And they make you sign for it.
The laws here may seem fastidious, but they have played a role in making this island city-state virtually spotless. Located off the southern tip of Malaysia, Singapore’s 4.9 million people live among glittering skyscrapers and manicured tropical vegetation. In Chinatown, vendors sell steaming plates of char kway teow and handmade baby clothes — just blocks from Burger King and Louis Vuitton.
When Dave Hogan and his family moved here in the 1960s to serve as Christian missionaries, Singapore was a town of British colonial brick buildings. The Four Seas Bible College, where he trained in ministry, had no indoor plumbing.
Now Singapore is one of Asia’s “tigers” — known for its rapid industrialization and competitive, market-based economy. Today its people enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living.
The global recession has done little to stall growth here. On a tour of downtown Singapore, Hogan notices a massive bridge that he’s never seen before, built on land reclaimed from the South China Sea.
Holding his head in disbelief, he says, “What are they doing to my island?”
SERVING IN A BUSY WORLD
The Church of Christ where Hogan and his wife, Debbie, worship meets in a two-story building on Moulmein Road, between a Buddhist temple and a Hindu center. City officials often use pictures of the side-by-side buildings to demonstrate their nation’s religious diversity — and tolerance.
Inside the church, Alan Ng teaches a young adults’ class on a Sunday morning. Several of the students, including Sue Ann Mak, are second-generation Christians. Keeping them in the faith is a challenge.
Singapore’s prosperity brings with it distractions, and some teens lose interest in church, she said.
Paul Tan, minister for the Geylang Church of Christ on the eastern part of the island, agrees. In a society driven by a need for academic and financial success, “people find church irrelevant and not essential,” he said. “They give it up for exams and work.”
The island has about a dozen Churches of Christ with a combined membership of about 1,200. Church growth in Singapore has slowed in recent years. Door-knocking or anything seen as threatening the country’s religious harmony is prohibited, Tan said.
But Christians here have found other ways to reach out and serve their community.
S. Roogmanny, a Moulmein Road member who converted to Christianity from Hinduism, oversees Friends of the Disabled Society, a nonprofit that offers skills training, job placement and social interaction for Singapore’s disabled population.
The church member, known as “Roogu” to her friends, got the idea for the society after conducting a Bible study with a disabled person in the late 1970s.
Hogan and Edwin Choy, a minister for the Moulmein church, work with the Centre for Fathering, which promotes involvement of fathers in their children’s lives.
Increasingly, Singapore is a nation of two-income families, Choy said, and businessmen often spend long hours at work. Many grew up in families where mothers did most of the parenting. The government has recognized the dilemma and supports the Centre for Fathering’s work.
The institute takes its mission statement from Malachi 4:6, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers …”
At the Centre’s fathering camps, businessmen spend a weekend bonding with their children and are encouraged to tell them, “I love you.”
The Centre also hosts seminars for families. One guest speaker was Paul Faulkner, a U.S. church member known for his seminars on marriage and family. Hogan watched, somewhat amazed, as Muslim women in Singapore lined up to buy Faulkner’s book on Christian principles in parenting.
Recently the Centre hosted a seminar by Hal Runkel, a member of the North Atlanta Church of Christ and creator of the ScreamFree parenting program.
FROM EXECUTIVE TO ELDER
For all the challenges it presents to church growth, Singapore’s high-pressure business environment also has played a role in leading souls to Christ.
Winston Chong is one example.
Chong trained in business in Canada and New Zealand before landing a job with the prestigious J.P. Morgan financial services company in New York. He moved to Singapore and climbed the corporate ladder. But he knew something was missing in his life.
Raised Taoist, he found himself “spiritually walking the streets,” he said. He lit prayer sticks in a Buddhist temple but “didn’t know who I was praying to.”
Then God started sending him Christian friends, he said. Eventually, he visited “a weird church with no music and no stained glass.” But the members of the Pasir Panjang Church of Christ greeted him warmly. The Bible class topic was “What Jesus said about money.” He had never heard anything like it.
Chong and his family became regular visitors at the church.
Not long after, the businessman watched in horror as the TV news reported terrorist attacks in the city where he once worked — New York.
As the second plane flew into the World Trade Center, “I had names going through my mind,” he said. He knew people who worked in those buildings. Later he learned that his former colleagues had survived the attack.
By then, Chong had made up his mind.
“I’m giving up on the world,” he said. “I’m giving myself to the Lord.”
He was baptized Sept. 16, 2001.
Last year, he became one of five elders of the Pasir Panjang church.
A LAUNCHING POINT FOR REACHING ASIA
Members of Pasir Panjang, the largest Church of Christ in Singapore, look for ways to foster church growth — at home and abroad, minister Henry Kong said.
The church sponsors retreats for church members in neighboring Malaysia. The goal is to foster indigenous leadership among Churches of Christ in the region and to increase congregational unity, Kong said. Church members also have participated in mission trips to Nias, an island of Indonesia that continues to recover from the 2004 tsunami.
Chong, on behalf of the church, signed a memorandum of understanding with Missions Resource Network in February. The Texas-based ministry and the church agreed to partner in “Kingdom expansion and movements of church planting throughout Asia,” the document read.
To accomplish this goal, the church cooperated with Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas, to launch a branch of the ministry training school in Singapore. School administrators plan to train preachers and teachers to reach souls in Malaysia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia and even India. The school received government registration to begin its work.
The Pasir Panjang church is a vital partner, said Thomas Goracke, the school’s dean of students. The church has a viable leadership and feels a burden to spread the Gospel across Asia.
“They definitely understand the mission of the Lord’s church, to step up to that responsibility,” Goracke said.
The new school gives Singaporean church members “something deeper” in their spiritual growth, Kong said. It also provides an opportunity to work with Christians from across Asia.
“It’s really a blessing and a win-win deal all around,” Kong said.