Magdalene Lek has prepared for baptism more than 200 elderly persons - her "students" are all betewen 60 to 90 years old - in one-to-one lessons during a ministry spanning close to 30 years. Why does she do it?
"I KNOW GOD loves me and as thanks to God I want to work for him," was how Magdalene Lek explained the motivation for her ministry.
Mrs Lek, 72, catechises elderly non-Catholics who are unable to attend RCIA either because of the language barrier or because they are house-bound. Since she began almost 30 years ago, Mrs Lek has catechised over 200 elderly people in weekly one-to-one lessons with them.
The road to her ministry began in 1975 when she joined a Bible cell group that met near the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There she first met retired IJ Sister Cecilia Chew, who used to teach at CHIJ school at Victoria Street (now known as CHIJMES).
After Sister Cecilia retired in Ang Mo Kio, she started the "Friends of Senior Citizens" where she, with a group of her fellow Sisters, would visit the elderly and teach them about the Catholic Church. After a period of instruction, these catechumens would be tested on their knowledge and when ready, they would be brought to a priest for baptism.
Magdalene began her ministry by accompanying Sister Cecilia on her visits to the elderly. When the IJ Sister grew too old to go on with the visits in 2002, Mrs Lek continued her work.
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Mrs Lek gets to know of the elderly people who need catechising through their children whom she meets in church. "Their children would come up to me and tell me that their parents want to be baptised," Mrs Lek said. "So I will call up (their parents) and find out more." Mrs Lek always ensures that it is the elderly themselves who want to be baptised, and not only their children wanting their parents baptised.
The length of instruction varies from person to person, although it averages about five to six months. "Sometimes I will go to the house, and they will say that they don't want to learn anything today," she said. "In that case, I won't insist."
Not only does Mrs Lek visit the house-bound, she also visits the sick who have been hospitalised.
Once a week, she visits St. Theresa's Home where the staff and patients know her well.
"She has a good heart," 80-year-old Mary Tan said of Mrs Lek who often comes by to pray with her.
Another reason why the residents of St. Theresa's Home like her so much is because she often has gifts for them - sweets, kueh buloh, biscuits. "Some of them even ask me to buy char kway teow for them," Magdalene shared, "but I cannot do that because their meals (in the Home) will go to waste."
Often, Magdalene will provide audio tapes of prayers for her students to listen to. That is usually the "homework" she gives them - to memorise some common Catholic prayers. When she next visits them, she will invite her students to pray with her before beginning the day's lesson.
"Sometimes, the older ones have hearing problems, so I have to speak very loudly into their ear," Magdalene said. "Then by asking them questions, I can tell from their answers whether they have absorbed what I have been teaching them."
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On Sundays, Magdalene can be found at the Church of Christ the King, where she invites those who have been baptised to go for the Mandarin Mass as a group. After the Mass, she brings them to Room 107 in the church where she breaks the Word for them in a language that they are more familiar with. For those who are unable to make the weekly trip to the church, Magdalene continues to keep in touch with them by telephone.
Having persevered in this ministry for over 20 years, Magdalene considers herself fortunate to be able to continue to "see the joy" in the faces of those who enjoy being taught catechism. "I feel very happy when I hear of those who want to be baptised," she said. "I thank God that the only problems I have encountered are due to my own ageing."
"She's very dedicated (in her ministry) and will go all the way, even though she has an aged mother (to look after)," said Father Joseph Tan, parish priest of the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Father Joseph is one of the priests who have baptised the catechumens catechised by Mrs Lek.
Father John Sim, who was once assistant priest in the Church of Christ the King in the 1980s and is now parish priest of the Church of the Risen Christ, agreed that for a layperson to go around to evangelise in the way that Magdalene has been doing for almost 30 years showed that she is a "very dedicated woman and devoted to her ministry".
He revealed that Mrs Lek would never say "no" whenever he asked her to catechise inquirers, "even going to their house" if necessary.
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Magdalene Lek (fourth from left) poses with a group of her newly baptised students in this old photo. Her students are mostly between 60 to 90 years old.
When Mrs Lek began her ministry, there were only one or two catechumens a year. However, since 1991, the number of people who have approached her have increased by many times. This year alone, eight people have been baptised, bringing the total to over 200. Sixty of her baptised students have already passed away. Her students are usually between 60 and 90 years old.
"The most important thing is to pray before going out," Magdalene reminded, "then when you do things for God, it will be very good and smooth."
Mrs Lek attends weekday Mass at the Novena church as often as she can and still continues to take part in the Bible study group that started it all 30 years ago.