Two words spelt out the conference theme and summarised our situation and calling. Here, I share some “take-aways” from the 12th Triennial Convention of the Asia Missions Association (AMA), April 2016, Manila.
Much has been, and will be, said about “Globalisation”. Definitions and descriptions, concepts and conjectures are both plentiful and wide-ranging. Basic is the precept and practice of inter-connectedness. This includes and involves cultures, economies, ideas, industries, markets, products and policies. Inter-dependence is implied. Cooperation and collaboration with resulting synergy in win-win situations are expected and welcomed. Competition may also emerge, which if not approached and handled well, could prove to be negative or counterproductive.
Significantly, Singapore seems synonymous with globalisation from our location, history and development. It is also referred to as a global city or village and words like “globalise” have been used or embraced. Without natural resources, Singapore has had to rely on human resource and education. All these emphases not only helped in national development but enabled the country and her people to welcome, appreciate and optimise globalisation. Our Graduates Christian Fellowship has also shared on this subject (Tong & Wong, 2002; Chong et al, 2015 & 2016).
Besides having many visitors, we have an open-door policy in education and employment. They give an added international, multi-cultural dimension in our workplace and institutions. Many of these students are helped with scholarships. This is one of our contributions to the region. Many of these awards have no bonds attached. These students are welcomed to stay on for employment or further studies where they can add to our manpower pool while gaining considerable experience and expertise which would be useful whether they continue to work in Singapore or elsewhere. They are also free to return to their own countries and contribute to both national and regional development and relations. Similar win-win situations can be found in many training and exchange schemes, attachments and work experiences whether short or mid-term. Another aspect of globalisation in our education endeavours is our growing Student Exchange Programmes.
As far as missions is concerned, we note that while the British first came to Singapore to essentially establish it as a trading port, Christianity was invariably, if not incidentally, introduced. Chaplains and pastors who came primarily to meet the needs of their own people saw and met opportunities to introduce the Christian faith outside their immediate constituency. While Singapore owed much to some of these pioneering Christians, the health and growth of our early church was affected by the influence and inroads of liberal theology from the west. This was indeed a significant negative impact of global/outside influence. This weakened the English-speaking Christians and churches. Thankfully, the Chinese-speaking Christians were not affected. Liberal theology had not affected them and the influence of the Christians from China typified by John Sung and Watchman Nee were momentous. This could thus be regarded as the positive influence from another global perspective. All these factors had their influence on church life in Singapore including the area of missions and evangelism.
The late 50’s saw an encouraging trend that brought about what could be deemed an evangelical awakening if not revival. Organisations like the OMF and the CNEC worked faithfully and quietly among us. Parachurch groups like FES including their GCF, Scripture Union and their ISCF, YFC, Navigators and Campus Crusade also contributed significantly. Graduates returning (or coming from Malaysia and elsewhere) to Singapore who have been helped overseas from these (e.g. IFES, COCM, OCF) and other groups also played a key role. This is indeed a very significant and positive global influence. Liberalism and ecumenism paled into insignificance during this period. The Brethren, Baptist and Assemblies of God Christians who had not been affected by the liberal movement but had also kept much to themselves during those days now came out to help even lead the many Evangelical/parachurch organisations. This period also saw Singapore having an impactful Billy Graham Crusade, which could be deemed as the very first occasion when so many churches worked together. This was also the time when EFOS was formed with its wonderful relations and partnership with SCEM now known as the Singapore Centre for Global Missions (SCGM). The Charismatic movement during this time also added a great boost to the spiritual vitality and vibrancy in Singapore. All these contributed to a thankfully missions-minded church in Singapore. We must also record and pay tribute to the outstanding pioneering work of Dr G.D. James who founded and led our indigenous Asian Evangelistic Fellowship.
SCGM, in its comprehensive survey in 2009, revealed that some 50% of our churches had a missions board or committee with a written missions policy. Most churches give about 20% of their church budget to missions. There were almost 700 career missionaries of whom some 370 served for at least 5 years, mainly in East and Southeast Asia. Almost 12,000 were involved in some 1,700 short-term trips. Its recent survey in 2014 showed more churches are now more directly involved in missions work abroad, including partnerships with the local/ indigenous church. This however could have affected the number of career missionaries sent out. There is also a growing involvement with missions in our midst with the increasing numbers of foreign students and workers here. These findings and related issues should spur our Christian leaders in Singapore to reflect on and review our current policies and practices in missions.
OMF has been an outstanding example of providing wonderful and winsome missionaries for Asia including Singapore and providing both the challenge and channel for local Christians to take up the call of missionary service. They were also exemplary in locating their international HQ in Asia and Singapore was especially blessed to see and work with such spiritual giants in our midst. Another first in OMF’s history was its overwhelming humility and willingness to listen and learn from the locals. In the early 1960’s, OMF opened its doors to Asian missionaries and set up Home Council in various Asian countries following dialogues and discussions from a few of our young leaders. We were able to share some of these developments in Manila. We also shared some negative influences of globalisation like the inroads of the LGBT lobby and activists and our own response in a multi-vocal, multi-platform, multi-prong approach which we hope could also help others in the region.
Some other take-away thoughts and highlights include a powerful presentation on “Creative Arts as a Cultural Bridge to Globalisation and Mission” by Dr Daniel Kim. This Korean-American shared from a rich background as a ballet dancer, choreographer and producer with his own studio “Imago Christi”. At the same time, he is also a great preacher, teacher and theologian with a doctorate in theology. He is passionate about the message of redemption for both society and the artistic person. He is deeply convinced that Christ brings transformation to culture while aware that others may see Christ as “above”, “of”, “against” or even in a “paradoxical relation” with respect to culture. He is pained at the misuse of culture in pandering to man’s sinful nature which is immoral, ego-centric and humanist. Artists thus have been vainly glorified and falsely worshipped to the point of idolatry.
I was also thrilled and thankful to hear Philippine Christian leaders resolved to optimise the unique situation in their country where millions work overseas. They believe some 10% are keen Christians who could be prepared and challenged to be wonderful witnesses and tent-makers. Many of these are in sensitive and strategic situations where their influence and inputs could be indeed impactful. They are also aware of the need to minister to the many people and problems left behind in their own country. I was also glad and grateful to meet Ariel Ceballos again and to rejoice in his leadership and contributions there. A national leader there wonderfully summarised with his analysis that the Church there and in many parts of Asia have all the needed resources to meet our many challenges and opportunities. What is crucial is the need for accountability, the wise use of these resources and the unity and close collaboration of God’s people to meet the challenges of missions in our globalised world.
Eld Lawrence Chia