President’s Trip to Asia, Part 2: Singapore, June 15, 2016
By Jim Franks
Singapore is one of the most interesting cities in the world. It is both a city and a country, and that alone makes it unusual. It is the world’s only island city-state, and it is located 1 degree north of the equator, which makes for a tropical climate. The population of Singapore is 5.5 million people, crammed into a land area of 31 miles from east to west and 17 miles from north to south. This makes it the third most densely populated sovereign state in the world. There are 7,988 people per square kilometer.
Singapore consists of 63 islands, and with an aggressive reclamation project, the land mass has been increased by 23 percent since the 1960s. The city is beautiful and well organized, with 10 percent of the land mass set aside for parks and nature reserves. The skyline is unusual but beautiful. Singapore is noted for three high-rise buildings appearing to support a large ship. And there are several other unique buildings located in downtown Singapore, creating one of the most unusual city skylines in the world.
The city has a great deal of traffic, but you don’t experience the chaos that exists in other major cities, such as Manila and Calcutta. The city has a smooth-running rapid transit system and limits the number of cars on the streets by assessing licensing fees. In order to purchase an automobile, you must first acquire a license, which can cost several thousand dollars. This makes car ownership very difficult for the average Singaporean.
We only spent one day in Singapore, but it was a wonderful day with the brethren. The group in Singapore is composed of veteran members, several going back to the days of the Worldwide Church of God. Since our stopover was during the week, we made arrangements to take everyone out to lunch. Only one member was unable to make it, and we also had three visitors. There were 17 of us who gathered at the Holiday Inn for a buffet lunch that began around noon and lasted until 4 p.m. It was a most enjoyable day.
The population of Singapore is 74 percent Chinese, but it is still considered one of the most diverse cities in Asia. The Church also reflects a similar diversity. Ling, Anita and Lillian are Chinese, while Sam is Indian, David and Nazarene are Filipino, and Edward and his family are from Indonesia, which is an especially challenging country for a Christian. Indonesia is a Muslim country where Christians are not welcome.
Edward was baptized in the early 1990s and has continued to be faithful even though there has never been a congregation in his country. He travels from his home in Indonesia across the border to Singapore whenever there is a special visitor and for the holy days. He is a prolific translator for us, having translated 57 articles from Life, Hope & Truth into the local Indonesian language. These articles are posted on the COGWA Philippines’ website.
Let me introduce you to the members here in Singapore. I have to admit that I didn’t get everyone’s complete name, but I know who is related to whom. In the picture below, from left to right, beginning with those standing are: David Baker, Ling En Chew, Bellinda Simanjuntak, Anita Ng, Lilik Simanjuntak, David Uy, Mrs. and Mr. Madlangbayan, Lilirne Lau (known as Lillian) and Annika Peters. Seated: Sharron Franks, Jim Franks, Nazarene Uy, Daniel Uy, Edward Simanjuntak and Samuthiran.
David Baker is the regional director for the Philippines, Australia and Asia, which includes Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Middle East (we have a member in Abu Dhabi and a member in Kuwait). Mr. Baker travels to Singapore two or three times per year and also serves as the pastor for the small group that meets here.
Over the years this group has been pastored by a number of individuals from various countries. In the early days (1970s) the congregation in Singapore was pastored by Yong Chin Gee, who was a pastor in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) living in Malaysia. In the years that followed, the group has been pastored by elders from Australia, New Zealand and now by David Baker who lives in the U.S.
I was very impressed with the conviction and resilience that this group has had through the years and the numerous challenges experienced by the Church. It was very difficult for them in 1995, when more than half the group separated over the doctrinal changes in WCG. But a small group here in Singapore has remained faithful to the truth for more than 40 years.
From what I could gather during our discussions, Anita and Sam are the oldest members in Singapore. They were both baptized in 1976, followed by Lillian one year later in 1977. These three have been together since the early days of the Church in Singapore. During the early years (1970s) the congregation in Singapore grew to more than 40 members. There has never been a resident pastor for the Church of God in Singapore, even though there have been members in the area since the mid-’70s.
David and Nazarene Uy, along with their 1-year-old son Daniel, add youth to the group. They are Filipino and currently work in Singapore. We spent the day with David’s father, Rafael, while in the Philippines early on during our trip. It is very expensive to live in Singapore, making it difficult for the members. David has two jobs—he is a teacher in the morning and works for an IT company in the afternoon. His wife, Nazarene, was a flight attendant for Etihad Airlines for more than nine years prior to their marriage, but currently spends most of her time taking care of Daniel. She also works at the school where David teaches. Her parents were visiting from the Philippines the day we arrived.
Another interesting person present for our visit was Annika Peters. Annika is a 19-year-old from the Hamburg, Germany, area who last July began a trip around the world with just her backpack. She is finishing her trip and will be returning to Germany in the next couple of weeks. She is a remarkable young lady. I asked her which countries she most enjoyed during her trip, and she mentioned three—Chile, Guatemala and New Zealand. She said she enjoyed Chile and Guatemala because of the large congregations.
Annika has no local COGWA congregation where she lives in Germany. It was a real treat for her to see so many people at services. Chile has one of our largest congregations in the world, with around 350 members, and Guatemala has a congregation with close to 200 each Sabbath.
Annika said she also enjoyed New Zealand, where she spent three months. She was there during the time Britt and Donna Taylor visited the area. They encouraged her to come to the FI continuing education classes scheduled at the office in Allen during July. During our luncheon, she told me she had contacted Dave Johnson and was accepted for the classes. She booked her plane ticket to Dallas that very day. She really has an amazing story to tell!
It was great spending time with this group. They laugh easily and heartily and also ask probing questions about the Church and the work we are doing. We spent about four hours together discussing prophecy, world events and the work of the Church. They told me how much they enjoy In Accord. It makes them feel part of something much bigger than themselves. On a normal Sabbath they gather in a small rented room and watch a downloaded video from one of our U.S. congregations.
I only wish we could have spent more time with these very special people, but it was most enjoyable and filled with laughter and biblical discussion. Now we are off to India!