Our Australian Tour (13)

Singapore was the last scheduled stop of our tour proper. Needless to say, at this stage in our tour all of us were beginning to think increasingly of home. The weariness of our busy travels, our long absence from friends and family, and the foreign surroundings in which we found ourselves in such countries as Indonesia and Singapore—all of these combined to make us more and more eager to reach home. As was mentioned at the conclusion of our last installment of this report, when we reached Singapore, we were just slightly north of the equator and back in the northern hemisphere—a bit closer to home. For all of us, but especially for the Rev. Hanko, and certainly for the young ladies involved, Singapore was an important milestone for this reason, that meeting us at the airport were Rev. Hanko’s granddaughter, Miss Beth Bos, and her friend, Miss Verna Klamer, who had begun the trip with Rev. Hanko, but who had been visiting in Singapore for some three weeks while Rev. Hanko was touring New Zealand and Australia with us. It was a happy occasion for all concerned; and from this point on, our travel party numbered five instead of three. At the airport to meet us were also the hosts of these two young ladies, Rev. and Mrs. Peter Tow, and Mr. Ong Keng Ho, a young man who had been converted to the Reformed faith in New Zealand and who is now living in Singapore. I will tell you more about him in a moment. After warm greetings all around (no pun intended, although understandably the climate in Singapore is warm and humid) we were taken to a Chinese street restaurant for a snack and then were brought to the apartment of Rev. and Mrs. E. Paauwe, on the campus of the Far Eastern Bible College, where we were to lodge during our stay at Singapore. 

Singapore is a large and beautiful city, and is, as some of you may not know, an independent republic with a very limited amount of territory at the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. Although the city is very large and crowded, its cleanliness and excellent housing formed a sharp contrast with the city of Jakarta. The city is so crowded—just to give you an idea—that there are very severe restrictions on cars entering the central business district in the morning at the peak hour. Another indication of the heavy population is the fact that we saw a large housing project, consisting of numerous high-rise apartment buildings not far from the central city; and in these high-rises, we were told, there is a population of some 250 thousand, equivalent to the population of metropolitan Grand Rapids. But the city is strikingly clean and beautiful. There are many parks and parkways filled with a large variety of tropical flowers, shrubs, and trees, all meticulously cared for; and one seldom sees any trash along the streets and roadways. We were warned, too, that the government is serious about keeping their city clean: there is a fine of $50 for throwing so much as a cigarette butt into the street! We spent two full days, July 22 and 23, in Singapore; and since our meetings were in the evening of those days, we had some time for sight-seeing with our hosts, and took full advantage of that time—even though both Rev. Hanko and I had been surprised, upon arrival, by the fact that we had been announced as speaking on two subjects on which we had not spoken before and of which we had not been previously informed. Understandably, therefore, we were somewhat preoccupied during our sight-seeing tours; it is not so easy to organize a speech in one’s mind while sight-seeing! 

But Singapore, though a beautiful city, is basically a heathen city, not even nominally Christian. To be sure, there are Christians and churches, but they constitute a minority; religiously speaking, the heathen religions of the orient dominate. And here, as later in Bangkok, we were struck by the fact that the temples which we visited, and which were in the nature of tourist attractions to us, were nevertheless active centers of heathen religion. 

