Southeast Asia: A profile of churches
JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia — Sitting on the couch in his…
SINGAPORE — In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Moulmein Church of Christ found a way to put its big, new building to good use.
Five years ago, the congregation tore down and rebuilt its 55-year-old facility, sandwiched between a massive Buddhist temple and a Hindu center in this tightly packed Southeast Asian city-state.
Once dwarfed by its neighbors, the church now worships in a modern, four-story facility — or at least it did until the pandemic.
As its members met online, the church volunteered its two-bedroom apartment to international students returning from abroad.
Charmaine Neo, who was studying in London, and her sister, Sarah, an exchange student in Warsaw, Poland, quarantined in the apartment.
After enduring a stressful return to her homeland — along with rude comments and micro-aggressions due to her Chinese ethnicity — Charmaine Neo was “a little annoyed” by the idea of serving her quarantine in the church building, she said. “I missed home, and I was quite done with feeling unwelcome.”
But “we received so much help and support from everybody — particularly uncle Sung Kok,” she said. “Every morning he would take our lunch orders and personally deliver the food to our doorstep. He even went the extra mile and bought us extra snacks and desserts.”
(Sung Kok Wong is a caretaker for the church building, and “uncle” is a term of affection used across Southeast Asia.)
Many of Singapore’s COVID-19 cases are among its 1.4 million foreign workers who live in conditions that put them at high risk for the virus, said Kim Kai Chan, Moulmein’s administration minister.
As the government stepped up its efforts to test foreign workers for the virus, the church housed healthcare workers Yu Han Wong and Huey Ting, who volunteered to help conduct the tests in the high-density dormitories where the workers live.
“I was saying yes to an invitation to participate in what God was doing in the neglected and abandoned spaces of society,” said Wong, a member of the Moulmein church. “My hope is that this newfound momentum of national interest in the welfare of foreign workers will continue even after COVID-19.”
The church also joined an effort by Singapore’s churches to house the city’s homeless during the lockdown. Moulmein converted a floor of its classrooms for the effort.
Mit Vikraman, the church’s youth minister, coordinated the project, working alongside Singaporean authorities and other church groups.
“It was powerful to see so many people who do not know each other, nor have ever met, work together,” Vikraman said. “When Christians follow Christ in doing good deeds, we shine like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.”
The church supports mission work across Southeast Asia and beyond, Chan said. But the pandemic has emphasized to church members that “we have a great mission field right here.”
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