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Stephen Esguerra: My journey to the diaconate ordination

Deacon Stephen with his mother and Bishop Julius and the presbyterate

STEPHEN Esguerra, 37, hails from Tawau, and is the sixth child in a brood of ten to Jose and Marina Esguerra.

He began his education at Holy Trinity, but after completing Form 3, he shifted to Sekolah Vokasional Tawau where he studied Electrical and Electronic. His good results from the technical school earned him an admittance to the only Marine College in the country, Akademi Laut Malaysia (ALAM) in Melaka where he majored in Marine Engineering (2000 – 2004).

After graduating, he landed a job with a well-known construction and developer firm in Kota Kinabalu. His working career was cut short when he decided to further his studies in ALAM. His qualification as a Marine Engineer landed him a lucrative career with the national shipping company, MISC Berhad.

His life on board a ship was adventurous because he could set foot in many foreign countries, and rewarding because the pay was good. But after a while, he wanted to settle for a career ashore and planned a family of his own.

When loneliness and emptiness started creeping into his life, he made the decision to resign after five years with the shipping company. His immediate plan was to seek a job related to maritime which was aplenty in Labuan, the hub of oil and gas industries.

His journey to the seminary started in an unexpected way. While waiting for the response to his new job application from Labuan, Stephen returned to his family home in Kg Ulu Madai, Kunak.

After having been away for many years, he found quality time again not only with his family but also with God through his involvement in the local Church.

His attendance at the vocation seminar in Bundu Tuhan was merely to make use of his free time and to take the opportunity to visit local places he had never been before.

He still recalled when the then Fr John Wong (now Archbishop) interviewed him on whether he had the calling or discernment to be in religious life, his answer was a flat ‘no’.

Weeks later, his brother informed him that there was a letter in their post box addressed to him. His immediate thought was a letter of offer from his job application in Labuan. What a great disappointment for him when the letter was actually from the office of the Catholic Diocesan Center informing him that he was shortlisted to attend the Vocation Retreat in Bundu Tuhan and that he had to confirm his acceptance by a certain date.

He thought that he had a very good excuse not to attend the registration since he was looking after his sick father in hospital. Surprisingly, his father was discharged with a clean bill of health way ahead of the registration date.

On the day of registration, he simply packed his things that morning and waited for the bus that would take him from Kg Ulu Madai to Kota Kinabalu. Two buses passed but were packed. Knowing well that there would be only one remaining bus for the day, he recalled looking up to heaven and talking to God, “If there is no more vacant seat in the last bus then that calling is not meant for him”.

But as God would have it, that last bus had one vacant seat available which, according to the conductor, had already been paid up by the passenger who did not turn up at the time of departure.

At 29 he entered seminary as an aspirant at the Catholic Diocesan Center (2011), Kota Kinabalu. From there it was all the way to the Initiation Year (2012), Major Seminary Kuching for Philosophy (2013-2014) and Theology (2015-2019). There was no turning back.

When asked what kept him persevering in the seminary, he replied: “I was moved by the voice of my village folks in Madai, yearning for priests to visit them every Sunday. They were like sheep without a shepherd and I remembered praying to God to send more labourers to His vineyard (Mt 9:36-37).” That voice inspired him to respond.

His seven years of formation has been fulfilling but not without trials and tribulations.

His pastoral immersions in Telupid, Lahad Datu, Beluran, Paitan and Sandakan had exposed him to serve multi-ethnic communities with diverse backgrounds, languages and cultures. He hoped that the exposure would help him to adapt and serve effectively in wherever he is assigned to in the future.

When asked what is his advice for youth who have the call for priesthood, Deacon Stephen urged, “Try to get working experience while discerning your vocation. If you feel you are called to be a priest or religious sister or brother, search that voice in your prayer and ponder it in your heart. Ask Mother Mary for her intercession as she is the Mother of all vocations. Don’t let your heart be troubled but put your trust in God.” – SOCCOM Sandakan

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