My name is Ashley; I am a 23-year-old woman studying the 3rd Nursing degree in Otago Polytechnic. I would be sharing my story of how I found Christ in my life. I come from a family of very devoted Catholics, and was broughtup in a Catholic environment. But as a child, I was not familiar with the concept of God. But faith is a journey, like how Pope Francis put it,
and I remembered many good things that God has given to me in my life.
"the believer is essentially one who remembers"
The biggest part of my journey is when I came to New Zealand, to study my nursing degree. It was a beginning of a long and difficult journey for me. It has really tested my faith. When I am in New Zealand, I did not have my family, or youth group or my old parish community with me. This really affected my prayer life, because back at home, I always prayed the rosary with my family daily and my youth group every week. But when I’m in Dunedin, there are no weekly Catholic prayer meetings, and I really missed having a weekly prayer meeting to thank Jesus for the week and to refresh my spirit at the end of a long week. I found myself not saying my rosary or reading the Bible, as I don’t have the motivation for it when I’m not with a community.
I would go to Sunday masses every week and I would do readings on the Sundays. But I still want to come closer to Jesus, so I started going to different prayer groups. For 6 months, I joined the Baptist young adults prayer group, but I was not satisfied. I have made lots of friends in the group, but somehow I didn’t feel like I fit in. And then for a year, I joined the Seventh day Adventist Bible study group, but that didn’t feel right either. Something was missing.
This was when I started feeling dry and unsatisfied, I find it hard to focus when I’m praying and I can’t feel the presence of Jesus even when I sing or pray.
It is not necessarily a bad thing. I learnt about the faith desert from a priest in Christchurch, Fr. Antoine, who was giving a talk during Holy week. He said, normally faith would first come in a fire, where everything was exciting and God give you everything you need to grow the faith. Then when you’ve learnt how to walk, God would let you try yourself in the world, to test the strength of your faith. This is the desert. But He won’t leave you alone. He would make sure help always comes in the right time, when you need it.
It was only this year that I realized I was in a faith desert.
For me, that was a really important lesson, and I realized that all these years, I have been pampered. All the while, from when I was conceived, till I left Malaysia, my wonderful family, my wonderful parish and my beautiful friends surrounded me. I never learnt to depend on myself. Now I am in a far away place, I started to worry about myself and where I needed to go for help. This is the selfish and spoilt girl’s thinking. In actual fact, I should not be thinking about how others can serve me, but how I can serve others. If there is no Catholic youth group, start one. So I came back to Dunedin after Easter and was determined to start a prayer group with my friend Frances, but I have never done it before. A few months later, Frances told me about a prayer group in Holy Name church.
I started attending the prayer group and it was just so refreshing to have like-minded youths coming together and supporting each other in faith and in our daily life. I felt like I have finally found my family again.
Since coming to this group, I felt I’ve come closer to God, my thirst was quenched,I’m less anxious and I’m filled with the spirit to do more for God. Jesus said in the Bible, “Whoever is thirsty should come to me and drink” (John 7:37) and “Whoever believes in me, streams of life-giving water will pour out from his heart” (John 7:38). A year back, my prayer group and I have organized a lovely event in the Sacred Heart home in Dunedin. The event is called “Connected 2013” which had the central theme of WYD 2013, where all Christians, young and old, are connected in the spirit and in prayer. I’ve never organized an event before, and was not confident if I could help at all. Since the completion of the event, I have been filled with the wonders of what the Lord could do with us if we let Him work through us.
I have gained more confidence in the gifts God gave me and I’m more excited about my mission, which is “to be a youth that brings other youths to God”.