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Of shattered dreams and broken shins

by | 21 October 2017, 2:26 PM

I had my life all planned out. I was going return to Singapore, get into Officer Cadet School (OCS) and use that as my foot in the door to a local university.

During high school in Beijing, where I stayed because of my parents’ jobs, I had big dreams to study film in America. But due to a sudden financial situation in my family, my plans were scrapped. The next best choice was a business degree back in the nation I barely knew as home.

Since I’d studied abroad most of my life, I didn’t have any local certifications like the rest of my peers. Part of the reason why I wanted to get into OCS was because I figured the training would hone my leadership skills and put me in good standing to get into business school.

Sounded good, right? But God had a different plan.

ALMOST THERE BUT NOT QUITE

In Basic Military Training (BMT), a few others and I were put in an “enhanced leadership” batch. We were chosen because we were very fit and and had leadership qualities. During a particular field camp, I was appointed as an In-Charge (IC) for one of the days.

I found out later on that the ones who got picked as IC’s were those that the Platoon Sergeants identified as having exceptional leadership quality. Word also went around that if you were chosen, being selected for OCS was pretty much a done deal.

There was no reason for me not to get posted to OCS.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until a bout of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease started spreading in my platoon. I caught it at the worst time possible, resulting in me missing the highly important Situational Test – the last hurdle to pass before OCS.

I thought I had lost my chance and prepared myself for the worst. But the day we got our posting, I read the words, “Your vocation is: Officer Cadet (CBT)” on my letter and everything aligned again. I had somehow gotten a second chance at realising my OCS dreams.

But things took yet another drastic turn. Within a few months of my OCS training, I started experiencing a lot of pain in my legs. It was so bad I could no longer endure it and found my way to the clinic.

The news was devastating. The doctor revealed that both my shins had actually been broken by all the stress they had been put under over the years, due to my sporting activities. I would have to leave OCS.

The feelings that welled up inside me were hard to control. I was disappointed. Shattered. And so, so angry. Why had God given me a second chance at something I didn’t even have a shot at in the first place? 

I was left with nothing! I’d already given up my American aspirations. Now even this one lay in a broken pile along with the rest.

RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

After I dropped out of OCS, I was posted to the headquarters, where it was decided that I was to join the Training Development department. My new job was to take pictures in OCS, which were to be used as documentation for official training purposes. This sounded like a fair consolation.

Photography had always been a passion of mine, but it was only when I started shooting again in camp that I realised this was something I could do for a long time. 

I’d long left my dreams of film for the practicality of business school, but in this unlikely detour I’d found my way back to the art I enjoyed. Even when I’d put my creative passions behind me, God remembered.

I was really starting to enjoy my time in the Army. But after about six months as a photographer, I was suddenly assigned to a different department. It was a secluded corner of the camp where there was no cellular signal. I couldn’t even WhatsApp my previous department mates to complain and there was no one else around other than one unfortunate Sergeant.

The solitary nature of my new posting was starting to get depressing. All I could remember was the mundanity of the work: Putting things into boxes and arranging them neatly in the storeroom. That was all we did for days on end. I felt like I was slowly losing my mind.

Why did my NS journey resemble a never-ending rollercoaster ride? I was tired of getting my hopes up, only to have them all crash down eventually.

This miserable life went on until one day, a colleague from my former department told me to meet him at the canteen as he had something important to tell me. I found out that my previous Captain had offered my current supervisor two men in exchange for my return.

I was so relieved. I went back to the Training Development department and happily served out 7 more months until I completed my NS term.

HE ORDERS OUR STEPS

Thinking back, it was as if I had to see the death of my officer dreams in order for my passion for the arts to be revived. So after I left the Army, I applied to NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media in 2012. It was my one and only application, and I got in.

Having graduated last year, I am now working as a professional filmmaker.

Man. Even if I tried my hardest, I could have never conjured up a journey like this for myself. I set out with all my plans, but God really had something else in store for me.

