Strong Convent Bonds

Stella Alexander was the Conductor while singers were
grouped as the Violins, the Clarinet, the Horn and the Drums;
Peggy [2nd from Far Left] is next to Christina Khoo
[3rd from Far Left] in the Violins group
 
It all started with my former classmate, Christina Khoo, whose late father’s hobby in photography left us with some very precious photos taken while we were Primary kids in Holy Infant Jesus Convent Johor Baru.  When Christina discovered this collection of photos among her father’s mementoes, she shared them with me.  These priceless photos brought back a flood of fond memories because some were taken at our first stage presentation in school.

Christina and I examined the photos, trying to figure out who’s who in the black and white shots and remembered that we were put in groups as the Violins, the Clarinet, the Horn and the Drums to sing in separate groups and together in harmony.  Christina and I were among the four girls in the “Violin” group and even though we tried to remember the lyrics to that song, I could only recall brief snatches.  We grew up with these friends throughout Primary and Secondary school and one of them, whom we have not seen since we left school is Stella Alexander, the girl who was in the Conductor’s role.

Backstage before the concert: [Back Row Left to Right] Chia Moew Lian, Amy Cheah, Patricia Stewart,
Juanita Khan, Khatijah, Ong Ai Lin, Feng Wei Leng, Soraya Kamaluddin, Peggy Loh, Christina Khoo
and Johanis Puthucheary; [Front Row Left to Right] Stella Alexander, Sa'odah and Agatha Loh
 
Last month I proudly applauded the students of SMK IJ Convent Johor Baru when they performed their entertaining rendition of “Grease the Musical.”  As I watched with growing admiration, I had flashbacks to that time in Primary school when I was singing in our “Violins” concert and also remembered scenes from fairy tale, “The Magic Belt,” an operetta we presented in Secondary school where I had a non-speaking role as one of the mischievous gnomes!  Just as 3 shows with a gala night attended by VIPs and members of the Johor Royal family was staged for “The Magic Belt,” they did the same in the staging of “Grease the Musical.” 

At that time, the operetta was considered a very ambitious project but we practiced hard under the guidance of Mrs Carol Selverajah and felt a great sense of pride when the late Sultanah Aminah of Johor, graced the event held in our school hall.  Students from the non-examination years were involved in the show and I remember that award-winning performing artist and acclaimed choreographer, Marion D’Cruz, was then one of the senior students in school.  From the recent “Grease” presentation, I was proud to see that the school and students have indeed come a long way in progressing the standard and quality of performing arts in Convent JB. 

This recent contact with my former school set me off to reminisce about my own concert experiences and when I reviewed the old photos taken by Christina’s father, I still wondered where the elusive Stella Alexander is now.  In Secondary school she used to play hockey and was also a School Prefect.  But unlike other prefects who were sticklers for keeping rules, Stella was always cool and often turned a blind eye even if we crossed the line!

Standard 6A taken on day Mrs George left us;
Christina Khoo was absent because she was ill
In Secondary school some of the girls discovered the pleasure of reading Mills & Boon romantic fiction novels and they used to bring stacks of books to exchange – which was against the rules.  I distinctly remember that instead of putting a stop to this blatant breaking of rules, Stella, an avid reader, was one of the most ardent fans of these novels.  At that time, I was (duh!) quite oblivious to this form of reading “addiction” and it was much later that I realised that Stella was one of the girls who seemed to be quietly reading her text book but she was actually deeply engrossed in the novel that was tucked inside the open text book!

Every now and then, prefect teams will launch classroom “raids” to confiscate any contraband romance novels but if Stella got wind of it, she would give a tip-off so that the offending books could disappear before the raid.  The girls would find ingenious ways to hide their novels, sometimes even sticking them behind the large cork notice-boards that hung in the classroom.  I remember there was once a sudden approaching raid and Stella, buried in the intricacies of the romance, was caught off-guard but she responded spontaneously by skillfully chucking the novel out through the open louver window of our fourth-floor classroom, instantly disposing of any incriminating evidence!

Stella and I spent a great deal of time together during Mathematics class, not because we were great Mathematicians but on the contrary, because we did not take Math as an exam subject.  There were three of us including, Thervy Rajaratnam, who would leave the class and go to the school library to read or do our homework.  But we usually ended up looking at colourful cook books and salivating over cakes and dishes until we had to return to class for the next subject.

On May 1, it was like a May Day gift when I received an email from Stella with a query: “Is this the Peggy from Convent days?  Wasn’t sure if it was you but that picture of you looks like the Peggy Loh from school…”  I wrote right back and we have been in touch almost daily with plenty to catch up with each other.  I have since reconnected Stella in the UK, with other classmates around the world and I can’t wait to meet her again but first I must share these precious photos of our Primary school concert from way back when we were cute little girls in Convent JB!

