Vocations Sunday was on April 25. This is a dedicated day for Catholics around the world to offer special prayers to encourage vocations from families and parishes to the priesthood and to religious life. Here is the second of three stories of people who are doing their part in furthering God’s Kingdom. The first story is here. Marietta Mu earlier wrote a personal testimony How Catholic Students’ Society changed me.
By Marietta Mu
APR 29, 2021:
The story of Carol Fernandez is one of a long courtship. After completing her studies there was the question of whether she should pursue a financially-stable career or pursue something that has been lingering in her heart – to serve God.
Then came Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place about how Jews holed up in the Upper Room during the Nazi Occupation. It was only when she joined an NGO and her living quarters was nicknamed Upper Room did she realise she was actually where God had wanted her to be.
It took her some time to come to a decision and the road leading to that took her through moments that she will not forget.
Fernandez, aged 33 and from Subang Jaya, did her diploma and degree in marketing management seven years ago and is currently halfway through her ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) professional papers.
She is the fourth in a family of five children. She has a big family and in her early years they had given her a lot of support and encouragement.
“Although my family was eventually supportive of my decision, there was conversation about whether I should choose a corporate job for growth and financial stability, but it was mostly just a discussion to see if that was really what I wanted,” she said.
Right after university, Fernandez got a job in a corporate insurance company, but after five months of working, she realised that she did not feel fulfilled in her work.
“It was also the competition, office politics, and gossiping among employees that tore me and demoralised me further. I ended up quitting even without a job offer,” she said.
In 2015, her friend Deacon Adrian Ng gave her The Hiding Place, an autobiographical memoir by a devout Christian woman who lived in the Holland city of Haarlem during the Nazi occupation, where she hid her Jewish neighbors in the Upper Room.
After a few months, one of her friends called her and asked if she wanted to try out an office administration position in Good Shepherd. And when Fernandez went for the interview, the person who did the interview wanted to hire her on the spot.
“Despite the much lower salary compared to my previous corporate job, I decided to go with it. I think it was God preparing me for this part of His mission. I was feeling apprehensive about this new job position and was not sure if I was able to fit in.
On my very first day at work at Good Shepherd I came to know that the staff living quarter is called the Upper Room. This made me recall the book which I read in December and that assured me that this was the right job,” she said.
Good Shepherd is an NGO that upholds the rights, worth and dignity of women and children in underserved communities and those experiencing sexual and gender-based violence.
After three years of being in that position, she decided to improve her accounting knowledge professionally by pursuing the chartered certified accountant qualification with the ACCA.
She started as an Admin & Accounts Officer in Good Shepherd and was given minor accounting responsibilities. She was then transferred to the headquarters within nine months when there was a vacancy there.
Her working hours were long especially when the financial reports needed to be done. Her workday would then be from 8.30am to 11pm.
“Since most NGOs were understaffed and the pay for social work was not much, I was living paycheck to paycheck most days,” she said.
Just like any other young working adult, Fernandez too wanted a house, an insurance policy, and to start setting aside some money for retirement. The salary at Good Shepherd was not enough for all that and so she took on part-time jobs to get her the extra cash and also to support her ACCA studies.
“When the workload got heavier, juggling work and life eventually took a toll on my mental health,” she said.
She realised it was time to move on and so she is now working for an NGO called Asylum Access Malaysia. This is a human rights advocate that recognises, restores and amplifies the power of people who have been forcibly displaced from their home countries.
Fernandez said working in Asylum Access Malaysia is like being in a community of people of all religions and groups. “Everyone is so excited to be there. They were passionate about the cause and the mission, it feels like our main call as human beings is to be there,” she said.
“Surprisingly, it was God who was pushing me further to explore this part of work,” she said. “Working in an NGO helped me find worth in my work and I finally felt that the work I was doing was worth doing.”
It is the people that she came across that made her think about serving God in this way. She talked about how one woman was beaten up so badly and couldn’t carry or lift her own baby. The doctor said that the woman possibly had broken bones and she was not advised to carry her baby until she was well enough.
“The woman’s story made me very sad, but I was glad that I could at least help her at that moment. I had to take care of the baby every time the woman came in for counseling sessions. It was challenging for me to calm the baby down. The counselling session was two hours and he would cry for the whole two hours,” she said.
At one point, she got him to calm down and that was a God moment for her. Although the baby was only one year old, she felt that they had formed an unspoken connection as he finally trusted her enough to let her take care of him.
“Doing social work for me isn’t about doing something big or grandiose but it is all those little things and moments that gave me a meaning in life.”
Fernandez is starting to see how she may later serve. “I hope to be an advisor for NGOs so that more of the money could be used toward helping the people in need.”
She hopes that government policies will allow NGOs to be exempted from company tax and that NGOs will provide better incentives so that more young people will be willing to work with them and even consider full-time ministry.