There were many highs and lows in those two years. Yet in His grace and perfect timing, I was shown how everything works out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

/ timothy@thir.st

Timothy is a filmmaker who sees the world in black and white. He loves drinking tea and taking long walks.

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I would have left this world if not for a friend

by Li-ann Chee | 19 April 2018, 2:06 PM

Since young, I hated looking at myself in the mirror because of how ugly I thought I was. I wouldn’t even take pictures with anyone. It was suffocating, living with this fear of mirrors and photographs. And I hated believing that I was ugly, alone and somehow judged by the people around me.

It was my worst pain that my family could not understand this, not because they didn’t care, but because I had no idea how to accurately tell them about my misery. On the inside, I felt useless, worthless and without a sense of belonging everywhere I went. There was no joy in my life.

Despite my struggle with my self-image, the irony was that I really craved attention. All I wanted was for people to notice me – the real me – for once. But the more I craved for attention, the more I could see it being a burden on those around me.

Unable to express myself well and left with almost no close relationships, I sank into a depression, hiding in my room and crying myself to sleep every night.

Eventually, I started questioning my own existence on Earth: “Does anyone really care about my life?” There were several times when I looked out my window from the 18th storey and thought, “Will there finally be peace if I fall to the first floor?” 

I tried my best to fix my eyes on the Cross and read God’s word daily, but things took a turn for the worse last year when my grandmother passed away in April, followed by my mum being diagnosed with cancer later in September.

All the old feelings surfaced again. Worthless. Useless. Insecure. Helpless. I couldn’t do anything to change what had happened to those I loved. I found myself crying alone again; the pain was so great that I scratched myself until I bled, hoping to numb my heartache

But God proved His love to me again and again. I questioned Him, “If I am really your friend, give me a sign and put the right people in my life.” In response, He gave me a vision where I saw a river that I had to cross, and then I saw myself dancing on stage, with Jesus standing in the audience and waving at me.

In a step of faith and obedience, I joined the dance ministry in church, although I had no background in dance. And it’s been the best thing I could ever ask for, where I get to serve Him alongside a great community.

If I didn’t have Jesus, I don’t think I’d still be here. But I’ve learnt that even if people don’t love me or want to be my friend, He is the one and only true friend and Saviour who loves me – and you – unendingly.


This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway.

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I thought I was good for nothing

by Cindy Leow | 17 April 2018, 5:11 PM

As a child, I always wondered what I was good at. I wasn’t a good student and never knew the purpose of studying other than appeasing my parents – something I wasn’t good at doing either.

Over the years, this feeling of being “lost” and having nowhere to go got even more desperate. Soon, I turned to computer games and was quickly hooked. I invested all my time into these games, thinking that by doing so, I could be good at something for once.

However, the consequences of squandering hours on these games kicked in quickly. My grades suffered even more and at times, it started to seem like my parents clearly favoured my studious sister.

Due to the lack of attention, I turned to my school friends. But my friendships were stormy and filled with arguments when things didn’t go my way, and soon I turned away from them too.

Everything was a wreck. There was no one I could turn to and it seemed like I was in this world all alone. There was no purpose in living, not even living to see the next day.

Like any other Singaporean child, tuition was unavoidable with the grades I was attaining in school. Despite the many tuition classes I attended, the best grades I could muster were a mere pass. One day, my mother heard of a tutor who had helped to drastically improve my cousin’s school results and hired him in hopes that he would do the same with mine.

This tutor, G, taught me for a year, and my grades started to improve, though I wouldn’t say I excelled. Soon, G needed to drop some of his students as he needed to focus on his new-found job. So I ended up being passed to another tutor, S.

S was stricter with me and my work as compared to G. Sometimes I would even end up crying in class because of uncompleted homework. But despite her intense tutoring, my grades remained borderline.

One day, a week before Easter, S asked if I’d like to go to church. I declined her politely at first, but upon hearing there would be a drama production, I agreed to go.

On Resurrection Sunday itself, I remember stepping into the hall and being warmly greeted by many people. They spoke to me as though they’d known me for a long time, and I felt very welcomed.

