By Stephen Cauchi
13 January 2022
Xeverie Swee started her career as an advertising sales manager. Then she worked as a maximum-security prison officer. On 5 February she will be appointed deacon in the Anglican Church along with other ordinands.
A long-time Christian, Ms Swee moved to Melbourne from Singapore in the mid-2000s. It was around 2014 that she felt God’s call to be a prison officer.
“I said to God, ‘I’m getting a little bit stale – what do you want me to do?’ And he said, ‘Look up’. I looked up on the side of the road and I saw a billboard. And it said ‘Corrections Victoria’,” she said.
So Ms Swee applied for and got a job with Corrections Victoria as a prisons officer, a completely different field from her previous career in magazine advertising sales.
“I thought ‘This is surreal. No way can Singaporean girls apply for a job in corrections … I don’t look like that’,” she said.
“But the Lord encouraged me and inspired me to do it.”
So she submitted her resume and went for the interview. Despite her doubts, the Lord opened up the door for her, and she got the job.
It wasn’t just any corrections facility she worked in: it was a male maximum security prison.
Despite the tough environment, Ms Swee said she felt the joy of the Lord bubbling up in her during her work. She would reach out to people if they wanted to talk about religion, also helping for a while as a prison chaplain.
Journey of faith
Ms Swee came to faith as a young adult, through a Singaporean megachurch. She had come from a Catholic family, with uncles and brothers who became priests.
From a young age she felt religion was her calling in life, but fell away from her Catholic faith as a teenager. She said in Singapore the ordination of women was frowned upon, and she did not want to become a nun.
As a teenager she explored other belief systems such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
After studying at university in Australia, Ms Swee worked as a regional sales manager for a travel magazine.
Despite performing well at university and in her career, she had little inner peace.
“There was something that was missing in my life,” she said.
“I found that there was a God-shaped vacuum in my heart and really only God could fill the gap.”
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Then, someone she met through work invited her to the Singapore megachurch Faith Community Baptist Church, about 2002.
“I just heard that calling in my heart to go back to God,” Ms Swee said.
“I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and saviour and came back to church again.”
She prayed to God and asked what he wanted to do.
“And he said ‘Feed my sheep, nurse the broken, help the needy, dress the wounded, and take care of the widows and orphans. I want you to be a servant of mine’,” Ms Swee said.
“That calling was so loved in my heart and still is right now.”
In the mid-2000s, Ms Swee felt God calling her to Australia. She found a sales job, began studying at the Pentecostal Harvest Bible College in Melbourne, and joined the Planetshakers megachurch.
In 2010, she said, God told her to take a sabbatical. “He said down tools and just follow me. Concentrate on your bible study and finish that degree with Harvest Bible College,” Ms Swee said.
She duly did so, while also volunteering with a non-profit group helping people with an intellectual disability, and volunteering in prison ministry.
During this time, she felt God’s call becoming clearer and louder, as he supplied her with financial providence, energy, and intense joy.
When Ms Swee began work at Corrections Victoria in 2014, she found it satisfying, but also prayed asking God what he wanted her to do with her degree.
Then in 2018 she was walking in Carlton Gardens, and she felt God telling her to turn around and go to Parkville.
She ended up at Trinity College, where she ran into the theological school’s dean, the Reverend Canon Bob Derrenbacker.
“I started a conversation with Bob. It went on for an hour and he invited me to come into Trinity College and have a chat,” Ms Swee said.
“I said I was studying and so on. Bob said ‘Come into Trinity and see how you feel about it’. He said ‘Maybe God is calling you to the ministry of God – have you considered ordination’?”
Ms Swee initially dismissed the idea, even though the idea of being in ministry had been germinating in her heart since her childhood in Singapore.
But Dr Derrenbacker convinced her to give it a go.
So while still working full-time as a prison officer, Ms Swee began involving herself in Anglican life
At Trinity, she attended the Reverend Fergus King’s spiritual formation class, and transferred her Harvest credits to Catholic Theological College and studied there.
She also received a Klingner scholarship with St Peter’s Eastern Hill, designed to train ordinands in ministry, pastoral care, and outreach. She began to attend church at St Peter’s, as well as live there.
Then the pandemic hit.
“During the first lockdown I prayed and the Lord said, ‘Do not worry, just follow me and I’ve got something for you’,” Ms Swee said.
That “something” was a prayer channel on Zoom, run by Ms Swee and lay minister Alae Taule’alo.
It reached people across Australia, and as far away as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
After ordination, Ms Swee will leave her career in corrections and begin ministry at St Andrew’s Brighton.
“Praise the Lord. I walked this long life and this long path with the Lord and he still finds me useful so I’m very thankful for that,” she said.
“The Lord is just amazing the way he’s leading me.”