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 30 May 2013

I'm glad to share some reactions to this article:
 
On May 31, Kausar said:
Thank you so much for sharing the story!  Reading it brought memories too especially about the Mills & Boon novels thrown out of the window during raids….I wonder if I was one of the culprits!  Anyway keep those stories coming…

Lee Fung said:
Great article, Peggy! Although I don't remember the primary school musical, I remember the secondary school one!  Say "hello" to Stella.   She probably doesn't remember me.

A few hours later, Kausar updated:
Guess who called me all the way from England to Vancouver this Thursday evening…none other than our long lost friend the ‘cool prefect’ Stella Alexander.  Thanks to Peggy that we got connected. We are even thinking of meeting up in England…anyone interested?

Agatha said:
Thanks for the lovely write up n photos.  I was in the 'horn' group.  I can only remember vividly the sound of the horn... the horn!

Patricia said:
I like Kausar's suggestion of a rendezvous in England to meet up with Stella, but don't think I can put my hand up just yet, having just been there.  Hope it comes off.  If I am not mistaken Lee Chin and Hwee Ling are going to England sometime in June.

Hwee Ling said:
Thanks for the memories.  The book raids were scary.  I had difficulty hiding my favourite Jackie mags!  I remember auditioning for the ‘drum” but got kicked out.  I seemed to be getting kicked out for lots of things including marching.  That was why I got discharged early and ended up being hit by a car.  Maybe I was challenging whether me or the Mini Cooper was stronger. Anyway the car was towed away and I ended up in hospital and away from school for 6 weeks.  

During this period it was our prefect Stella who brought me all the homework, updated me on school stuff and I managed to catch up with school work when I returned to class.  I was a shopaholic since young.  Used to stay behind for the book sales and missed my bas sekolah.  As usual it was Stella who would accompany me in walking home.  Remember the muddy road at Kampung Sai (before Jln Kuel)?  So Stella, I will always remember you for your kindness and thoughtfulness.
Thanks to Peggy, I managed to contact Stella today. She called me at 3 am (UK time) and we had a good chat.  Most probably will meet up with Stella next month when I visit UK.  Now that I’m older and bigger, should I challenge a “Lexus”?  Ha Ha only joking, don’t want to go thru that ordeal again!
 
Christina said:
Hwee Ling,
I'm sorry, I didn't know you had an accident back then!  I'm glad you survived it to tell the tale now.

Peggy, I read your article and saw the photos, thanks.  Now all the secrets are coming forth!  I remember the song we sang for the concert.  [Correct me if I'm wrong.] It goes:

The violins ringing
Like lo...vely singing
The violins ringing
Like lo...vely song

The clarinet, the clarinet
Makes doodle, doodle, doodle day.

The horn, the horn
Awakes me at morn!

The drums playing two tones
And always the same tone
Five one, one five,
Five, five, five, five, one.

Stella, Welcome back into the loop!  You were the first person I sat with on the first day at
school in Standard One.

On June 2, Patricia [who was a former prefect] said:
As one of those who was doing the “raiding” I too, look back in horror.  I am horrified and embarrassed that I actually took it all so seriously and did that offensive stuff.  Not a memory of school days I cherish, but clearly one that many remember.  So, even though it is many years on I would like to say sorry to all who were affected.  I sincerely apologise for causing such angst amongst peers.

Lee Chin replied:
No worries Pat, what you can do to compensate is to get those books for us as I still do enjoy reading them!!! 

Daphne said: 
I don't remember this at all!!  Wow!  What the hell was I doing, I wonder?


On June 3, Christina [who was also a prefect] said:
Perhaps I have selective memory, but I don't remember the book raids at all.  My apologies too, if I offended anyone while at school.


/pl




The Measure of a Man

A tribute to my late brother-in-law

We first met in church as young people in the 1980s and after weekly meetings, our group used to hang out together for food fellowship.  His job in Sales with Hume Industries brought Matthew Loh Chew Lon, who hails from Kampar in Perak, from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Baru.  

In our assembly, there was always a healthy food culture that went a long way to cultivate better bonds and is exercised particularly to help the singles who came from out-station for work or studies, feel more welcome.   As we moved into careers, we joined the Working Adults Fellowship and among other Bible studies, I distinctly remember going through a series of studies on Stephen R Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Through church activities and lots of food fellowship, it soon became apparent that Matthew and my eldest sister Ruby, was a couple and some 30 years ago, they were married.  He comes from a family who enjoys good food and at their wedding reception in Kampar, I discovered that some of his family members own and operate popular Chinese restaurants in town.  In fact, their banquet and other meals during our stay in Kampar, were held in some of these restaurants! 

