Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
It was truly the fulfillment of a dream when last September we received an invitation to return to Singapore to visit the Evangelical Reformed Churches there. It has been eight years since we left Singapore after seven years of labors in the ERCS. The occasion for this visit would be the dedication of the new church building and the celebration of the 13th anniversary of the First Evangelical Reformed Church on January 22, 1995. A few months later we received a check in the mail for more than sufficient funds for airfare for my wife Sherry and me.
Words cannot describe the joy that filled our hearts at the occasion of meeting many of the beloved saints in the ERCS. The ties of our Christian love with them have not weakened over the years. Floods of memories of experiences of the past came back immediately.
It was also a great joy to see the new church building for the first time. What a contrast with the kampong that we worshiped together in during our days in Singapore. We think also of the various buildings in Singapore that we investigated for possible use as a church building some of them pretty humble places. Again and again efforts during those years were disappointed for various reasons. Usually the places under consideration either proved to be unsuitable or government regulations prevented a “change of use” of the buildings to permit their use for a church. The present building is a pretty far cry from anything we looked at, more beautiful than anyone at that time would have imagined possible. The Lord in His providence enabled the church in Singapore to raise the funds for the new building and to obtain governmental approval for its use as a church. The story of how this all came about would be long enough to fill the space allotted for this article.
Compared to our church buildings in the U.S.A. the new ERCS building is pretty unusual. Its design was largely determined by the relatively small piece of property which could be purchased in the Singapore situation and the peculiar shape and grade of this property. The building occupies almost all of the land. Even the driveway into the church is not property owned by the ERCS. The ground floor is used as a car park. This was required by city codes. The sanctuary has a seating capacity of between 250 and 300. There is a balcony which allows for future expansion. The two lower levels which are underground will eventually be used for the church office and classrooms. These have good potential for various endeavors which the ERCS have in mind for the future. The sanctuary is air-conditioned, something very nice for the hot tropical weather in Singapore.
The great highlight of our trip was of course the dedication ceremony for the building. The church was filled almost to capacity. Pastor Lau Chin Kwee preached the special sermon on I Peter 2:5: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Christ Jesus.” The message was inspiring. It exhorted the congregation to remember that though we ought to be thankful for the beautiful building the Lord has given, the true church is spiritual in its nature. The beautiful figure used by the inspired apostle was nicely explained in the sermon. The application was especially the calling of the church as a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God by Jesus Christ. The worship service was followed by a short dedication ceremony that was held in the car park. This was followed by a whole afternoon of fellowship. We were quite overwhelmed by it all, especially by our fellowship with many dear saints of God in the church.
Our ten days in Singapore were obviously far too short. Sherry kept a diary of all the things that were crammed into those days. Looking back, we find it all quite incredible. I preached three times. We joined six Bible Study groups, called “cell groups” in Singapore. All of these were blessed times of fellowship. We were often put on the docket for the typical types of questions about the “then and the now.” Besides this we visited in many homes. We heard about many different situations in the lives of the saints there. There was an outpouring of Christian love toward us.
There are of course many changes which have taken place since we left Singapore eight years ago. The city-state of Singapore never ceases to amaze us. The evidence of tremendous prosperity is on every hand. Huge skyscrapers and large new housing estates are still being built almost everywhere. The immense population on this tiny island is astounding. The way the population is accommodated and controlled, the cleanliness and orderliness of the city, the schools, the general good public behavior of the people, the many new shopping centers, the ever more beautiful housing estates—all these things are quite remarkable.
During our last several days in Singapore we stayed with a family that lives on the 20th floor. Looking out the window in every direction one can see tall apartment buildings as far as the eye can see. Within a five-minute walk of this apartment is a shopping center where one can buy almost anything he might need or want, a subway station to take him very quickly to some of the main districts in Singapore, a bus terminal in which -he can board a bus to most places in Singapore, and several food centers with the typical variety of Asian foods and even popular Western fast-food places. Schools for the children are nearby. In short, almost everything one needs in life is within walking distance. What a different life-style than we are used to in America!
Though we were again fascinated by all of this, seeing this was not our main objective. We spent most of the time visiting with the members of the church. We especially enjoyed visiting with new families. The biggest change in the eight years since our leaving Singapore is the many new families. The two churches now have more than eighty children. There were none when we first came. Now whenever you go to church you see one mother after another with a baby in her arms and families with two, three, and four children. What is so amazing is that most of the families in the church are in about the same stage of life. The oldest children are just beginning their teens. There are only few members over forty.
The second biggest change is that most of the members are now involved in their careers. When we lived in Singapore, many of the members were still students in colleges and universities. Some of the members have prospered greatly in their careers. The main reason for this is, of course, that many are college and university graduates with advanced degrees. Opportunities in Singapore for people with degrees are almost without limit. Many are employed with multi-national companies. The demands and pressures of work in terms of time and commitment, and opportunity for continual advancement, are very great.
