Stephen Rodrigues founded Callback Ministry together with his wife, Leoreen, where they minister and mentor youth for a life of faith, loving Jesus, serving the church and reaching the community.
“I just love sharing and talking about my God.” When Stephen talks about young people growing in God, his enthusiasm is undeniable. A mentor and spiritual father to Catholic youth across Malaysia, Stephen started Callback Ministry in 2012 with his wife, Leoreen.
Growing up, Stephen was shaped by his faith, family and church
The sixth child in a family of 10, Stephen was a quiet and introverted child. He was born into the Catholic faith and shares how his mother introduced him to the Charismatic Renewal, where he learned more about his faith and God.
Throughout his youth, the Penang boy remained plugged into his church and even served beyond. He was part of the Catholic Movement in Penang and later joined the Shalom Working Youth Fellowship (SWYF), eventually becoming a core team member. “I remember as a teenager, I wanted to be a priest,” he remembers.
At 17, a divine dream changed the course of his life
Stephen’s heart was set on the priesthood, but on the cusp of adulthood, he had a dream one night that he still remembers clearly, even decades later.
“In my dream, a man appeared wearing a robe with stripes and there was a bright light behind him. I remember it clearly; we had a conversation and he was showing me all the things that I could do without becoming a priest.”
Sometime later, his father introduced him to a friend who was well-versed in Scripture. When Stephen related his dream, the man said that the person who’d appeared in his dream could have been the Lord Jesus, as Hebrew men in those times wore similar robes with stripes. It was a life-changing revelation for the young man.
Through worship and the Word, Stephen finds himself closer to Jesus
With a clearer understanding of how he could serve the Lord without becoming a priest, Stephen grew even more in the faith. He became a Praise and Worship Leader, Speaker and Head of the Music Ministry at SWYF.
He was also in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit (CHS) and Immaculate Conception choir and even served as a Catechism Teacher for the CHS Form 5 Confirmation Class. It was there, among the seeking hearts of Malaysia’s young Catholics, that a simple question led to the birth of Callback Ministry.
“So, what happens after this?”
In Stephen’s first year as a catechism teacher, someone asked at the end of the final class, “So, what happens after this? Is there no more catechism for us after Confirmation?”
The brief question was simple, but revealing. It showed Stephen and Leoreen the youths’ desire to continue being guided in their faith journey and the gap that existed.
“That was when my wife and I started to think about creating a program for post-Confirmands. And so, on the day of the Sacrament of Confirmation that year, we handed out cards to the class inviting them to gather again after their exams. We used the word ‘callback’ on the cards and decided that would become the name of our ministry.”
And so in December 2012, Callback Ministry was formed.
Through the years, God has brought many back to the fold through the ministry
Callback’s mission, says Stephen, is to call back as many young people as possible to God, to a life of faith, church and community. It’s a tall order and often, a journey filled with challenges, but Stephen and Leoreen have seen God’s hand through it all.
Through camps, workshops and worship sessions, Callback has impacted around 8,000 youths and young adults over nearly a decade. Stephen and Leoreen also personally walk with Callback Leaders-in-Training (LITs), young adults they are discipling and mentoring in faith and life.
“Through the years, we’ve encountered many young people, learnt their stories and helped them in their faith and life journey. There have been testimonies of how God has used this ministry, especially for young adults. We’ve even had young men tell us that had it not been for Callback, they would have turned to drugs, gangsterism or wound up dead by now.”
A couple whose love for God brims over and out of their lives
Serving the next generation is not always easy and can be discouraging at times. But in serving together, Stephen and Leoreen have found the strength of unity and partnership.
Aligned by their love for God, one another and a vision for the next generation, they have walked through “thick and thin, supporting one another.” As Stephen shares, both of them also have no plans of ever giving up on young people.
“I think the path was created for me in meeting many young people and spending time with them. I always share with the younger generation not to give up on themselves, keep moving and learn about God’s love and his ultimate sacrifice for us,” he says.
It is this love for young people, says Stephen, that keeps the couple going in ministry and arms them with patience and understanding for the journey.
Learn and know what Jesus came to do, so the young generation can follow Him too
The passionate mentor and spiritual father hopes to see Catholic youths rise up in bringing their peers back to Christ. “Many Catholics are leaving to other beliefs and religions,” Stephen says, sharing his desire to see youths across the country discovering the love of God once again.
Asked what Catholic youths today can do to stay grounded in the faith, his answer is simple – “Find a community that you can belong to. In such a community, youths will be able to stay connected to God and to each other through prayer, the Word of God, the Sacraments, service and sharing the faith with others.”
As for Christians looking to mentor or guide the next generation, Stephen shares some treasured wisdom gleaned from years of working with young people.
“Start to learn and know what Jesus came to do, so they, the young generation can follow Him. Moreover, go to places where the young people are, lead and make a pathway that they can follow where it leads to Christ.”
Looking ahead, Stephen’s hope remains steadfast in the Lord
In this season, the Scripture Stephen holds onto is Isaiah 43:1-4. He hones in on the second verse where it says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
The key word, says Stephen, is when because it means that everyone will go through difficulties and challenges, but we can hold fast to God’s Word that He will protect us from harm. Indeed, God has been faithful to Stephen, Leoreen and the ministry He has entrusted into their hands.
In December, Callback Ministry will be celebrating its tenth anniversary — a decade of seeing God’s hand at work in the hearts and lives of Malaysian youth. For Stephen and Leoreen, the past ten years have shown that their labour has not been in vain.
Looking ahead, his personal mission has not changed. “I like to find ways to share the message about God to people regardless of age. I just love sharing and talking about my God.”
Stephen and Leoreen Rodrigues will be speaking at an upcoming Worship Seminar entitled “Now Is The Time” (8-11 July 2022) at Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre, KL, a collaboration between Kristus Aman CCR and Callback Ministry. For details, visit bit.ly/StirUpTheSpirit.
All images provided by Callback Ministry.