Dear Brothers and Sisters in Our Lord Jesus Christ:
Greetings to you in the name of our covenant God and Savior Jesus Christ, from the island of Singapore. We have been in Singapore for almost two months at the writing of this letter to you and there is just so much for us to tell you we hardly know where to begin and how to keep this report short enough that it does not fill up the whole Standard Bearer. We are very much enjoying the labors here. Our work is being well received and greatly appreciated. Many prayers of thanksgiving are being raised to God on your behalf for sending us here as your missionary.
Upon arrival in Singapore we received a blessed welcome from a group of the members of the G.L.T.S. They took us immediately to our new home. Already on the day of our arrival we had fellowship with the saints here. The next evening there was a special evening to welcome us. We met many of the members of the G.L.T.S. for the first time. We tried very hard to remember some of the difficult Chinese names and we experienced our first taste of many very different oriental foods.
It would be hard for me to describe all the impressions that flood in upon one after first entering a strange land. Though there are many things here like the West, there is also no end of sights and experiences which are very different. Every day seems to bring new experiences and new sights.
Singapore is from many respects a very beautiful land. There is so much lush green tropical foliage. There are many beautiful flowering trees. The name garden city is a very appropriate one. The island is covered with modern highrise apartment buildings. For the most part Singapore is a very neat and clean city. While there are many modern buildings in Singapore, there are also many older, quaint, oriental-style shops and markets. There are still many places where people live in what are called Kampongs. These are a combination of rather crudely built huts, all built one against the other, which serve as the dwellings of several families living very close together. Often the people living together in these Kampongs are related to each other. The streets are jammed with cars but there are also motor bikes. In many places one can see the trishaws still in use, not only for the tourist- trade but also for the transport of the Singaporeans. It is simply unbelievable what these trishaws are sometimes made to carry. There are many open air food shops where one can purchase a great variety of different foods from many different countries. There are millions of people living in Singapore and the city is busy 24 hours a day. The abundance of trees help to camouflage the fact that there are so many people living here but it seems that, wherever you go, you are surrounded by huge apartment buildings.
The weather in Singapore is hot and humid. The amazing thing about the weather is that it is so consistently the same. It is always from 85-90 degrees in the daytime and cools off in the evening only to the low 80s. We have not however found the weather to be oppressive and we have already adapted to it quite well.
After two months here we are starting to feel pretty much at home. We are growing accustomed to the oriental way of life. During the first month that we were here we lived in a semi-detached home. This is comparable to the U.S. duplex. The home was spacious, comfortable, and quite nice. The only problem was that it was much too far away from the meeting place of the church. By the providence of God we managed to find other accommodations in a place where such is very difficult to find and also normally very expensive. We now live in one of the high-rise apartment buildings on the fifth floor. Although this is not quite as nice for our family since there is no outside play area, this apartment is nevertheless very nice, spacious, and comfortable. There are many advantages to this place. It is within walking distance to the church and also to shopping districts. Because the apartment is so spacious we are able to hold some of the meetings of the G.L.T.S. in our home. We are now much closer to the homes of some of the members. Because we are high up there is a nice cool breeze blowing through our home.
Transportation presents some problem in Singapore. Traffic is very heavy and also very slow. The government of Singapore is trying very hard to discourage the private ownership of cars by taxing them heavily. Thus even a small used car that is quite old will cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 Singapore. In addition to this, one must pay an annual registration fee of $1,000 plus high road taxes and very high petro costs. If one sees the traffic conditions here he can appreciate these efforts by the government. For all of these reasons we have decided not to buy a car. Public transportation, though also slow, is nevertheless very good. One can get a bus to virtually any place in Singapore. There are many taxies, and one can walk to many places he desires to go. It is possible to do much of the work of the church from our home. To understand this, one must remember that most of the members of the G.L.T.S. come from pagan homes where a Christian minister is not welcome. Therefore most of the pastoral work will have to be done by people coming to our home. This the members of the G.L.T.S. are doing very much, for which we are glad.
Our oldest daughter Sara is attending Kindergarten at a Presbyterian Church. There was some difficulty at first for her to adjust. She is the only western child in the class. When we lived far away it was necessary for me to take her to school every day, a trip of more than an hour each way. Now the school bus picks her up right at the apartment. Sara has learned to like school so much that she now goes eagerly every day. We thank the Lord for this. The school is academically quite good but there are not very many signs that it is Christian.
