Back to the City
For those of you who have been following Bob and I on this journey around the world and have read my updates you may appreciate the shock we experienced being transported from a Lahu village to downtown Singapore.
Singapore is both an island and a country, and just one degree off the equator. On our drive from the airport to downtown I was struck again by Singapore’s abundance of parks, and lush, tropical greenery. Although highly urbanized and densely populated (five million people), fifty percent of land area of Singapore is covered by greenery.
I also noticed construction cranes present and a lot of growth in magnificent skyscrapers since my last visit. There is a building boom taking place for sure.
We stayed right downtown in the Orchard district. Its unique ethnic tapestry blends Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian and English cultures and their religions and food. The cuisine here is amazing.
Focus words that come to my mind re Singapore are: clean, safe, efficient, and opulent. I have Singaporeans as friends and love that they are friendly, confident, and determined. It is a “get ‘er done” city that boasts the highest concentration of millionaires anywhere on the planet.
With fifteen percent of the households here filled with millionaires it has become a shopping paradise. Singapore’s malls along Orchard Street are populated with high fashion brand name stores kept open late into the night or open for 24 hours. An intricate network of underground passages, tunnels, and walkways connects them but we got a bit lost while walking back to our hotel.
Another thing that got me a bit lost here was the opulence. I mean how many Prada stores do you really need – (or insert your favorite high fashion brand)? We had jumped from the simplicity of the village to this urban hub that seemed to lack for nothing.
It made me grateful for those who live here and are trying to minister to these people. Peter Chao and my friends at Eagles Communication have been doing so since 1968. They have watched Singapore grow up around them and are held in very high regard.
There are many mega churches in Singapore like: City Harvest Church (30,000), Faith Community Baptist Church (10,000) and New Creation Church (24,000) along many other churches with one to five thousand attending weekly.
Bob and I attended New Creation Church at the Rock Theatre in a shopping mall. We were there right at the start time of the service and met by some friendly hosts who informed us that the theatre was full and could they escort us to the shuttle that took us to an alternate location.
It was impressive. Every fifty feet there was another volunteer pointing the way down this hallway and the next eventually leading to escalators. We rode these down to a back entrance where we queued up with about two hundred other people awaiting the arrival of shuttle buses that came about every eight minutes.
I stopped to ask the leader of their “hosts” how many people he needed to ‘make all this happen?’ He replied, 1,100.
“At all the campuses?” I asked.
“No, that is just here at the overflow. I am not sure how many we have altogether.”
I was gob smacked by this yet another reminder of how much time people ‘sacrifice’ in the global south. This is a consistent theme I have encountered on this trip. (Sacrifice is my term for most volunteers in the North think they are sacrificing when they give of their time).
After a ten-minute bus ride we entered the underground parking level of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, this iconic landmark in the city.
From the bus another string of volunteers led us up elevators to a floor where the church had taken over every ballroom and converted them into seating areas or children’s ministry centers – and this was the overflow section!
We had missed all the singing and sat down in time for the sermon by Joseph Prince who is known globally through television and books. That is not his birth name – he changed it … not unlike a movie star.
It Takes All Kinds
Prince is known for ‘Word of Faith’ teaching, which means by faith one has the guarantee to be healthy and prosperous. This theme clearly runs through his communication but Prince has changed the basic premise. Instead of using “by faith”, he teaches it is “by grace,” so it has more of an appeal. An example of this prosperity gospel language can be found in his books, such as:
You are destined to reign in life You are called by the Lord to be a success, to enjoy wealth, to enjoy health, and enjoy a life of victory. – Destined to Reign: The Secret to Effortless Success, Wholeness and Victorious – Joseph Prince 2007
I intuit that this kind of message is especially effective among people from a Buddhist culture and perhaps from poor family backgrounds – but I’d like to study this more on my return in discussion with my Asian friends and colleagues.
During our Sunday visit I found his sermon using a lot of scripture that was projected on the four large screens. He preached against sin and of God’s grace. The appeal for offering was not high-pressured.
It takes all kinds of Christian churches to reach all kinds of people from village people to über wealthy, urban, suburban, white, black, latino, asian whatever cultural background and influence.
Surely God can work through Bible Churches, Charismatic Churches, Traditional Churches, and Seeker Churches. He can use Baptist Christians, Methodist Christians, Episcopal Christians, and Spirit-filled tongue talking Holy Ghost rollin’ Christians.
Over this global experience of meeting followers of Jesus of many tribes I want to say this: No matter how much you enjoy your particular expression of worship, your church won’t reach the world alone.