Impressions of Singapore (2)

. Although our stay in Singapore was relatively brief, too brief to make as thorough acquaintance with the young brothers and sisters of the GLTS as we might have liked, and too brief to gain as great an understanding of the work there as we would have liked, yet we were able to gain a considerable acquaintance with the work there. This was partly because of our opportunity for fellowship and conversation with Pastor and Mrs. den Hartog in their home and partly because our stay was crowded with contacts with the young people there and partly because to no little degree we were directly immersed in the work during the several days of our stay. The result was that we gained some rather definite impressions which we wish to share. 

One of our first and strongest impressions, of course, was that of the tremendous change which had taken place between our visit (with the Rev. C. Hanko) in the summer of 1975 and our visit last summer. This impression was unavoidable. In 1975 our sole Reformed contact there was with brother Ong Keng Ho. It is true that what was then the GLDT agreed, at his request, to sponsor our two evening meetings at that time; but this could almost be called incidental, if not accidental, and was certainly not because of any special interest in the Reformed faith on their part. And when we spoke on the doctrine of the church at that time, we doubted to what degree we had even been understood. We found much Arminianism and fundamentalism and little or no knowledge and interest in the Reformed faith. I recall distinctly that when we had to say farewell to Brother Ong Keng Ho, he told us that he felt so alone that he felt like Joseph in Egypt. Rev. Hanko and I had little expectation of fruits from our brief visit there; at that time, if you had asked us, we would have replied that Singapore was one of the least likely places where there would be any future positive fruits occasioned by our visit. But the Lord thought otherwise, and through what to us was a strange and unexpected series of events there is now a vital and thriving Reformed mission there and a highly interested and active group of young Reformed Christians who have made no little progress in understanding the Reformed faith and who show a tremendous and lively interest not only in their own growth in the faith but also in sharing their faith with others and spreading abroad the truth of the gospel to others, wherever the opportunity presents itself. It stands to reason that during our stay there I was repeatedly struck by that sharp contrast between 1975 and 1980. I must confess that it was thrilling, and more than once I was moved to tears of joy and thanksgiving. What hath God wrought! 

My second impression is concerning the Rev. den Hartog and his work there. Perhaps I should speak instead of a whole group of impressions, arranged here not in the order of importance but rather arbitrarily. We have all undoubtedly gained a number of impressions from his numerous and interesting reports in our Standard Bearer. But there is nothing like an objective evaluation from a third party. Living in their home and observing his work and his contacts, we were surely able to gain some firsthand and very definite impressions. One impression is that the Rev. den Hartog is indeed the right man for this work: he fits. And while he himself will tell you that he is constantly having new experiences yet, nevertheless in the time that he and his family have been there he has become well established in the field and is thoroughly at home in the work. He obviously has joy in his work, too. There is an air of excitement about him when he goes about the work and when he tells you of his experiences. Perhaps in a way this is natural and to be expected, seeing that this foreign mission work is entirely new to him. Yet it is real. When we were together, our conversation inevitably turned to the work and its various aspects and to anecdotes of his experiences and discussions of possibilities and future plans. We may indeed be thankful to God for having provided us with this missionary! Along with this, a second impression in this connection is that Pastor den Hartog is obviously loved and esteemed and trusted and confided in by the young Christians of the GLTS. They turn to him with their questions and their problems, whether these are questions concerning the truth or questions and problems of a more practical nature and regarding their lives. And the missionary-pastor’s apartment home is and must be always open to these young people, especially since they have no Christian homes to which they may turn and where they may be visited. Mrs. den Hartog plays a part in this, too. In addition to the care of a busy family of little children, she must play the part of a gracious hostess to the young people. We found it to be literally true that there were visitors any time of the day, from morning to night. My third in this group of impressions concerns the living of the den Hartogs. I want to stress that I did not hear one word of complaint from them in this regard. Quite possibly they may even demur when I make mention of this. Nevertheless, we did have the opportunity to observe. And I trust that our Foreign Mission Committee and our next Synod will give due attention to this. But we must as churches take good care that the den Hartogs are well provided for abundantly. Daily living is tremendously expensive in Singapore, especially for those who want to maintain a modicum of a Western style of life. Food prices for very ordinary items—for example, such things as breakfast cereal or a head of lettuce—are fantastically high. I recall, for example, that when we were there a head of lettuce was $4.70 Singapore, or about $2.35 American money. We certainly must take care that along with all the unavoidable sacrifices which the den Hartogs must make, they do not have to pinch pennies when it comes to their everyday living. 

My third impression also concerns Pastor den Hartog; but seeing that it directly concerns the work there, I will give it separate attention. That impression is that Rev. den Hartog is too busy. Viewed from another viewpoint: there is simply too much work there for one missionary. Again, this statement on my part is not occasioned by a single word of complaint on the part of brother den Hartog, though he was literally busy from morning to night. Our missionary did indeed mention to me repeatedly that there was simply too much work for one man. This was not, however, by way of complaint. It was rather by way of concern about the work and its accomplishment. In the nature of the case, most of Pastor den Hartog’s work is with the young people of the GLTS. It must be. The primary goal is to instruct them and preach to them and assist them to become a Reformed congregation there. But there is such a large amount of work in this area alone that it is more than enough to keep our missionary busy. In the meantime, however, there is also the work of outreach from and beyond the GLTS itself. And as the GLTS grows in the faith and also grows numerically, the drive and the impetus and the opportunities for outreach in Singapore itself and also beyond Singapore also grow. This is in the very nature of mission work on a foreign field. And it is the fact that there simply is not enough time and manpower to cope with the various opportunities for such outreach which concerns Rev. den Hartog—I would almost say “grieves him.” He spoke of this again and again during our visit. And it is not too difficult to understand, I think, that it gnaws at a man to see all kinds of opportunities for expanding the work and not to be able to do justice to them. 

The question is, of course: what is the solution? Our churches have thought of trying to have another man on the field as an assistant—possibly an elder or ex-elder, although personally I cannot see what being an elder or an ex-elder has to do with this, except, perhaps, from the viewpoint of abilities. After all, an elder in Grand Rapids Southeast, for example, is an elder only there, surely not in Singapore. But thus far we have not succeeded in providing such a man on an extended basis. Nor, by the way, is this everyone’s work, even from the point of view of physical stamina and adjustment. Personally, I believe it would be best if we could send another missionary-pastor. This is true from many points of view. There is ample work for two, and much work that is strictly work for a missionary-pastor, not merely an assistant. I think, too, that two compatible missionaries would be of tremendous assistance to one another from the point of view of advice and consultation. It is simply a fact that there are many problems to be faced and decisions to be made on the mission field which at present our missionary must face all alone. How helpful it would be to have a co-laborer! Besides, the presence of two missionaries will serve to insure continuity of the work in case of furloughs or in case one minister leaves for another field of labor. Finally, to have two missionaries working together in a given field is, I believe, according to the Biblical pattern. The practical questions are, of course, whether we can spare the manpower from the home front and whether our churches can meet the added expense of such a venture. 

(to be continued)