[Right to Left] Matthew with Ruby and Wendy
I was also introduced to Kampar’s popular street food like chee cheong fun, chow yueen [deep-fried meat balls] and lor mai farn [steamed glutinous rice] and every time they visited Kampar, they would return with a whole range of delicious street food for us to enjoy. 

Matthew’s father was also a good cook and every year after their Chinese New Year feasts, he would make a brew of choy kiok or leftover meat stewed in kai choy vegetables, for them to bring a portion back to JB and I was often invited to enjoy this delicious dish.  

After his father’s passing in last July, Matthew honoured him by trying to replicate some of his recipes as a new tradition in this year’s Reunion Dinner and once again, I was privileged to savour their family favourites in a home-cooked feast.   

Matthew with eldest son, enjoying food
fellowship after a meeting in church; 1988
Matthew was also from a very traditional family and I recall an incident early in their marriage when his parents were visiting JB.   After a meal in their house, I teased Matthew – saying that it was his turn to wash the dishes.  

I realised [too late!] that his father was appalled at my suggestion because his facial expression registered utter shock!  Being a good sport, Matthew washed up the dishes but I was appalled that his father must have thought his son was often bullied by a sister-in-law like me! 

I soon discovered that dish-washing and other household chores were duties reserved for the females in his family but since joining our family, it became second nature for him to take turns to do the dishes and other chores with my sister.  

When the children came along, it was interesting to see him as a caring father, feeding them and even changing their diapers.  More recently, I also saw him helping to spoon-feed our 100-year old grandmother when she was not able to feed herself.  He had certainly come a long way since the early days when even dish-washing was an alien task to him.

Matthew [Right] took over from maid to help
feed our 100-year old grandma; 2009
Matthew started a tradition of hosting a family Chinese New Year dinner when they returned from his hometown [where they traditionally had their annual Reunion Dinner] and I can remember enjoying many sumptuous feasts in the “Unicorn Room” at New Lucky, one of his favourite restaurants in JB. 

We used to frequent this restaurant for family celebrations and I can never forget tasting an exciting poon choi or “banquet in a basin” at his son’s birthday dinner there.  

This inspired me to do a bit of research on this multi-layered feast and wrote a feature that was published during the next Chinese New Year. 

Matthew sharing his personal testimony
on May 1, "Tea on Labour Day" 2013
When my friends read my poon choi article, they wanted to have a taste of it, so we went to enjoy a Chinese New Year dinner with poon choi.  After we ordered our meal, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Matthew was also having a meal with his friends at the next table.  Later when we asked for our bill, we were again pleasantly surprised to learn that it was already paid by Matthew!  

This was typical of his big-heartedness but my friends were deeply touched by his generosity which also extended to me and my friends.  As we thanked him for his kindness, we joked that if we knew that he was paying for our meal, we should have ordered more food!

I’m familiar with his brand of generosity which means that there is always an excess and never a lack.  From food to fruits, he enjoyed seeing others enjoying themselves and especially during the durian season, my sister may get his call to say that there will be durians for dessert.  Very often, she would call me to prepare our stomachs for the durians because Matthew would buy, not only by the bag but sometimes even by the basket!  I remember how he would open the thorny fruits and sample the first seed and then encourage us to go for the bitter or the sweet tasting durians!

Large gathering at Matthew's wake
On May 1, we held a “Tea on Labour Day” event and Matthew was among a few people who shared their personal testimony on God’s gracious blessings in their lives.  Many heard for the very first time, his life story both from the personal and career perspective, on how God led him in coming to JB and meeting my sister, putting down roots and developing his career that started in Sales to where he is now.   

Two years ago in an annual medical check-up, his prostate cancer was discovered and as he went through treatment in JB and Singapore hospitals, he gave praise to God for enabling him to carry on life normally with minimal side-effects.

Floral tributes even lined the outside of the parlour
On May 11, we celebrated Mother’s Day as always, in a family dinner but this time with two of our male cousins as guests and I heard Matthew share with them quite candidly about his health and treatments.  On Sunday morning, it was his turn to organise our breakfast fellowship – and he did so as usual in large quantities – of Kampar style chee cheong fun [from a shop in Taman Tun Aminah] that was enjoyed after the morning service. 