Our contact man in Singapore and the young man who took the responsibility of arranging our meetings was Ong Keng Ho. We had had some contact with him prior to our departure, but it was in New Zealand that we learned his story. Incidentally, it was in New Zealand that we also learned to call him Ong; somewhat to our surprise, in Singapore we learned that Ong is his family name, while Keng Ho is his given name. Nevertheless, he told us to continue calling him him Keng Ho. This young man was educated in New Zealand at the expense of the Singapore government. After his education was finished, he was required to return to Singapore, where he is under bond to work for the government for eight years. At the time of our visit he had a very responsible position, being in charge of the care of one-third of the park system in the city of Singapore. Since the time of our visit, we learned through correspondence that he has a different position at present. While Ong was in New Zealand, he came into contact with the people of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Christchurch; and it was during his stay in New Zealand that he was converted and was brought to the Reformed faith. Now, however, he finds himself in strange spiritual surroundings, and is very concerned because he cannot find preaching and instruction and fellowship of a Reformed character. For the Far Eastern Bible College and the entire Bible Presbyterian movement in Singapore leave much to be desired from this point of view. During our brief stay in Singapore we discovered nothing of a Reformed character, very much Arminianism and fundamentalism, a lack of healthy spirituality and of emphasis on Christian living, and even tendencies toward the social gospel in this movement. For example, we found the church promoting so-called “family planning,” a euphemism for birth control. This, you must understand, is a very big thing in Singapore, because of the large population and the limited amount of land for expansion; hence, the government is very interested for social and economic reasons in restricting the growth of the population. But the church cooperates in this and also promotes this evil practice. Incidentally, we were told that the Bible College and the churches there are independent of the Bible Presbyterian movement in America; only the Rev. Paauwe, we were told, among the workers there, is connected with and supported by the Bible Presbyterian movement in America. But to return to my story, needless to say, we were very warmly welcomed by our soft-spoken and mild-mannered young friend, Ong Keng Ho. He thoroughly enjoyed his fellowship with us, and he had many questions to ask of us and many subjects to discuss. On our part, however, we also thoroughly enjoyed our fellowship with this young Reformed Christian. I know that Ong himself will read this report in our Standard Bearer, and will probably be embarrassed by my saying this; nevertheless I do not hesitate to say that our visit to Singapore would have been worthwhile if only for our contact with and our opportunity to talk with, have fellowship with, and encourage and strengthen our friend. When we left Singapore on the morning of July 24, it was difficult for all of us to say farewell to him. Yet we must remember that the Lord in His providence not only brought him to the Reformed faith in New Zealand, but also in His wise purpose has now brought him into this situation at Singapore. One’s heart goes out to a young Reformed Christian such as this young man; and we could only encourage him to remain faithful, to witness as the opportunity arose, and to try to find some likeminded Christians with whom he can have fellowship. Who knows but that he could perhaps be instrumental in gathering a group of Reformed believers in that faraway place! 

However, somewhat to our surprise, we had the opportunity in Singapore to have our Reformed testimony heard on two successive evenings by audiences which were larger than we expected. Our friend Ong had chosen the subjects for these meetings, and had seen to it that the meetings were advertised on the campus and in the New Life Church. The subjects, as I mentioned earlier, took us by surprise. We had no definite plans before we arrived at Singapore, and did not know at all what was being planned. And while the subjects were not unfamiliar to either Rev. Hanko or myself, they were not subjects on which we had any notes along in our brief cases, with the result that we had to do some quick planning and preparation. My subject on the evening of July 22 was “The True Church.” Rev. Hanko’s subject for the evening of July 23 was “The Believer and the Church.” These subjects alone, I think, tell us something of what was in the mind and heart of our friend Ong. We had been forewarned not to expect large audiences. And although it is true that there were not many of the older generation of the church present, nevertheless much to our surprise, we had audiences of about 100 at these meetings. The audiences were very young: many who heard us were teenagers attending the Far Eastern Bible College. It was evident to us that they did not have any Reformed background, nor much doctrinal background of any kind. We had to gear our addresses as much as possible to these audiences, and that, too, on the spur of the moment. How much these young people understood of what we tried to tell them is a question. We certainly had good attention and apparently interested listeners. After the second meeting we also had a brief question hour, and after both meetings we had opportunity for informal discussion while refreshments were served. We left with the conviction that we had spoken the truth of the Word of God, and that seeds were sown. Whether there will be positive fruit of any kind in the future remains to be seen. Through Ong we do have an outlet for some of our literature in that area. 