The two above-mentioned factors are responsible also for the greatest changes in the church, and they are the ones that have the greatest significance for its future. We had opportunity to observe family living in many homes with its joys and also its struggles. We saw that at least some of the members are having problems balancing commitments to work on the one hand, and the family and involvement in the life of the church on the other. I was impressed by how similar all this is to the situation in our own churches in the U.S.A. The dangers of prosperity and materialism are a constant threat to the spirituality of God’s people. Some by God’s grace know how to maintain proper priorities, while others give way to the temptations of the world and become so involved in careers and advancement in this life that their spiritual life suffers. I was impressed especially by some of the mothers who seemed to be doing a good job with raising their children.
We experienced both joys and sorrows while we were among the members of the church. Our great joy is to see that the vast majority of members who were brought by God’s grace into the church during our years in Singapore are still members today.. The Lord preserves His people, some through great trials and temptations. It was also a joy to meet many new people who have joined the church in recent years. Some of these are very actively involved in the life and work of the church. The Lord continues to add to His church in Singapore in wonderful ways.
It was sad to see that some had left the church for various reasons. Others were discouraged and were having spiritual struggles. A number who had not been in church for some time showed up nevertheless at the worship services while we were there to meet with us. Our hearts go out to those who are struggling and to some who, for various reasons, even left the church. Sins and weaknesses in the church of Jesus Christ cause offenses and divisions and problems among her members. Some also are led away by the temptations of the world. We hope and pray that our short visit with some of these will help to bring them back.
Besides the ongoing challenge of evangelism in the midst of a heathen nation such as Singapore, the ERCS faces the new challenges of a new stage of development the church is in today. There must be a solid ministry to families and growing children. We were happy to hear that there is catechism training for the children. Because the members of the church are quite spread out over the island, and because transportation still presents some problems for members living in the more remote areas, getting children together for regular catechism classes is not always easy. Young families in their homes have more to learn regarding the urgency of strong training for their children and the urgency of setting aside time and energy every day for this purpose in the midst of a very busy and high pressured way of life. No one may make excuses for neglect in this area. Sacrifices must be made and priorities maintained. Many of our Reformed homes have a strong covenant tradition, something we must never stop being thankful for and something that we need to strive very hard to maintain. Establishing such a covenant tradition in families of relatively new converts who did not inherit this tradition from their fathers and others is a real challenge.
We also see the need in the ERCS for continued emphasis on doctrinal and theological development and growth among her members. There is hardly a church in the world anymore that pays any attention to this. Young people and new converts do not always appreciate the urgency of doctrinal development and strength as much as do those who are older and who have seen the serious consequences of apostasy in the history of the church. We were happy to hear about the efforts of the ERCS, under the leadership also of Pastor Kortering, to begin Bible school training in the church. We hope that this will benefit not only future ministers and church workers but also some of the so-called ordinary members. The church as a whole will benefit greatly if a number of members attend these classes with the purpose of being more solidly grounded in the doctrine of the Reformed faith. The proposed Bible school training we believe could fill a need in the ERCS that in our churches in America is served by regular training of our youth in Essentials in Reformed Doctrine in our catechism classes. Our prayer is that the Lord will greatly bless the proposed Bible school training in the ERCS.
We were excited to meet several brethren in the church from Myanmar. They are regularly attending the worship services at First ERCS. The church is praying for an open door for doing mission work some day in Myanmar. We hope that our Protestant Reformed Churches can in some way be involved in this as well.
We had opportunity to spend one day with Pastor and Mrs. Kortering. They live in a nice apartment similar to the kind of place that many of the ERCS members live in. During our visit in Singapore we heard many comments about how much the Korterings are appreciated in Singapore. Pastor Kortering evidently is ministering very effectively in the church. The Lord sent him there at a crucial time in the development of the church. His labors have greatly helped the church with some large problems they are facing. The Lord is using Pastor Kortering to strengthen His church in Singapore. He is a much-needed encouragement to Pastor Lau and the other members of the sessions of the two churches. We were also impressed with how Mrs. Kortering is giving a lot of wise advice and encouragement, especially to mothers in their struggles and problems with young families.
We are thankful to our God that He continues to use our Protestant Reformed Churches, especially now through our missionary-pastor, in the work of missions in Singapore. Our prayer is that this may continue for many years if the Lord tarries. The presence of a missionary pastor from our churches in the U.S. also does a lot of good in many ways to maintain and develop a good relationship between our churches in America and the churches in Singapore. Our prayer is that this relationship will grow stronger over the years and that we will be able to help each other in our respective strengths and weaknesses.