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Jennifer Tan with one of the priests in 2018 at the Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Her previous job had her travelling to different countries for work and Mongolia was one of them.

Being away from Christ was the greatest mistake of my life – the story of Jennifer Tan

Jennifer Tan Hooi Peng is a 54-year-old Catholic who found her way back to the Church eight years ago. She lives in Penang with her husband and two children but currently she is in Ipoh with her elderly family members during the Covid-19 pandemic. She wants to share her spiritual experience and journey back to the Lord in a series of articles. The one below is the first of many that will be published here. JUNE 29, 2021

By Jennifer Tan Hooi Peng

I was a lapsed Catholic for over 29 years and slowly returned at the age of 46 after losing my soul and feeling uncertain as to what to do. Losing approximately 11kgs in a three-month span due to eating and sleeping difficulties, I was conscience-stricken for doing something against my work principles and lost my inner peace. Years later, I learnt that the Holy Spirit given by God warned and admonished me.  

Entry to Salvation

Up to the time I was 18, I lived with my mum’s family who practiced ancestor worship and Buddhism. Only my immediate Catholic family members attended church regularly. From age 18 until 46, I only attended church mass during Christmas and Easter with my parents in Ipoh.

I remember telling my Catholic colleague for years that I would return to church upon reaching 40 but did not. I had always believed in God because an entity had to create the very first electron, neutron, photon, or energy wave to start existence and creation. Only Our Almighty God could do this. Praise the Lord!

My mistake was believing all religions were the same, teaching us to be good and that by being good, we go to Heaven. This misconception cleared after I resumed attending masses, which became my turning point and marked my return journey to Christ. We need Jesus to reach Salvation or Heaven, to believe in Him and follow His Ways.

Away from Christ

I admitted that as a child, church was boring. My thoughts roamed until mass ended and I was relieved to leave. So, when college education started in a different state, which was KL, and being unfamiliar with taking the public transport to church, it seemed convenient to just stay away. Since I believed in God, I communicated with Him wherever and whenever I wanted, like speaking to a friend. I remember asking someone in Australia, when I was doing my tertiary education there, about church attendance. He explained it was all right to stay away but to continue communication with God. Today I know that being away from Christ was the greatest mistake of my entire life. I am so very sorry, My Lord!

Material Desires

Since 2004, I was in a job in an NGO that required extensive work travels to inspect sites on food safety in numerous countries. The pay was good in comparison to my previous work in the factory work. I had no need for riches or power. However, all that changed because of the need to save towards my children’s future education and for financial security. This was my downfall and the main reason I stayed away from God. I was working for money and had no time for Christ.

Little did I know at that time that my nine-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son would develop difficult behavior with my being away often. Tertiary education opportunities for my son dimmed greatly, as it became challenging to teach him. My husband was the one to quit his work to care for our children as I was earning more and traveling. Besides, he had persistent pain due to medical problems. Without Christ in our family, everything became difficult in our household.

God’s Justice

Our patient and fair God served justice six years after I failed to return to Him by the age 40. As I was  stubborn, God initiated a long purification process to permanently change my beliefs and actions, and this is something He continues doing to this very day.

In April 2013, I resigned from my food safety job due to difficulties in chasing payments for a public seminar I was coordinating, and tired after nine extensive travel years into 15 countries. God allowed an employment change to begin purification. Thank you, Jesus!

Purification – The Start

In my new job which started in June 2013, I had to conduct some work that was against my principles. (Ed: Jennifer wishes not to divulge details.) I also encountered difficulties in using various databases, software applications, and wanted to resign despite not having another job. My father, a major advisor for key decisions in my family, disagreed and told me to first find new employment since I was the sole income earner for my family. My daughter was in pre-university then while my son, Form 5.

I continued working, but my conscience was greatly pricking me. Sleeping several hours on alternate nights, I lay awake with thoughts running non-stop wondering how to resolve my work issues. My working hours were long during weekdays and work continued way after working hours and weekends. I ate biscuits some days when time permitted, and on other days my meals were small. Dinners were porridge with vegetables due to poor appetite. Unfortunately, I could not find work and finally resigned early September 2013 just before I was due for confirmation after a three-month probation. So, without a job and 11kgs thinner, I had lost my soul and inner peace.

Christ had brought me down to my knees so that I could turn to him with nowhere else to go. Praise the Lord! Alleluia!

Continued Purification

I did find work quickly in November 2013, but the new salary was only a quarter of what I was earning in my two previous jobs. I had to use my personal savings for the next 13 months to make ends meet. But, it was such a blessing to work again, and more importantly, I needed to find inner peace. Thank you, Jesus!

In my new job of slightly over one year, God taught me to recognise His Graces and Blessings. He allowed some difficulties so that I could continue clinging to Him. For every negative plan executed by dissatisfied colleagues, God countered them all triumphantly and put me in good stead. In some cases, I did not even realise what He had done until it was over as God did not subject me to great stress as in previous work. For things He knew I could still do like carrying out my responsibilities in my new job, He allowed even though it took the greatest of efforts. In that year, God taught me that He would never test us beyond what we can bear. Praise the Lord!

It was also this time that I started attending masses, listening carefully to homilies, and apply God’s precepts as best as I could. I was hungry for mass. When I was re-offered my previous job with only 50% travels and more desk work, I resigned end 2014 from the job that paid me a quarter of my old salary. Two staff members informed that they had never met anyone as lucky as me in their lives. I had not the courage to tell them the past difficult year was not about luck. It was ALL about GOD and nothing to do with my efforts. Amen! Alleluia!

With God’s provision of a home-based job with minimal international travels in 2015 and into most parts of 2016, He granted me great opportunities to join the choir, Little Rock Scripture Studies, Catholic Charismatic Renewal Praise and Worship, Novena for St Anne’s feast and other seminars for my spiritual growth. Thank you, Jesus!

A Broken Promise

Tan’s daughter Janice Chong (second from left) during her Scrutiny and Baptism in 2019. Penang Diocese’s Rt Rev Bishop Sebastian Francis washing Janice’s feet during the Easter Virgil.

My husband and I were given earlier chances to repent in 1995 but, we chose to ignore. After marriage, we postponed having children but when we were ready, we could not conceive. Pregnancy chances were likely low due to our hormonal issues. Although we had not returned to Christ, we went to St Anne’s Minor Basilica and prayed for children.

To our amazement, God’s unconditional love and great mercy granted us double blessings! Within several months, I was pregnant with my daughter and she was born in May 1995. After another month, I was again pregnant! My son was born in April 1996. Thank you, Jesus, for the beautiful gifts – my children!

I was unaware then that my husband had promised God that we would baptise and lead our children in following a Christian life. We did not do all that. My daughter and I found out about this only when my husband told us sometime in 2019 after she started RCIA or Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Our hardened hearts, ingratitude and not having Christ in our lives made our family life challenging. We returned so late that the impact of a Christless life on our children was negative and this carried on when they entered adulthood. Lord, please forgive us!  

Encountering Christ

Due to work crisis as allowed by God, I had found Him. God could have allowed worse situations like making our family members face life-threatening illness to awaken me into repentance, but He did not. He is truly merciful to have only allowed difficult work experiences to get me to return. Thank you, Jesus! Praise the Lord! Alleluia! Amen!