Thus ended our tour proper. It still remained for us to travel home, but our work in behalf of our churches was finished. Our itinerary called for us to fly home from Bangkok, Thailand, via Europe, so that by the time we returned to Grand Rapids we had been around the world. Once we were in Singapore, it was more economical under our travel arrangements to continue flying westward than to return across the Pacific. But our flight was scheduled to leave Bangkok on the evening of July 25. So, on July 24 it was wake up time at 5 A.M. Our plane got us to Bangkok at 9:30 in the morning, after a brief stop over at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At Bangkok we had time to rest, to shop, and to do some sight-seeing. Then came, the long overnight trip from Bangkok to Zurich, Switzerland, with a refueling stop in the heat of the desert at Teheran, Iran. That involved another time change of six hours, so that though we arrived at Zurich at noon, Bangkok time, it was actually six o’clock in the morning at Zurich. Fortunately, on the advice of our travel agent, we had planned a rest stop in Switzerland. After finally learning (in spite of the language barrier) where we were to go and how to get there, we traveled by train and bus to the little village of Weistannen, in the Swiss Alps, where we had accommodations in a little family hotel. This was supposed to be a missionary retreat; but to our chagrin, we discovered that the one church in the village was Roman Catholic, with the result that we were compelled to hold our own informal church service on that Sunday on the grounds of the hotel, surrounded by the majestic mountains and in sight and hearing of a rushing mountain stream. What would we do in a setting like that but sing psalms which referred to the mountains? 

Our charter flight to Chicago was scheduled to leave Luxembourg on July 31. Hence we had time for some whirlwind sight-seeing. On Monday, July 28, we were on our way back to Zurich by bus and train at 6 o’clock in the morning. From Zurich we had an all day train trip down the valley of the Rhine river to the land of our forefathers, the Netherlands. There we parted ways for a day. Rev. Hanko and his travel companions went to Amsterdam, and thence to Sexbierum, where he visited with relatives of members of his congregation. Mrs. Hoeksema and I left the train at Utrecht, where we were met by Mr. and Mrs. Ernest van Rij. In correspondence with his father in New Zealand, Ernest had kindly made arrangements for us to have a quick tour of the Netherlands. Although our purpose was sight-seeing, and not church contact, we did make a couple of the latter along the way. But whirlwind sight-seeing was our diet all day Tuesday, July 29. We even managed to visit the city of my father’s boyhood, Groningen, and to walk the streets in the neighborhood of the Martini Toren (Tower), where he had walked as a boy. Our hosts over night in the little village of Hoornsterzwaag, Friesland, were Mr. and Mrs. K. Kasten. And I must confess—undoubtedly to the delight of my Friesian-American readers—that Friesland was the most attractive part of the Netherlands which we saw! The next morning Mr. Kasten broke all the speed laws to get us to Utrecht in time to catch our train back south to Luxembourg. After an overnight stay in that city, where our party was reunited, it was in the air again the next afternoon for the long trip across the Atlantic via Iceland to Chicago, and thence to Grand Rapids. What a thrill it was, after midnight at the Kent County airport, to see the faces of so many friends and relatives who were there as a welcoming party when at last the Lord had brought us home safe and sound. And what a thrill it was, even though the weariness of our travels had not yet left us, to be able to participate in the 50th Anniversary Celebration of our Protestant Reformed Churches the following week! 

I hope to make a few concluding observations in the next issue. But for those who may be interested in some statistics, we may mention the following. Over a total span of 38 days, we held a total of 40 meetings of various kinds, not to mention the countless private conversations. Between meetings we had some 21 different air flights, plus numerous trips by train, bus, and private car. We spoke to an estimated total of some 1800 people during this period, many of whom we met personally and engaged in conversation concerning the Reformed faith. We estimate that our travels took us some 30 thousand or more miles, and we touched down in 14 different countries. 

Not only was this trip a first for our Protestant Reformed Churches, but through the blessing of our God it proved, beyond doubt, to be a very significant break-through as far as the ecumenical outreach of our churches is concerned. Moreover, that this was indeed the case is not only the conviction of Rev. Hanko and myself; but, after we had made our report, it was also the conclusion of our fellow members on the Synodical Committee for Contact With Other Churches. All thanks and praise to our covenant God!