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John Jonathan Paul (left) in a teaching session during a mission to Madrid, Spain. All photos are courtesy of John Jonathan Paul.

Malaysia’s John Paul on a mission in Poland

Today we celebrate the feast day of St John Paul 11

OCT 22, 2020: He had a beautiful apartment and great job as a bank officer. Everyone was happy for him, especially his mother who had single-handedly brought him and his nine siblings up. Then one day he felt God telling him to leave it all and go into missions.

The decision was not a simple one for John Jonathan Paul. For one, he did not have any idea as to what missions was all about and what a missionary. Secondly, he had worked hard to get where he was and was not ready to give it all up.

Paul with his mother. She passed away in 2016.

Paul’s father died from a heart attack in 1981 and his mother worked as a general worker at the Convent School in Seremban. The family’s financial needs were dire and so he went straight into the workforce after his SPM government examination. He joined a finance company in Kuala Lumpur and attended the company’s internal courses, acquiring new skiils and expertise along the way. The company was taken over by the now defunct United Malayan Banking Corporation and Paul was made bank officer at the Subang Jaya branch. Life was good.

“I went to a missionary school – St Paul’s Institution, went to church regularly, and did Bible study with Archbishop Julian Leow, We were schoolmates and we are of the same age. Yet I was a Sunday Catholic,” he said, adding that he attended mass at Assumption Church in Petaling Jaya when he started working. This was the parish that was closest to his brand new apartment in Sri Sentosa. 

Paul speaking to participants at a recent retreat to Białystok, a city in northern Poland.

“Faith was not important. I continued to build my career, home, and there was financial stability. All of these became my idols. I only saw God as just someone I needed to check in with on Sunday. Just to make my mum happy. I was a “pagan” Christian. There was a deep emptiness, and I was not sure why. I did not know what was missing in my life.”

From ‘Pagan’ to being passionate for Christ

One day as he was about to enter his apartment, his neighbour who was also a fellow parishioner asked him to attend the Life in the Spirit Seminar at the parish. “I told her I am born a Catholic, was educated in a Catholic school and I didn’t need a retreat to know God. But she persisted and I finally said I’d go.”

“That was when I encountered Jesus personally. The emptiness, the loneliness was all gone. I experienced the living God personally. That was my turning point. I experienced God’s love and mercy. Even if you are the only person in the world, God will still send His Son to die for your sins.”

Paul speaking with the help of an interpreter to participants during a mission in Madrid.

“They also had a heart for evangelisation and that’s where I learnt about it. But I never thought I’d join the mission, I thought I’d continue being a banker,” Paul told Journey With Us through video streaming from Częstochowa.

After the retreat, there was a hunger for God’s Word. He found himself reading the Bible and other materials to find out more. “If I could eat the pages of the Bible, I would eat it,” said Paul. He wanted to know more about this Person who would love him and forgive him. I am so grateful to the prayer group in Assumption that taught me to pray, do adoration, and this is where I learnt about the Word of God. If not for the community, I’d not be where I am. “

One day, while praying he felt God telling him to leave everything and follow Him. “I shared this with my spiritual director,” he said, adding that by this time he had been attending the prayer group for the last three to four years. “After praying several times, he too felt this was God’s calling.”

Mother’s blessings

After receiving this confirmation, he had one more hurdle. His mother. “I told God to arrange for my mum’s blessing.” He wanted to make sure she was with him on his decision to go to missions.

“When I told her, she started crying. She said I was crazy. She said what I needed was a wife because everything else is there (the home, financial stability, etc). She was troubled. I prayed for God to change her heart. One week later, I shared with her what God was doing with my life. She listened. She said ‘If God’s calling you, who am I to stop you. She then blessed me.’ ”

Paul uses performing arts in his sessions. This was a recent mission to Białystok, Poland.

With that, Paul made plans to get going but he was not sure which path to take – to be part of the National Evangelization Team Australia (NET Australia) or the School of Evangelization at the Institute for World Evangelization – ICPE Missions  centre in Germany. The one in Germany was full and so he went to Brisbane in 1995 and was there for one year with 12 other participants from different parts of the world. “This brought me to different aspects of community living, that is, how to resolve conflicts, about Christian brotherhood. All this enriched me.”