Though I did not know the meaning of the songs we sang during worship, nor the “Jesus” everyone was worshipping, I was moved by a deep sense of peace within that I haven’t felt before. It was also strange, standing in this place I’d never been, to feel like I was home.

When the preacher asked if anyone would like to receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour,  I put up my hand. Though I don’t fully know why I did, I followed S as she brought me forward to receive salvation.

During the Sinner’s Prayer, I was overwhelmed with emotion. It felt like someone had unlocked the deepest places of my heart, and now all the bottled up feelings were tumbling out.

The loneliness, the failure, the condemnation, the feeling of unworthiness; they seemed to dissolve in an instant. And all that was left was this feeling of lightness … Of joy.

I went home that day with a changed heart.

When my parents heard that I had embraced Christianity, they objected slightly, but did not stop me from going to church. Soon enough, I had quickly integrated into my new cell group and continued to observe changes in my character and disposition. I knew that the Jesus who had met me on the first day was with me every step of the way.

However, my grades remained the same. I was still failing in most subjects and did not have any interest in anything else besides English lessons.

In the year I had to take my ‘N’ Levels, I was afraid, for I didn’t know what I wanted in life, nor was I good at anything. It was a constant thought and worry in my mind.

One day, the head of the radio ministry in church approached me. He told me I had a nice voice and asked me if I was interested in joining their ministry. Thinking that I had nothing to lose, I agreed. After learning that I was completing secondary school soon, he encouraged me to consider pursuing media studies in a polytechnic.

After our conversation that day, I looked up the course he’d mentioned online and discovered that it really was something I found exciting. This compelled me to study hard for my exams and by the grace of God, I was able to apply for media studies.

I finally found myself enjoying what I was studying, and even excelled in school. Things were finally taking a turn for the better.

Through the radio ministry in church, I was also trained in public speaking, and even took the stage for various church events. It was in this place I found God’s calling for me as His mouthpiece.

One day, my previous tutor S revealed to me that my first tutor, G, had transferred me to her with only one condition: To bring me to church. My life had always been part of a divine plan.

Looking back, I realised that through knowing Jesus, I’d found my calling, confidence and most importantly, my first love. My thoughts and worries about my life were never unheard. Jesus … the name I was once unfamiliar with, now a name I call upon every day.

Of course, my journey is far from over. There are still many areas that I struggle in. However, I now live victoriously knowing that He has died and overcome the world (Matthew 16:33).


This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway.

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My love affair with the Arts: Where do blurred lines lead?

by Jonathan Pang | 14 April 2018, 4:51 PM

I remember a question raised by my friend: Science has often been viewed with contention with regards to leading young Christians away from the faith, but couldn’t the Arts do that just as well?

Having been heavily exposed to European classics for piano since the age of 3, I was quite taken aback by the hypothesis she put forth. The Arts is such a broadly defined subject matter – its traces can be found just about anywhere around us. If it had the potential to lead one’s heart away from God, how dangerous would that be?

Artists are often the centre of attention because of their works, be it positive or negative publicity. In either situation, the spotlight is on them. In the former case, it need not simply be the ability and skill with which they showcase themselves, but also an attractive appearance or personality, even a philosophy which thrills and excites their public.

I myself have had my fair share of teenage years in which I explored the pop scene with my peers. However, I always maintained an admiration for Argentinian-Swiss pianist Martha Argerich, whose performances I have listened to since 2001.

Martha Argerich in the early years

As I grew older, I had begun to explore and revisit the European composers of my childhood, such as Bach and Beethoven, and other more modern contemporaries including Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Ravel.

It was always breathtaking to dive into the spiritual aspects of music, often through discussions over background and interpretation with my music teacher. In particular, I was intrigued by Modern Music, which is music between the late 19th to 20th century, especially that which had elements of the Orient.

It wasn’t long before we began to dabble with the spiritual elements of music and the transcendental wisdom it could convey concerning the ancient cultures and histories of the past, including the composer’s character and life story.

However, it eventually dawned on me that  I may not have understood the gravity of the situation I was potentially getting myself into. For all the talent that artists possess and the atmosphere they’re able to generate, do people become so enamoured with the beauty of art that it becomes a thing of worship?