Early in the following week he was running a fever but after a day’s rest, he went to work as usual on May 16.  I learnt from the driver that as they were returning to office after a meeting in Singapore that afternoon, Matthew suffered a massive intra-cerebral hemorrhage.  He was transferred from a JB hospital to the Intensive Care Unit of Gleneagles Hospital in Singapore where his condition deteriorated due to complications arising from prostate cancer and leukemia.   

Staff salute their boss before lifting the casket
As he was lying in a coma in the ICU, there was a stream of concerned visitors that included his friends, business associates and groups of office staff.  One of his Korean colleagues whom I met in the hospital told me, “He’s like a father to us!”  It was heart-warming to hear his driver say that this boss treated him so well that he was, “Macam abang” or like a brother to him.   On May 18, with his wife and family by his side, Matthew was called home to the Lord.

His passing came as a shock to everyone, in particular business associates and colleagues who were still in the middle of project discussions with him.  Over the 2-day wake period and send-off on May 21, tributes poured in and from the floral tributes alone, it was clear that Matthew had touched the lives of so many groups of people.  It was very moving when his close friends requested for a final moment to assemble and bid their farewell while his colleagues also asked to join his sons to carry his casket! 

Factory operations came to a virtual stand-still when key personnel and workers of all races came to pay their last respects and gave Matthew a grand send-off.   Before they lifted his casket, I watched as the staff paused and lifted their hands to salute their boss.  Staff from their Senawang operations told me that Matthew could relate to people at every level and even though he did not have any formal Engineering training, he applied his experience in the concrete industry to keep the business on track.  Even though I may not know much about this industry, I had the privilege of helping Matthew with his speech that was delivered at their company’s 10th anniversary dinner in 2012.

One page of many published
condolence messages in the newspapers
As I observed these happenings over these past few days, I had a flashback to our WAF days when we studied Stephen R Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to “Begin with the End in Mind.”  Our facilitator encouraged us to discover our own character values and life goals and to adopt the ideal characteristics for the various roles and relationships in our lives.  

I remember he asked us to imagine what people will say about us at our funeral and as the eulogies were presented by Matthew’s 2 sons, close friends and colleagues, it was encouraging to know how Matthew’s life had impacted so many people.  

From family members to the church, friends, business partners, colleagues, staff and even the serving team from his favourite restaurant – they were all there to pay their respects.  Someone even commented that this was the first time she saw so many grown men openly shedding tears!  It was my honour to have known Matthew, first as a friend and then as my brother-in-law. He has certainly left a strong legacy both with the family and in his work, and one thing’s for sure – he will be dearly missed.

Convent JB's Grease Musical


Danny Zuko and T-Birds with their car, Greased Lightning
 
Fifth-form students of SMK IJ Convent Johor Baru produced and presented their adaptation of the hit American musical film, “Grease,” working hands-on in the entire project, from conceptualisation to the planning and execution of various tasks to present three shows over a recent weekend.  From the loud applause and standing ovations at the end of each show, it was clear that this school project was a resounding success.  “This is what the girls will remember when they leave school,” said Geetha Nair, one of their teacher advisors as she watched the cast, crew and choir take their final bow.


Nicole Yong as Danny Zuko [Left] and Cailin Ho as
Sandy Olsson, in the lead roles
 
Last year SMK IJ Convent Johor Baru had the honour to be upgraded from a Cluster School to a High Performing School and is now numbered among the nation’s top 300 schools.  With a grant to run an activity to showcase the school’s niche areas, they considered how they could incorporate both academic and non-academic areas and decided to highlight the school’s award-winning choir and their forte in the English language.  In the last 2 years, the school organised English events like choir singing, choral speaking, public speaking and debates to hone the students’ skills in English and now they had to think of something else.


Lee Hui Zhen as Frenchy [Right], giving
her advice about boys, to Sandy
“Convent JB has earned its reputation as a “Singing School”, said Mrs S K Lee, another teacher advisor, “so we decided to combine our school choir and stage a musical in English in one big production.”  It was a unanimous decision among the teachers, and with the support of students and their parents, they started working together to select a musical story.  “At first we were cautious about picking the musical, “Grease”, because its content was too raunchy and had to be toned down but with the advice from former student, award-winning performing artist and acclaimed choreographer, Marion D’Cruz, the students went ahead with the project,” she added.


After the roles were cast late last year, rehearsals started in January.  While the choir first practiced separately, they soon joined the cast for combined rehearsals in the school hall.  For them, it was an absolute thrill and an unforgettable experience to rehearse in front of D’Cruz, now based in Kuala Lumpur, who came to give her professional input to help them perfect their presentation. 


