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Singapore: The Disruptive Gospel in Action

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The churches in Singapore have a deeply collaborative spirit that predates Singaporean independence. Here’s what we can learn from them.

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The penetration of the gospel into Singaporean life is simply amazing. Ezekiel Tan says that it is estimated that 50 percent of the lawyers and 70 percent of the doctors in Singapore are Christian. Ezekiel estimated that Singapore has five to seven hundred churches, representing approximately one million Christians—or close to 20 percent of the population. The believing community is estimated to be two-thirds Protestant and one-third Catholic.

The churches have a deeply collaborative spirit that predates Singaporean independence. In the 1930s, Chinese churches consolidated their working relationship into the Union of Chinese Speaking Churches in Singapore.

For the next four decades, the unity of the church in Singapore would build slowly. A combination of grassroots efforts emerged to bring churches together alongside externally organized gatherings, including Here’s Life Singapore, which involved 45 percent of the churches in the city.

In his book In His Good Time, Bobby E. K. Seng, author of many books on the spiritual history of Singapore, describes another defining moment in the spiritual history of Singapore at a Billy Graham crusade:

6 December 1978, National Stadium, 7:15 pm. The afternoon showers had only just stopped, leaving scattered puddles of water across the field. All around the Stadium, tiny streams of people with folded umbrellas under their arms, were making their way in through the entrances; the seats were half occupied. One big question loomed in the minds of all Christians: would the people of Singapore come or had they been too ambitious in booking the 65,000 seat Stadium?
Just four days earlier the island had been drenched with 512 mm of continuous rain, giving rise to one of the most massive floods in its history. Over 1000 people had to be evacuated.
Effective preparation for the Crusade only began in February 1978 with the formation of a 14-man Executive Committee. To put flesh and muscles to plans and policies, the Committee set up 20 Functional Committees. 237 of the 265 Protestant congregations committed themselves to the Crusade.

What happened on the first night of the Crusade is now a part of history. The Stadium was filled to capacity: 65,000 in attendance. Dr. Billy Graham’s message on man’s need to be “born again” was interpreted into Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Malay, and Tamil. 4,107 persons came forward on this first night.

For the five evenings, total attendance came to 337,000. 19,631 came forward to be counseled and of these 11,883 received Jesus Christ into their lives for the first time.

That crusade was a turning point in Singapore’s spiritual history. The growth of Christianity among the Chinese in Singapore has been breathtaking. Between 1930 and 1980, the Christian population grew nearly fourfold from 2.6 percent to 10.6 percent. The Chinese church continued to grow by another 30 percent up until 1990.

Concurrent with the impact of the Billy Graham Crusade was the emergence of strong student movements in Singapore. Youth for Christ and Graduate Christian Fellowship began in the 1950s. Both of these movements, along with the charismatic movement of the 1970s, attracted thousands of young people. Additional youth movements were planted in the 1970s, including Inter-School Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Eagles Evangelism, Campus Crusade, and Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Student surveys indicated that a number of students were suspending their belief in the Chinese religions of their parents.

The global trauma of World War II had become the womb for the birth of evangelical mission agencies. Thirty years after the war, these agencies were finding fertile soil on the islands of Singapore. The young people converted to Christianity in the 1970s became members of the professional class for Singapore for the next forty years.

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Excerpted from A Disruptive Gospel by Mac Pier. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, ©2017. www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

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