There is nothing wrong with gold until it becomes a golden calf.

As Christians, we must understand that a work of art is merely a sensory means of expression. It is a tool through which we communicate meaning to others. It must be approached with the correct standard of discernment and contemplation, such that it does not become a snare to our hearts and minds, clouding our understanding of its essence and purpose in living in Christ.

More importantly, concerning artists, we ourselves are unconsciously shaped by the actors, musicians or designers we emulate or whose works we patronise. Therefore, before we subscribe to allowing such celebrities and their beliefs to carve part of our identity, should we not weigh them against Scripture and God Himself?

It is all too easy to be swept away by the allure of the world, ultimately neglecting the true source of life, Jesus Christ.

I therefore caution people to be on their guard and be active discerners rather than passive consumers of any form of art, and ask themselves whom it is are glorifying and pleasing through their actions. Upon reading the passage of Exodus 32 concerning the Golden Calf, we observe that gold earrings and ornaments – items of worth and usefulness – had been transformed by human hands into a blasphemous image.

There is nothing wrong with gold until it becomes a golden calf.

Likewise, the purpose of art in any form of sensory communication – visual, aural, gustatory – is ultimately to glorify God and the works of His Son Jesus Christ. Any attempts to divert and distort this purpose is akin to stealing from God, not giving the praise and adoration which is due to Him.

On a personal front, I have now stopped listening to pop music, due to a difference I find in many artistes’ lifestyles and beliefs – which is usually reflected in the contents of their lyrics.

Even my musical role model, Martha Argerich – who is known for a complicated personal life and capricious temperament (including backstage tantrums and frequent last-minute no-shows at concerts) – I also realise is merely human and not to be seen as more than that.

All of us are part of a fallen Creation, with no effort of our own making sufficient to save ourselves and our world. This makes it all the more imperative for us to lovingly seek and pursue our Lord, whose miraculous sacrifice on the Cross has paid the ultimate penalty for our transgressions, far surpassing any vain philosophy Man can conjure.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

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by Jason Chua, Burning Hearts House of Prayer | 12 April 2018, 10:24 AM

As a “borderline millennial” born in the late 80s, I decided to ask my wife – a true millennial – about the way they think.

Our conversation flowed into the realm of “sense” and “purpose” and “reason for existence”, as she pointed me to the tip of the pyramid in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where “self-actualisation” sat – the need to fulfil one’s purpose.

Many of our millennials were born into a world where their basic needs have been met, and that’s why they’re constantly in search of purpose.

In fact, I see these young people going from place to place in their pursuit of purpose; some are even willing to take on low-paying jobs because they find it worth the cost. And because of this sense of need for self-actualisation, they’re a little more free-spirited, adventurous and hungry.

I find that it is this characteristic of theirs that make them good candidates to become missionaries.😜 

TEACH THEM TO PRAY

In the past five years of leading young people and even in my own journey as a young person, I notice that we don’t tend to think of “young people” and “prayer” together. But I don’t think that young people find prayer unimportant – we know that it is fundamental to our faith and part of our connection to God.

Instead, I’ve come to realise that perhaps young people don’t pray or find prayer “boring” because they don’t know what to say.

In Luke 24, a time shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion, two disciples were on the road to Emmaus when Jesus Himself appeared and expounded the Scriptures to them. And it was only at the end when He broke the bread that their eyes were opened – though by then He disappeared from sight – and they said this to themselves: “Did not our hearts burn within us?” 

“Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24 31-32)

The “burning heart” experience is what happens when we interact with Scripture – with God’s Word – and allow it to create a spark within us and keep us burning.

He wants to put His desires into the hearts of men, which will fuel their hearts to fulfil what’s in His heart.

The key to set young people on fire for God are the very words in the Bible. These words aren’t just dry black letters on thin paper – there is a Man behind those words: He wants to put His desires into the hearts of men, which will fuel their hearts to fulfil what’s in His heart.