Elizabeth Tang provided piano accompaniment
for the performance
 
“After this experience, the quiet students will become more self-motivated to excel in their studies,” said Lee, who has more than 26 years of teaching experience, convinced that as they discover their talents, students will gain more confidence in themselves.  Guided by the team of teacher advisors, students organised every aspect of the production with the help of a crew, in a host of responsibilities like coordinating the choir, backstage management, choreography, photography and graphic designing,.  While teachers Nor Aini Amin and Niaida Mohd Taib helped with coordinating the props design and backstage work, former teacher, Doreen Chan, even came out of her retirement to coach the school choir. 



Danny and Sandy singing, "You're the one that I want"
backed by the Convent choir
“My confidence has increased,” said Cailin Ho, 16, who played the role of Sandy Olsson, “especially after learning to get into my role and in particular when I was transformed into the greaser’s dream date.”  When she emerged in her black skin-tight costume in the finale, her transformation was so dramatic that there was a collective gasp from the audience.  Ho, who has formal training in music and ballet, was sure that the experience she gained from being in this show will help her in future stage performances.



Frenchy [3rd from Left] and the Teen Angel played by
Mariz Choo [3rd from Right] performing, "Beauty School
Dropout" with the Convent choir
“It’s a challenge for girls to act like boys and there were some awkward moments but they gradually got into their roles,” said Celine Choong who co-directed the show with Rachel Ong.  The fifth-formers, both aged 17, are in the Science stream but with a passion for the arts, they worked together to edit and adapt the script without sacrificing the original storyline.  The results of their collaboration was an entertaining and colourful musical set in the 1950s about teens in love, presented with songs, dance and the portrayal of familiar characters, reminiscent of the 1978 movie “Grease.”


Soloist, Tessa Tan, singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" 


The key characters had their dialogues prerecorded in their own voices complete with animation and the right intonation and it was commendable that in the show, their lip-syncing with the recording was almost unnoticeable. 

While the recorded voices kept the dialogue clear, the choir singing and music from the piano accompaniment by Elizabeth Tang, was performed “live.”  It was also good that soloists were given the opportunity to showcase their singing talents when they sang the solo songs for several characters.


Souvenir merchandise like T-shirts and button badges
were sold at the foyer
 
It was interesting to observe how the cast and choir learnt their parts well and the way they went into character especially since “Grease” is from the 70s and not popular with the present generation.  But themes like boy-girl relationships, teenage love, school cliques, peer pressure and the need for acceptance are prevailing issues in every generation that should be wisely handled to guide youngsters to the right path. 

At the end of this project, it looked like the students not only improved their choir singing and English language skills but also learnt from the moral issues in this story.


The cast and choir in the exciting finale of Grease the musical
 
The Convent spirit was palpable throughout the show as seated among the audience were past principals, alumni and members of the Johor Royal family who were former students and now their children are also students with Convent JB.  After the cast and choir accepted the applause and took their final bow, they broke into raucous cheers to acknowledge the support of their principal and teachers.  And in the true Convent tradition, they rounded off the event by singing the school anthem with pride and passion.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 9 May 2013
 

Colleen M Redit

View of the Coovum River that cuts across Chennai, India
It was early 2006 when my phone signaled a text and I read the message from Ernest Poon enthusing about his recent visit to Christian Missions Charitable Trust (CMCT) in Chennai, India, for the Board of Trustees’ annual meeting.  A week later, he called again to talk about CMCT and told me the purpose of his call.  He described this ministry as “in the league of the work of Mother Teresa” and while many books were written about her work, nothing has been put on record for CMCT.  He wanted my help with writing the biography of Dr Colleen Mavis Redit, the founder of the ministry of CMCT and my spontaneous response was to laugh at my own inadequacies.  But Ernest was serious and as thoughts of his suggestion sank in, I was simply overwhelmed at the prospect of embarking on a book project.

Another view of the filthy Coovum River fringed by slums
I mulled over this over the next few weeks, shared it with my family and prayer partners and prayerfully considered the tremendous task of researching, compiling and writing the biography of Dr Colleen.  It will be a daunting challenge but I was assured through scripture, godly people and circumstances that He will be with me at each stage of the project and I only need to be willing to do the job and leave the success in His hands. Then the Lord opened the way for me to make a trip to meet Dr Colleen in India and for a first-hand experience of the ministry.

I remember, when I was leaving for India, I had my luggage checked at Singapore’s Changi Airport.  An Indian lady security guard looked at my flight ticket and when she saw that I was travelling to Chennai alone – she was so shocked that she asked me again, “You going alone?”

