My wife and I have been blessed with the stewardship of four fine young gentlemen, aged, 9, 11, 13 and 15 years. I signed myself and my two elder sons up for the mission trip to Pattaya, Thailand in early December last year because I wanted to draw them out of their comfort zones. I wanted the visits to various Catholic charity institutions there as opportunities for the teenagers to discern and reflect on their young lives thus far.

Since this was to be their first mission trip, it was important for me that as their father, I  too walked the talk. But as it was also my first mission trip, I started out the nine days as an interested observer rather than an active participant. For two days, I watched a number of parents take an active role in the activities. That prompted me to step forward to actively engage our needy brothers and sisters — and that begun my mission exploration.

One day, the mission visited the Camillian Social Centre in Rayong, which is dedicated to serving patients with HIV/AIDS, including many children born with the illness. We met Jimmy, who is HIV/AIDS-positive and who had been admitted to the Palliative Care Unit as he was dying. That was 24 years ago, but by God’s grace, he got better and is alive today. Jimmy is using his ‘second life’ to serve the HIV/AIDS community in Pattaya. What started out as a visit tinged with hesitation (on my part) ended with a warm handshake and a brotherly hug to show appreciation and thanks to Jimmy for carrying out God’s plan for him. I never thought I would have had the courage to embrace Jimmy even though I was already fully aware of the low risk nature of such contact. That breakthrough act set me free to fully experience the rest of the mission trip.

Upon reflection, I may have — prior to this — subconsciously avoided activities which would draw me out from my comfort zone, such as engaging with youths and children with special needs, as well as with youths in general. This self-realisation was a game-changer. 

By now, my boys and I were on our respective ‘missions’, each on our separate but yet connected journey as we had intentionally been put into separate groups. This worked wonders. I was grouped with other teens, while my boys carried out their daily reflections and sharing with other teens and parents. Such an arrangement enabled each of us to speak more freely, while at the same time, allowed us to learn about each other through sharing with other teens and parents.

I have a strong affinity with young children and when the time came for the visit to the DayCare Centre for poor and needy children, I was in my absolute best form. Upon reflection, I may have — prior to this — subconsciously avoided activities which would draw me out from my comfort zone, such as engaging with youths and children with special needs, as well as with youths in general. This self-realisation was a game-changer. There I was, with two teens who may not be adept in understanding and communicating with such young people (if their interaction with their two younger siblings at home were an indication), so I had to step up and be a role model.

During the trip, I constantly reminded myself not to intervene and to let my sons be independent. But the fatherly instinct still kicked in, on occasions when I didn’t see them at mealtimes, or when they weren’t at chapel on time, or even when they were indulging themselves.

One night, we were allowed to visit a nearby supermarket to stock up on stuff we may have needed. After consulting the other parents, I took up the challenge to accompany eight youths in the group, as well as my two sons, on this shopping trip. The young people were full of energy and were loudly and openly curious about the local foods; many of which are not available in Singapore. This inadvertently attracted the attention of other shoppers and staff. Under normal circumstances, I would have told them to stop what they were doing there and then. Amazingly, I was neither angry nor frustrated and took their hi-jinks calmly.

Back at the Foundation where we were staying, and during reflection of the day’s activities, I then shared my thoughts to let the youths understand their actions during the shopping trip earlier.  They took the feedback very well and were deeply appreciative. This little ‘struggle’ brought much delight as it challenged me to review my own parenting approach in order to build a lasting father-son relationship and be a role model for my sons.

After the day out at the Daycare Centre, I felt a strong urge to share with all the missioners about my sons. I shared my parenting weakness and I made a promise that to work on them. Redemptorist Father Simon Pereira (who co-led the group with parish priest Fr John Sim from Christ The King) then invited my boys to come forward to share their thoughts.

Each of them carried me up, literally. Even my 13 year-old boy who is of relatively small build, managed to lift me up (looks like my regular workout had not been in vain:). But I was a tad disappointed that I did not hear what I had wanted the boys to say. There was just three more days left in the mission trip, so doubts started to creep in. However, on the second last night of reflection, both my boys again took to the floor to share their feelings and their promises. This was certainly the climax of the mission trip for me. The Holy Spirit had stirred them, and our own mission as a family was about to take off!

To those parents who are thinking (but hesitant still) about going on a mission trip with their young children, I hope my experience will be of help in encouraging you to do so. Just go, and let God do the rest. May God bless all families in their discernment of their vocation and grant us His Grace to  carry out the mission He has for us.

Teddy Ong
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