Monday, July 6, 2015

Was I the only one who felt something was missing at #JDOP2015?

It was a festive atmosphere rivalling the NDP. After learning the Jubilee Cheer, the 50,000 strong crowd did a Kallang Wave that the organisers had some difficulty in stopping once it picked up momentum and swirled through the circular new National Stadium.

The Jubilee Day of Prayer was the largest gathering of Christians in the history of Singapore. There has not been such a large inter-denominational gathering since maybe the time Billy Graham spoke at the National Stadium, long before it was renovated.

The main event commenced with a reading of Scripture. As 50,000 people read Luke 4:18-19 aloud, I felt a tingling down my spine, just thinking about how this many people could change the face of our nation together if we lived by these words.

We cheered, we sang worship songs together, and we prayed for the church, thanking God for all he had done in the past 50 years, and prayed for more blessings upon our nation.

But I soon felt like something was sorely missing. When the Prime Minister arrived later on to great fanfare and made his speech, I realised what it was that we lacked.

Hands stretched out in prayer for our PM.

We all read aloud the declaration about the captives, but nothing was mentioned from the pulpit of prison ministries. We had representatives of the major denominations in Singapore each come up and give exhortations, but none of them said anything about the poor (there was a lot mentioned about the family though).

You see, our PM was the first person to really talk about the poor. Sure, we had an offering for the poor, but nothing was mentioned about them. Who they were, where the money is going, nothing of this was highlighted. In fact, more was said about how we should be giving more, rather than any emphasis on who we were giving to. In a way, the poor were overlooked.

In a land like Singapore where churches have million-dollar facades and parking space is a major concern for leaders, the poor are probably not much a part of our congregations.

So I'm trying to wrap my mind around this whole event. 50,000 Singaporean Christians made history when they gathered together in unity on a Sunday afternoon. And why did they meet together? Well because they could (and it felt good). But what did the 50,000 voices, combined as one, tell the world?

Probably something along the line of: "We are Christians, we love each other."

But... so what?

What about the poor, the needy, the migrants, the disabled, the discriminated and the despised, the bullied and the captives? Why are we talking about the year of Jubilee but only focusing on the favour of the Lord without taking heed of the blind and the oppressed?

          The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
             because he has anointed me
             to proclaim good news to the poor. 
          He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
             and recovery of sight for the blind, 
          to set the oppressed free,
             to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
                                      Luke 4:18-19

Because if the government is the one telling the church to help the less privileged, and not the other way around, then I fear that we as a united church have lost the plot.


  1. Hi Justin,

    This is a comment coming from a foreigner (Canadian) who came to Singapore back in 2011.

    I am a Christian and I've experienced some genuine churches and Christians who are laboring among the poor and trying to make a difference in this nation.

    I've seen church leaders talking about how to open up their multi-million dollars buildings on how to help their local community. I've heard of church offering IT and English classes to Bangladeshi workers. I've visited Health Serve who looked after the neglected in the heart of Geylang. And I've helped out with an Indian pastor who reached out to many Telugus in the west (Jurong West) to give them hope and keep them away from drugs, alcohol and prostitution.

    Am I totting the Christian horn that we are already doing everything right? Of course, not. There are still poor and marginalized in the society which we can reach and help. At the same time, I've seen Christians who are really laboring to help the needy and fulfilling what Jesus has quoted from Isaiah 61 when He first entered into ministry.

    As for the Day of Prayer event, I didn't go (bc I couldn't get a ticket) so I will not going to comment on what you experienced in the event. But I know brothers and sisters in Christ who went and at the same time reached out to low income family by giving food on a regularly basis. The program might give you a perspective that it is merely a Christian unity and not about helping the poor. But if you really want to see how Christians are helping the poor as hands and feet of Jesus, let me know. I will love to chat over coffee or even go visit some of these ministries with you.

    Take care!

  2. Hi Justin, I was at JDOP. Based on Bishop Ponniah's speech, Bishop Wee Boon Hup's speech and a few others, this is what I understand about why we were gathered together:
    1. To celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday and to thank God for it--the stunning move from third world to first is in secular discourse labelled as human achievement, but in christian discourse, we cannot discount or forget to give thanks to God for allowing Singapore's rise. After all, God is in control of everything. Nations and leaders rise and fall according to God's will. (this is from Bishop Ponniah's speech, some of it verbatim)

    2. To pray for our leaders--hence inviting PM Lee and praying over him. We are called in Scripture to pray for our leaders.

    3. To pray for our families, especially our fathers

    4. To pray for the future generation

    5. To be sure, as a celebratory 50th birthday event, the focus was not on the poor, or the details of charities. However, it was stated, that in the spirit of Luke 4, which it was pointed out was actually from Isaiah, which is a Jubilee passage of Scripture, Jubilee is all about rest, restoration, release, including reaching out to the widow, the needy, the imprisoned. Therefore 100% of love offering collected will go to the poor in Singapore, regardless of race or religion. The passage on Jubilee was pronounced by Bishop Wee Boon Hup, and he explained it clearly that giving to the poor is part of the spirit of Jubilee celebrations. Bishop Wee is the Bishop of the Methodist Church who has decided to give $X to the poor in this Jubilee year, as a denominational gift to the poor. (announced in the newspapers earlier this yr, I can't remember the exact amount)

    I really don't see how you can say that "our PM was the first person to really talk about the poor." when both Bishop Wee and another pastor, both of whom preceded our PM's speech, described the Jubilee spirit of giving to the poor and the fact that 100% of the love offering would go to the poor.

    And as for your statement: "And why did they meet together? Well because they could (and it felt good). But what did the 50,000 voices, combined as one, tell the world?" from what I gather listening carefully to the Bishops and others (my first few points above), this was not a feel-good event. It was about praising God and giving thanks to Him for all He has done for Singapore, and praying, because the Bible calls us to pray ceaselessly, about everything.

  3. Very good post. Would be good to check on the costs of running the event vs the amount raised for the poor as alleged by the two posters

  4. Hi friends,

    Thank you so much for your comments here. I don't usually get comments, especially comments that are so well thought out and well written!

    Cliff I'm on the same page with you. I started working a bit with HealthServe and have also spent the past 2 weeks following a Methodist church as they reach out to the homeless on the streets of Singapore. I think this kind of work that the church is pioneering is fantastic.

    Spottiswoode I am blown away with the generosity of the Methodist Church being reflected in the news. They really have gotten this Jubilee idea going right and i do hope the rest of the churches catch on that we may be remembered for cancelling debts and reversing the oppression on the least in society.

    My concern is that while these things are happening, the average Singaporean church-goer is not aware of them, much less playing an active part. My hope for such a huge event was that we could encourage the average church-goer to be more involved. And as we assert our commitment to look after the ones the rest of society overlooks, we would be salt and light.

    Because my fear at the moment is that the church in Singapore is seen by outsiders as an institution of power (that demands its way in certain controversial issues) rather than one of love. Looking purely at the JDOP it seems so lah.