Sign outside CMCT in Chennai, India
After a delayed flight, I arrived well past midnight local Chennai time and was welcomed by Philip Seth of CMCT’s External Affairs department, who patiently waited for my arrival and escorted me to my hotel. Whilst I am familiar with the sights, sounds and smells of India, the dark silhouettes of women and children lying asleep outside their shacks that lined dim and dusty streets, still hit me with the stark reality that this is a nation in dire need.  Dr Colleen recognized this need many years ago and by God’s faithful leading, has been meeting this and many needs of downtrodden people, especially women and children, through the expanding ministries of CMCT in the past 49 years.

Morning Devotions in CMCT
Monday, 29 May 2006, was an extraordinary day.  It was the start of my Indian adventure and I was excited about going into the heart of CMCT and meeting Dr Colleen for the very first time.  Yet the peace of God rested in my heart as I anticipated the adventure that was about to unfold.  A driver was coming to pick me so as I put on my footwear, I sang to myself, “To God be the glory great things He has done, so loved He the world that He gave us His son…” and the chorus: “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear His voice…”

The peak of the hottest season in Chennai is between May and June and that morning drive through the city to CMCT [in a non air-conditioned vehicle!] was simply a chaotic crush of people and honking impatient vehicles.  I was about to wilt in the oppressive heat when we arrived at the gates of the CMCT building.  A crowd of people with hands clutching empty bags was jammed across the entrance, blocking the driveway.  Sensing my curiosity about the crowds, the driver explained that they were waiting to collect regular food rations, typically made up of rice, lentils, curry powder, vermicelli and cooking oil.

Colleen Mavis Redit [Right]
I alighted at the side entrance and was directed to the elevator that should take me upstairs to the Beracha Chapel. The tiny elevator was an ancient contraption with a collapsible gate in front and the elevator operator was smartly dressed in uniform and beret, with the letters “CMCT” proudly emblazoned on his shoulder epaulets.  When I stepped out of the elevator, some ladies directed me inside the chapel where a group of ladies were already seated on the floor in the front, singing songs of praise in Tamil.  Accompanied by amplified music from a synthesizer, the Chapel was filled with melodious and enthusiastic singing.

I met a smiling Dr Colleen, a distinguished figure neatly dressed in a traditional sari, who greeted me warmly.  Fondly known as “Amma”, an affectionate name for ‘Mother’ to the CMCT family, she loves, teaches and admonishes just as any good mother intends for her dear children.

When the song leader selected the next hymn, Philip Seth handed me a hymnal printed with English lyrics, pointing to the selected song: No.18.  When I heard the familiar opening chords I smiled because it was the very hymn I was singing to myself that morning, “To God be the glory great things He has done, so loved He the world that He gave us His son…” As I sang along, my heart warmed to the assurance that indeed, all glory goes to the Lord alone and the success of this book project belongs to Him!

Colleen with her pet dog in Bangalore, India
Every morning in CMCT begins with Devotions from 9.30am to 10.30am. The sharing of God’s Word is central to daily operations and many admit that they have grown spiritually and benefited from the practical application of Biblical truths.  
At the close of the message, Rachel Darby, a student-nurse from the UK on 2 months’ internship with CMCT’s Hospital and I, were formally introduced.  We were given a typical Indian welcome by each being presented with a huge (and heavy!) fragrant flower garland!



Colleen leaving for India, 1964
Dr Colleen had prepared two thick folders, full of the ministry’s old newsletters since the 1960’s, including archive documents that she wrote on her calling to the mission field, for my reference.  I was to use this Dining Room to meet with a list of people who were organized into a schedule to talk to me over the next 2 weeks.  For taking on the challenge to do this book project, Dr Colleen smiled and told me, “You are very brave…”  This echoed the sentiments of that Indian lady security guard at Changi Airport, when she checked my flight ticket and saw that I was travelling to Chennai – alone!

In the tour of the facilities in the 5-storey building, I saw how offices and departments for different ministries and projects are organized under one roof.  These included the Distribution Centre for rations, Haven of Hope Handicraft Centre and the Handicraft QC section, Bethany Primary School – Classes from Lower Kindergarten to Primary level, Hostel for Women and Girls, Hospital, Laboratory, Operation Theatre, Post-op room, Labour room and Wards, Mechanical training section, Screen-printing section, Tutorial section, Social Services Caring Unit and Sponsorship Ministry Offices, the kitchen and a crèche for staff’s children.

There was something going on in every part of the building and every available space was used. Even the lift lobby and the end of a corridor were used to conduct classes for young children.  This is because Dr Colleen firmly believes that by educating at least one member of the family, hardship for the whole family could be alleviated through better employment opportunities for one educated child.      

