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 urban 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 flipped 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!

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!

1 comment:

  1. no words to express my exclamation...i could see the hand of the Lord working with her.
    Madam hatsoff.