For the rest of the space let me tell you just a little about the work of the church here. The G.L.T.S. is very busy in the work of the Lord. It would not be possible for me to tell you all of the activities in which they are engaged. We are much encouraged by the many members who take an active part in the work of the church. Their zeal and tireless labors for the Lord are a most wonderful testimony of their faith. Let me just briefly outline some of the activities in which we are directly involved. The Lord’s Day is a very busy day for us. Most of the meetings are on the Lord’s Day because it is often very difficult for the young people to get out of their homes for meetings during the week. The Lord’s Day begins with four Sunday School classes. These start at 8:45 a.m. I teach one of these classes. I took this class over from one of the brothers who is now teaching another class. In this class I teach from the Westminster Confession. I picked up from where the brother before me left off. This happened to be at the point where the confession deals with the doctrine of the sacraments. Because of various developments with regard to the sacraments in the G.L.T.S., and also because of the controversy in our own Protestant Reformed Churches about baptism on the mission field, we have spent a long time talking about the sacraments. Attendance at this class is from 25 to 30 and the discussions are lively and interesting. The worship service begins at 10:15 a.m. and usually lasts until 12:00 noon. They are used to listening to hour-long sermons. The service is led by a chairman who is one of the leaders of the G.L.T.S. He leads in opening words from Scripture, singing, responsive reading, the offering, and Scripture reading. My part in the service is then the pastoral prayer, the sermon, and the closing prayer. Attention to the preaching is very good. The service is conducted in a very reverential and god-glorifying spirit. There are always more than 100 young people present at the service. This means that the meeting place is filled to capacity. Work is being done on rearranging the seating to accommodate more people. After the worship service there is a time of Christian fellowship.
At 1:00 p.m. there is a pre-baptism class that meets at our apartment. This class has 14 members, most of whom are recent converts who have requested baptism. I am instructing them in the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We started with the subject of the true knowledge of God.
In the afternoon there is a meeting of the executive committee of the G.L.T.S. This executive committee acts somewhat like the consistory, while there is no instituted church here. These meetings always last all afternoon. They are also held at our apartment. The reason for the length and frequency of these meetings is chiefly all the matters that must be discussed in relation to the institution of the church here. We are working very hard in making all the necessary preparations for the organization of the church here. It is our conviction that this should take place as soon as possible. Every Tuesday evening we meet with a committee to formulate a constitution for the newly organized church. It will probably take several months yet before the church can be organized because of the many things that must be done. Be sure to keep this matter before you in prayer. Many decisions have to be made. It is very urgent that the foundations of the church be laid in the truth of the Word of God. I am preaching a series of sermons on the Lord’s Day on the subject of the doctrine of the church with a view to the organization of the church.
At 7:30 p.m. every Lord’s Day evening some of the members of the G.L.T.S. gather together to listen to taped sermons. This is a group of those young people who are able to get out of their homes for a second time on the Lord’s Day. We meet at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ong, the only married couple of the G.L.T.S.
On Wednesday evening there is a prayer meeting. At this meeting one of the leaders of the G.L.T.S. will give a short exhortation from Scripture and the rest of the time will be spent in prayer. We find these meetings very encouraging and meaningful. It is an opportunity for all who can come, to pray for the church and also to pray for one another. Though this is somewhat of a new thing for us, we find it very good. We hear of many of the hardships and trials that these youthful saints experience as well as their new found joy of salvation. Most of the prayers are God-centered and very beautiful. I would like to tell you about some of the experiences of the saints which have been reported at these prayer meetings but space does not allow me.
During the week there are many pastoral visits in our home. We thank the Lord that the young people are getting more free and open to come to discuss various questions and we are all the time encouraging this. Few days go by that we do not have someone in our home. Many of the young people will come with long lists of questions for which they are seeking answers.
Saturdays are also very busy days for us. In the morning there is a class for a young couple that will soon be married. Because these young people are from pagan homes they need and desire instruction on establishing a Christian home. We are using the book of Rev. Engelsma. How thankful we as Protestant Reformed people ought to be for our Christian homes. Saturday afternoon there are two more Bible classes. I teach one of these classes. I am giving doctrinal instruction in the Heidelberg Catechism for the older members. Another brother is doing the same for younger members. This class is very well attended and also meets in our apartment. Regular attendance is from 30 to 40. We are much encouraged by the evident sincere desire to learn more of the Reformed faith and the desire to be grounded in the doctrines of the faith.
There are many more activities that go on through the week. There are meetings of cell groups in various locals, there is work to distribute tracts and tapes, there are groups who do follow-up work with those who have attended worship services and with those who have special problems. I could not possibly detail all of this for you.
We rejoice at the evidences of the blessing of the Lord. The past labors of our churches have borne much fruit. The G.L.T.S. is growing in the knowledge of and love for the Reformed faith. It is hard to imagine what the Lord may have in store for the G.L.T.S. They could become the center of the Reformed faith in Singapore. There is no other church that even comes close to the Reformed faith. Two young men and probably a third has aspirations for the gospel ministry. Two of these brothers are presently studying at the Bible college of the Presbyterian church. They are greatly desirous of further training that will establish them more firmly in the Reformed faith and equip them to become better ministers.
We can be thankful that the Lord has given our churches an open door to work here in Singapore and to share the glorious heritage of the Reformed faith which He has delivered to us. Please continue to pray for us and also for the youthful saints here.
Your Missionary and his wife,
Rev. & Mrs. Arie den Hartog