By Brian Russell C.Ss.R.
“Congratulations”, the letter said, “you have volunteered to go to Singapore”. Try as I might, that was something I could not remember saying. The letter was from the provincial of the Australian Redemptorists. I received it in the middle of a Lenten mission that I was preaching in Warnambool, in the Western District of Victoria. The year was 1965.
But that wasn’t all. The provincial went on to say: “Don’t plan on being there for too long; you are only going to help there for a couple of years.” After a ten day trip I arrived in Singapore in mid-May. More than 30 years later, at the end of 1996, I finally settled back in Australia. A couple of years can stretch into quite a long time!
After working for two years in Singapore, I went to Taiwan to study Mandarin, the national language of China. I took the intensive course including Chinese history and culture as well as the language itself. It was there that I began to see the truth in the old Chinese proverb: “Live till you are old, learn till you are old, but you still won’t learn even a third of what you aim for.”
I came back to Singapore via East and West Malaysia, sharing the Good News through parish missions, school retreats, retreats to religious sisters and brothers, and retreats to priests. Similar work continued in Singapore as well as plenty of adult catechesis. Most of this work was in English and only a little in Mandarin.
My last years in Asia were spent in Jogjakarta on the large Indonesian island of Java. There I spent three years helping the Indonesian Redemptorist Seminarians with their conversational English. I found this a quite challenging apostolate but very enjoyable.
Personally, I felt the most rewarding time I had in Singapore were the five years I worked with the Catholic deaf community as their chaplain. They were such a warm, generous, courageous and faithful group of people!
The most important learning for me over all those years was this: there is no such thing as ‘foreign missions’. It is the missionaries who are foreign.