Girls in the hostel in CMCT
When it was finally my turn to see Dr Colleen in her office, work hours were over and lights in the Reception area were already off but a few people were still standing around, waiting to see her.  This was a typical situation where a stream of people waited in line to appeal for her help.  Dr Colleen, who reads and speaks fluent Tamil, always tried to give them her full attention with a compassionate heart so it was some time before it was my turn to see her.  Inside her office, my eyes were riveted to a wooden plaque on the wall engraved with a verse: “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” the motto by which Dr Colleen lives and works.


Girls working in the Haven of Hope Handicraft Centre
In the following days, I saw for myself, the scope of work that Dr Colleen is involved in. I visited the urban slums in Kellys where Dr Colleen first started to meet the dire needs of women in Chennai.  I also went to CMCT’s own retreat center named Mt Carmel Camp Site at Padappai, the fishing village in Chinnakuppam that was being rehabilitated after the tsunami calamity, a Children’s Rally in the Gospel Hall at Choolaimedu, the Alapakkam leper colony and a soup kitchen at Mackies Garden, another urban slum.

Mackies Garden is a typical slum village with homes built right up to the edge of the filthy Coovum River.  This river cuts through the city and is literally an open sewer, stilted, polluted and full of flotsam.  As we walked through the narrow footpaths to reach the soup kitchen, we passed heaps of rubbish and open doors to homes with hard packed mud floors.  Our movement caused small dark clouds to rise from debris and ambling goats, and I soon realized that these ‘dark clouds’ were actually swarms of thousands of disgusting black flies!

CMCT focuses on looking after the welfare of women
and children
From personal interviews with Dr Colleen and some 40 individuals whose lives were touched by Dr Colleen and the ministry of CMCT, I walked down Memory Lane with them to discover the happenings of the early years, her ministry since 1964 and the Lord’s faithfulness in expanding the ministry to date.

Dr Colleen shared candidly about her background and home life back in New Zealand with details on her family, youth and how she was called to serve in India.  As I listened to her struggles as a single Brethren lady missionary in a foreign land, I could relate to the challenges she had to face as she tried to go forward with her passion and commitment to do the Lord’s work in a foreign land.

Women have a daily rice meal at a slum Soup Kitchens
I also met with a list of interviewees who spoke frankly about the impact of CMCT and Dr Colleen on their lives. Most could speak English [albeit with a heavy Indian accent!] while only a handful needed the translator.  Speaking about Dr Colleen came very naturally because she had touched their lives in very personal ways.  Some grown men spoke so frankly that tears flowed un-self-consciously.  In several such situations, we had to pause until composure was restored before I could elicit any answers from them but it also gave me a few moments to swallow that lump in my throat and blink back my own tears!

The ministry of CMCT had its beginnings with one young lady who opened her garage to take in girls to teach them sewing and typing skills.  Today, young girls are given education and employment opportunities and the Haven of Hope Handicraft Centre continues to produce finely stitched quality cross-stitch, embroidery and quilted handicrafts.  The demand for these products in the global market goes a long way to improve the lives of the women who have put their sewing skills to good use.  Very often they are the sole breadwinners of their families and the sale of such items actually puts food on the table in their humble homes.

Realising a Vision through Faith, the
Autobiography of Colleen M Redit
As I learnt more about Dr Colleen’s life and ministry among abandoned, neglected and needy people, I was humbled and filled with awe at the tremendous impact of her work, on so many lives.  Who would have thought that a young lady who started her ministry from a rented garage would now operate from a 5-storey building and run some 24 ministries for the needy simultaneously?  

In April 2013, Ernest returned from CMCT’s annual Board of Trustees meeting with something for me – a signed copy of “Realising a Vision through Faith,” the autobiography of Dr Colleen!  He said this book will be distributed worldwide through the International Board of Trustees and the shipment to Malaysia should be arriving very soon.  All proceeds from book sales, priced at only RM30 per hardcover book, will be channeled back to CMCT for their ministry needs.  As I flip through the pages of this publication, my thoughts fly back to that fine day in 2006 when Ernest first broached the subject with me and I just give praise to God for helping me complete this to His glory!

Note: To order your copy of this book, send an email to Ernest at address: e.poon@hotmail.com

N. Sinnappan in Sungai Nibong said:

Hello dear sister!
My elder introduced your book on Dr. Colleen today (21 July 2013) and the sale has been launched first in Penang. You have done a great job!  I was one of the students in HBI who studied in Dr. Colleen's Child Education and Evangelism class.   My wife, Leela, was in the hostel where Amma was warden in 1971.

Cheong Swee Gim in Kuala Lumpur said:

Hi Peggy 
Congrats on the successful publication of the book!!! It was promoted in SSGC last Sun and we bought a copy right away. Wow, so proud of you!!  [Photo enclosed!]

