JY UAE assistant coordinator, Rijo John speaks about servant leadership and some crucial events that occurred during his tenure.

The disciples of Jesus were ordinary folk who worked and lived in a difficult time, had their own weaknesses and grappled with egos and other issues that arose from a disparate group thrown together. But when Jesus, their teacher, their Rabbi, their dear and revered Lord, in the midst of the Passover supper, went on his knees, washed and wiped their feet – and commanded them to do likewise – what would have gone through their minds? And yet, all of them except Judas, went on to become servant leaders.

How can one strive to be a ‘Servant Leader’?

Though a challenging invitation from the Lord, ‘servant leadership’ has been somehow gracefully embedded in the JY lifestyle from the very beginning. It is radically different from the leadership styles propagated through motivational books and leadership gurus. I have always admired how some of the movement’s leaders strive to avoid the limelight and are only revealed at a thanksgiving speech of a programme or, as you realise later on, it was the same jovial person who served your lunch. However, when I was personally called to such a leadership role, I began to realise that I needed the grace of the Lord and the strong intercession support of those around. Looking back, I am grateful for this phase in life because in order to do ‘all’ things, the ‘I’ should decrease, and ‘Christ’ should increase, in order for Philippians 4:12 to be fulfilled in me: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

 Signs from above

I had just finished a two-year term as the Dubai Regional Council coordinator in 2018 and was looking forward to taking a break from leadership roles for a while. However I realised God had other plans when I was elected to the National Council on 14th April 2018.  I still remember the day quite vividly. Most of us in the elected team had been many years in the movement and we were wishing for a more youthful team. I had mixed feelings of gratitude and anxiety when I was also called to serve as the assistant coordinator. The opening words of Sajan Julious, the National Coordinator humbled us all in the team, just as it touched the attending assembly to tears: ‘I am just a humble donkey who has been chosen to carry Jesus for the next three years.’ As the assembly exited from the hall, we were surprised to witness unusual heavy rain and thunder outside which even damaged some of the canopies installed in the compound. Some of them took it to be the sign from the Holy Spirit of things to come and looking back, I suppose they could be right…

Good Shepherd

Just a week later on 19th April, we received the unexpected news of the sad demise of our dear Archbishop Abraham, and the first programme that we did together as a team was to organise a commemoration Mass the next day. As Jesus Youths from all over UAE flocked into the Ras Al Khaimah1 church on such short notice, it was very evident that our dear archbishop had indeed touched the hearts of many, despite his short and limited visits to the region. That day I remember, as a team we passionately rose to the moment and pitched in wherever needed, under the guidance of our coordinator. During the homily, Fr. Varghese Chempoly OFM Cap., spoke of how inspired he was in meeting an archbishop who enjoyed every moment of his life, while always having his eyes focused on the Good Shepherd. As a team, we all could take to heart that this was the leadership that the Lord wanted us to follow, and all the more we were now privileged to have one more intercessor for us in heaven.

Dynamic and Innovative

Coming together as a team we had great dreams and expectations. Usually there’s a training conducted for all the newly elected members, for two whole days in one of the church halls. However, this time we thought of a more dynamic and innovative step and we named the training, ‘PR-18 Workshop’, short for Post Reconstitution 2018 Workshop. Rather than focusing only on the days of the training, we prepared the teams from the eight regions, weeks ahead, to take up some challenges such as attending Mass together, having a meal together and just before the training, a treasure hunt with different checkpoints leading to the venue of the training. Along with simple practical tips from the main resource, Dr. Edward Edezhath, the training concluded with great joy and expectations that united us all together as one family.

Dreams do come true

Even though it took weeks and months to plan the vision and focus for the coming three years, one major task that clearly lay before us was to celebrate the Jubilee year, after 25 years of abundant blessings in this desert country. After consulting a few of the senior leaders, this event was definitely one to be initiated from the heart of every Jesus Youth. With this in mind, on 11th September 2018, hundreds of Jesus Youth were invited to a gathering in Dubai to share their dreams and expectations of the Jubilee. It came as a great surprise that a vast majority shared that their dream was the Papal visit of 2019. Though many were skeptical at the very thought of having such an impossible dream, on February 3rd, 2019, the Lord was so generous to fulfill this for us. From the inaugural mass of the Jubilee year on 11th January 2019, the Jesus Youth in UAE was on gear to experience a beautiful journey of faith like never before. Once we reached the summit of the Jubilee year on December 2nd, with the Jubilee conference attended by around 3000+ congregation consisting of cardinals, bishops, priests and Jesus Youth from different parts of the world, we were all in one heart boldly witnessing like the first apostles with burning hearts and exclaiming: ‘It is true!’ (JY Monthly reflection Feb 2019).

Without a mask?

Ending 2019 on such a high note, we had great expectations for the year 2020. And indeed, we know how it turned out, shattering all our plans and expectations and forcing us to re-think newer platforms and channels. The attendance of prayer groups started to dwindle and for the first time even just living the JY lifestyle needed to be in an alternative reality. Sacraments, fellowship and evangelisation were all on the spur shifted to the social platforms and soon it was evident what we all really missed, what we had so long taken for granted: the blessings of praying, sharing and celebrating together. Typical sessions of unmasking the true personality, going outdoors, and sharing meals, and the importance of attending Mass in church, all needed to be reworked in the new context. But thankfully once again, as servant leaders we only need to look up to our great leader, our Good Shepherd for the comfort we seek (Psalms 23:4). So, looking back, I stand in awe of the Lord for he has guided me through green pastures and quiet waters. As I now look forward to the new responsibilities after completing my term in the National Council, I now realise that all I need is to trust in his goodness and mercy: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long (Psalms 23:6).

1 Ras Al Khaimah is one of the seven emirates of UAE.

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