

Mr Goh conducting a class.

Mr Goh’s Thursday catechism class at the Church of the Holy Family draws 30 people on average. Catholics and non-Catholics are welcome.

They sit in a circle and wait for class to begin. It starts with a prayer in English, which is translated into Mandarin and a variety of dialects, depending on the needs of those in attendance.

A Bible verse is read by Mr Goh and translated by his assistants before role play or sharing starts.

The class also sings well-known hymns like I Surrender All and Let There Be Peace on Earth. Also included are dialect favourites Lai Sin Ya Soh (Believe in the Lord in Hokkien) and Sayang Isa (Love Jesus in Peranakan).

Most attendees are elderly. Some have faced life-changing illnesses such as cancer, while others have doubts or questions about the Catholic faith.

Ms Sharon Tay attends to learn a thing or two. The 48-year-old is involved in the Society of St Vincent de Paul at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.

“I want to reach out to old folks who are neglected but have a desire to know God,” she said. “I think it’s really meaningful.”