Swee Gim [Left] with friends at SS Gospel Centre and the books on 21 July 2013!
/pl

Kampung Experience

Facade of kampung home in Kampung Batumas, Pengerang
“Wow!  Today I saw the man cut the rubber tree and the white water came out!” read the first line of a message by a 9-year old visitor to Kampung Batumas in Pengerang, Johor.  The “white water” was just his way to describe the latex that flowed out from the rubber tree.  

A brief tour of the village plantation and first-hand experience with local trees and fruits in the kampung or Malay village experience must be a fascinating eye-opener for city folks and overseas visitors.



Message written by a young guest
In another part of his message, this youngster said: “It was also the first time I used my bare hands to eat food.”  Coming from another culture, he was understandably shocked when he was not given a spoon or fork to eat and had to use his hands.  Another visitor wrote: “I’m glad to have savoured not just the warmth of the people here but also got to expose my 4-year old girl to something she’ll never encounter anywhere else."

The people he mentioned are Mahya Mohd Yusof, 53, and her family who opens their family home for kampung tours and had been doing so for the last 10 years. 

While the men folk guide visitors around the plantation to get acquainted with local trees and fruits, Mahya cooks and serves a typical kampung meal for lunch.  After the plantation tour, guests are invited into their living room to sit on the floor and savour lunch the traditional Malay way, by eating with their hands. 


Mahya Mohd Yusof [Front Row Left]
with some family members
There are no ceiling fans or air-conditioning in the wooden village house but surrounded by shady trees and built with strategically positioned windows, it feels naturally cool inside the house.  With their cotton curtains pulled back, light breezes stream through open windows with good cross ventilation to keep the house cool.  A wooden trellis on the upper reaches of the wooden wall also enhances the natural coolness in the village house.

Before eating with hands, they should be washed and this is done with a traditional portable hand-washing pot called kendi that comprises a teapot that rests on a receptacle that catches the water as you rinse your fingers above it. 

There is an art to using the kendi where fingers should be held within your palm while rinsing to avoid a big splash.  After the meal, it is all right to lick your fingers as it is believed that this is how you can benefit from vitamins and enzymes, before you use the kendi to rinse your hands clean.


This is how you gently rinse your fingers
using a kendi
The meal at Mahya’s home starts with sipping a tumbler of black tea brewed with fragrant pandan leaves and ends with another tumbler of black kampung coffee, fondly called kopi-O, that are both already sweetened.  These are served at room temperature but it’s interesting that fresh whole kampung coconut served as part of dessert, is chilled in its husk!  After drinking its refreshing juice, just ask Mahya who will get the coconut split apart for you to savour the tender flesh inside.

A typical menu in the kampung set lunch is white rice eaten with dishes like ikan masak lemak chilli padi or fish cooked in spicy coconut milk, fried chicken, fried salted fish and mixed vegetables with a spicy condiment of sambal belacan.  Locally grown bananas are used to make the dessert of fried banana fritters or jemput-jemput pisang. During the various fruit seasons, guests will have the opportunity to sample a variety of local fruits.



Spicy sambal belacan is a popular item in the menu
“Korean visitors liked my sambal belacan so much that they even asked for a refill,” said Mahya, adding that she happily obliged their request.  At first she was surprised that they could appreciate the spicy condiment but soon realised that they are familiar with spiciness because their traditional food, kimchi, is also a spicy dish.

Mahya said her family started to open their home to visitors through the encouragement from friends in the Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa who were seeking nearby attractions for their guests to experience a taste of local culture and heritage. 

Fresh coconut is split open to savour the tender flesh within
The drive to the kampung may take about 45 minutes from the Resort but it allows guests to enjoy a scenic view of the area before they arrive for an authentic kampung experience.  She recalls that their largest group of guests was 40 Russians and they had to be separated to accommodate one group for lunch in the house and the other in an outdoor gazebo. 

As dessert is served, guests are invited to write comments about their experiences in the guest book.  A flip through several guest books reveal pages filled with amusing comments and interesting messages from guests on their memorable kampung experiences here. 


Visitors learn more about rubber tapping in the kampung tour
A typical menu in the kampung lunch includes fish, chicken and vegetables
Enjoy thirst-quenching, chilled fresh coconut!
Cool comfort with cross ventilation in the kampung house

While a range of cultural activities are usually organised for large groups, reservations for Kampung and Sightseeing tours for a minimum of 4 guests can be made through the Resort’s Sports & Recreation Desk on Tel: 607 – 8222 222.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 30 April 2013