Community, the Womb of Vocation

As we joyfully continue our countdown towards the triple ordination
on May 1st at Church of the Holy Family, Kajang,
we feature here the first of the vocation journey stories of the trio,
beginning with Deacon Simon Lau Chee Kin.


 

Simon 01 Small aA very passionate Deacon Simon sharing his vocation storyDeacon Simon Lau Chee Kin is a personification of the bible verse “God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29), seeing how he didn't know Jesus Christ until he was 22 years old.

On May 1, after years of discernment and eight years of hard work and sacrifice, Deacon Simon 44, will be ordained as a diocesan priest alongside deacons Dominic Tan Chung Yong and Xavier Andrew at the Church of Holy Family, Kajang, Selangor.

Penang-born Simon comes from a small, non-Christian family of four, with one older brother.

Back in the early 90s, the SMJK Chung Ling Butterworth alumnus, moved to Kuala Lumpur after completing his SPM, to pursue his love for art at the Malaysian Institute of Arts (MIA). Skilled in Chinese ink painting and calligraphy, his dream was to become a famous artist.

“I never thought I would become a priest, I wasn’t even a Christian,” said Simon, at the Church of Sacred Heart, Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, where he now resides after completing his seminary education, to help build up the parish’s Chinese community.

Simon 02 Small 1 aThe young art student with his calligraphic workIt was after graduating college with a diploma in Fine Arts that Simon learned about Jesus and the Catholic faith from his housemate Helen Guek. Helen used to have friends over, mostly students from TAR College and MIA, for regular prayer meetings and Simon joined in. Almost half of those who attended were non-Christians but they came together to pray.

“My faith slowly began to grow and Helen gave me my first bible.”

Fresh out of art school, with little to no knowledge of what to do with their college education, Helen, Michael Yap, Veronica (now in New Zealand), Kenneth and Simon founded Footprints Creative Centre.

The five of them began freelancing and their first project in 1996, was for the KL Archdiocese -- to do silk screen printing for 50 banners with the words ‘New Way of Being Church’.

With that, their business began to grow and flourish. The following year, they bought a van and every morning, Simon picked up a dozen friends from the neighbourhood and attended Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Setapak, Kuala Lumpur. Its then parish priest was an elderly Frenchman named Father Antoine Henriot who baptised Simon in 1998.

Simon 03 Small 1 aSimon (standing right red t-shirt) and his support team. Half the youths were non Christians when the picture was taken.
Today, they are all baptised and play active roles in their respective parish communities
Watching the 73-year-old priest wobbling his way to serve Mass daily, was the first trigger deep within Simon, who was 24-years-old then, that there was a shortage of priests and he silently prayed: “Lord, do you want me?”

Simon and friends continued to host weekly praise and worship sessions followed by bible sharing, intercession, and fellowships. Fr Henriot would sometimes attend and celebrated Mass for them. It was this Christ centred community that made a monumental difference in Simon’s life.

“I didn’t have a family to bring me the faith, but this community did. For me, a community is the womb of vocation.”

Of the 13 friends, Damasus Yong is already an ordained priest under the Taiwanese Order Divine Word in Canada, Philip Tay is now a second-year theology student under the Carmelite Order in Australia and Simon himself, soon to be ordained a diocesan priest in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

These gatherings went from being held at Simon’s home to his office and just before he joined the seminary, it was moved to the church. Students from the two colleges continued to join in, but Simon and friends found it harder to connect with 20-somethings as they were almost 10 years older.

Simon 04 Small 1 aSimon (back, right) and his friends
after their baptism in 1998
In 1999, Simon joined a 34-week Chinese bible course called Becoming Disciple Through Bible Study Programme as the word of God was very important to him. The crux of the programme was how to incorporate bible knowledge into daily life as it aimed to form disciples, not scholars. The following year, Simon become a facilitator and served for many years.

“Facilitating this programme was a huge commitment but it helped form me as a disciple.”

Reading the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters on how the early Christians went out to spread God’s word was another trigger for Simon.

In 2002, after attending a retreat at College General, Penang, he heard God's voice asking him: “Are you willing to die for me?”

“Immediately, I cried within my heart and responded: ‘Yes, Lord, I am willing but you must help me’.

"Although that was my reply, I did not really understand the meaning of 'die' -- what God meant was dying to myself.”

Simon 05 Small 1 aSimon with his parentsCome 2004, a year after he escaped a nasty car accident without a scratch, Simon was more assured of his calling and began attending several vocational camps organised by the various religious communities including the Order of Friars Minor (Capuchins), Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord (CDD), Redemptorists and College General to see where he’d fit in.

Archbishop Emeritus of Kuching, Dato Sri Peter Chung and Fr Henriot were some of Simon’s biggest inspirations.

That year, he also decided to tell his parents his desire to become a priest. His father didn’t say much but his mother was deeply disturbed and burst into tears. Feeling he hurt her, he put his priestly vocation on the back burner.

Yet, his spirituality continued to grow by leaps and bounds as did his business. His company specialised in interior decorative art finishes and some of its contracts included Sunway Pyramid, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Seri Perdana Putrajaya and Dewan Santapan Istana Negara. Simon’s final project before entering the seminary was Istana Iskandariah, Kuala Kangsar.

Simon 06 Small 1 aWith his mentor Fr Henriot
(who passed away in 2016 at the age of 92)
An avid sportsman, Simon loves hiking, scuba diving, cycling, fishing, and camping. He’s taken part in a climb-a-ton up Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, triathlons, marathons and Ironman competitions for three consecutive years, to name a few. These were also parts of his life he struggled to let go, to answer God’s calling.

While he enjoyed a comfortable life doing what he loved, he could not really experience true happiness and joy.

“Whenever I faced God, I felt inadequate and remorseful.”

In 2008, while he was cycling, he suddenly heard Jesus telling him: “I have waited a long time for you”.

“I cried and realised I had neglected His love for me and avoided His calling for the past five years.”

“Suddenly I had the strength to let go and let God. I felt the joy, peace, grace, and strength of God flowing within me.”

Simon took necessary steps to arrange entry into the seminary, wrapped up his business the following year and went to look after his ailing dad before joining College General in 2010.

That year his father passed away. His mother, who hasn't accepted Christ, slowly accepted Simon's calling.

Amidst the turmoil of losing his father, Simon failed his English Language test, which was a requirement to move to the next level.

Simon 07 Small 1 aComing out in 12th place out of over the
100 Malaysian participants at the Ironman competition
“I needed 6.5 points but I only got 6, I thought, after all, I had been through, my whole vocation was over.”

Fortunately, the college rector at that time, Fr. Gerard Theraviam waived this, allowing him to move forward.

Simon felt it was probably God’s way of showing him – ‘It is by my grace you are doing this, not because you are good at it’.

“Every moment, God was there.”

Simon often finds solace in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

A bible verse he holds close to his heart (as he feels Jesus is speaking to him) is John 21:17 “Simon (son of John), do you love me? Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, "Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you." Jesus said, "Then feed my sheep”.

Luke 6:36 is another favourite: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

As Simon becomes an ordained priest, he continues to enjoy his outdoor activities, though on a smaller scale and he has earned new families among his seminarian brothers and priests, and parishioners.