Sucked back to the world

The following year, he returned to Malaysia because his family had started a restaurant business and needed his help to run it. “From 1996 to 1998, I got sucked into the world again. I used to justify all this by saying that I was helping my family. But God was calling me (back to missions) and I was still struggling and justifying my actions. I was spiraling down. My hands were on the plough but I was looking back.”

During this time, the economic downturn had affected his family business until it finally had to be closed. “I had nothing. Not active in a community.”

One day he was prompted to go into an internet café, which he did. He felt he should do a search on “Catholic missionary organisation” and that was when he found out that ICPE now had a new centre was set up in Poland and a new School of Evangelisation (later called School of Missions) was starting. He wanted to go there and so he prayed for finances and God opened doors for him. Money came from different people – he got a total of US$1,500. “So I knew this was where I needed to go.”

Paul speaking at the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Częstochowa, Poland, in 2018 to the worship team and musicians and people attending mass about a conference that we were going to have.

“I had a prophetic dream of going somewhere where it was snowing, and it was in a small village with a chapel in the community house, and an icon of Mary was in that chapel.” When he arrived in Poland, it was in November and it was snowing. He was taken to the community house in a small village that had a chapel and the icon that he saw in his dream. “I knew I was where I was meant to be.”

This was in 1998, and Paul started the five-month course which was conducted in English. He stayed on for two years formation and three years in covenant with them. “God did a lot of healing in my life, and my relationship with my (late) father. God did a lot of ‘heart surgery’.”

God showed him his gifts and talents which he learnt to use in his mission work. Paul remained there till 2005 and then did a leadership training in Malta and Germany, and moved to New Zealand in 2006 to help the ICPE centre there in evangelisation.

New direction

“But deep down in my heart I knew God was calling me back to Europe, to Poland.” But that was going to be anytime soon, God had a slight detour for Paul. “Late 2009, God came knowing at the door of my heart. And I got Revelation 3:20 (Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person’s table.)”

“I prayed about it and felt God was asking me about my call.
‘Do you trust Me?’ – ‘Yes’
‘Who is your Provider?’ – ‘You are.’
‘If I ask you to leave New Zealand, will you leave?’ – I was shocked. I had already settled down, loved the ministry, the missions there. I was shocked. I had so much fear within me, I struggled with it.”

“Then I said ‘Yes, Lord, I trust You.’ I felt God telling me to leave New Zealand and go back to Malaysia. This was in February 2010. I had no community back in Malaysia and I asked God what His plan was.“

Paul (in white) with the late Fr Phillips Muthu

“I went to Assumption Church every day, met (the late) Fr Phillips Muthu and he asked me what I was doing. I shared with him and he offered me a job as Youth coordinator at the parish. “

He asked Fr Phillips to give him 12 young people. “A small number of people to start with, and I told him I wanted to hold weekend retreat for them. Fr Phillips seemed not to be keen and asked him what I was planning to do with them. I told him I was going to teach them how to fall in love with Jesus. I told him ‘If they don’t fall in love with Jesus, then it’ll not change their lives.’ Fr Philips said ‘That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.’ ” That was how the Assumption Youth Network was formed.

Paul with members of the Assumption Youth Network after the World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011.

Finally, Poland

In 2011, he returned to Poland and joined the local community there, which is the St Timothy Community of Brothers, led by a priest. John Paul would also be involved in evangelisation. Since 2015, he has been involved in the School of Evangelization, teaching on how to use creativity in evagelisation.

Paul, who turns 56 in November, lives close to the Shrine of the Black Madonna which is in Częstochowa, a city in southern Poland. “There were so many times I wanted to leave. Enough of this community life. Somehow God sends someone to help me work through the challenges and difficulties. I always see God’s faithfulness in this.”

“You learn to live within your means, no matter what.” For Paul, it doesn’t matter how much he has to live on or what he eats because he knows he is in the will of God. “I am the happiest person. I know my calling. When you know what your calling is, you’re happy.”

Paul is here seen teaching on Kerygma and Holy Spirit and Inner healing in late July and early August in a retreat in Białystok, a city in northern Poland. In mid-September, he taught on Inner Healing and spoke on Covenant.