As we teach our young people to pray and respond to God’s Word in the Bible, they will grow in their depth of knowledge of God, their biblical language, and their capacity to pray and understand God. And the Holy Spirit will create a new world in them, just like how He formed the world in the days of creation.

If our young people don’t know how to pray, we must guide them into a life of prayer and as the Word forms in them, so will a spark be formed.

THEN SEND THEM OUT

I lead a praying community of young people and we have a prayer room that is inspired by the Moravians, who were known for their prayer and evangelism.

For over a hundred years, members of the Moravian Church in Germany started a round-the-clock prayer watch. At home and abroad, on land and sea, their intercession reached the Lord. And by 1791, 65 years after they began praying, the small Moravian community had sent 300 missionaries to the ends of the earth.

We have been discipling young people in the ways of prayer, getting them into a place where they have conversations with God, by praying with and through Scripture. The centrepiece of our prayer meetings is not issues we are facing but rather who Christ is. This has cultivated an environment where young people learn to pray.

They pray in their hearts, pray in small groups, pray in what we call “rapid-fire prayers” as they line up and pray for the nations that the Word of Jesus will be manifested around the world.

Their inward motivation is now to go to places where He is not worshipped, where He is not loved, where His name is not yet known.

And after spending four or five years coming to our prayer rooms, some of our young people have prayed so much that they don’t want to stay praying in a room but to take prayer out of it. I think they have begun to see a facet of Jesus’ world, that their inward motivation is now to go to places where He is not worshipped, where He is not loved, where His name is not yet known.

It’s in this place of prayer that God incubates His heart for the nations. And at Burning Hearts, we’re creating a type of greenhouse where young people can grow up in, with values and systems that will help them see Jesus’ worth in the midst of all these different things they face and experience.

Our prayer room is a space for young people to pray with Scripture, to stand before God, to look at His beauty, to meditate upon who He is and engage with Jesus and His Word. And it is our hope that they will one day say that Jesus is worth it all and give themselves to whatever He wants them to do.

MY HOPE FOR A GENERATION

We need to create an environment that emphasises values rather than forcing young people to a method. If we want them to move into a place of cross-cultural missions, the “ang-ku-kueh method”, where we simply put them into a mould, won’t work and they’re just going say that they are not interested.

But if we were to create a safe environment for them to grow – a greenhouse infused with biblical DNA – no matter where you transplant them to, their roots are going to remain and they can flourish where they are.

Our young people want to express the creativity and dreams within them, and we need to help them grow deep, healthy roots that will keep them anchored. Then they will be able to express themselves the way God has made them to be – in their true, original design.


Jason Chua will be speaking at The One Thing Gathering 2018, which will see hundreds of young adults unite with the International Houses of Prayer across the world to behold the majesty and beauty of Jesus.

Happening from July 19-21, 2018, for the first time in Asia, the gathering calls for young people who have purposed in their hearts to live with abandonment and devotion to Jesus, to do His work, be His voice and see His transformation in the nations.

To register your attendance, visit their page.

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Practising and professing your faith: Know your rights

by Ronald JJ Wong | 11 April 2018, 4:55 PM

Do you fear sharing about your faith in Jesus with a non-Christian? Do you fear speaking publicly about important issues from your perspective as a Christian?

These are issues pertinent anywhere in the world, but they somehow seem amplified in Singapore, the country that regularly tops Pew’s Religious Diversity Index.

Religious Diversity Index. Source: Pew Research Centre.

So what can Singapore Christians do or not do in practising and propagating their faith? While the boundaries are by no means clear, there are several key legal and quasi-legal principles and rules which form the framework to navigate this question. There have also been various examples which the Government has used to highlight clearer out-of-bounds markers.

This discussion sets out what I think the position is now, and not what I think it ought to be. We should also note that social-political conditions change over time; nothing is set in stone. With that, let’s consider the key principles and rules.

 

Article 15(1) of the Singapore Constitution states that every “person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it.” However, there can be laws relating to “public order, public health or morality” limiting this right, and indeed there are.

Article 14(1) of the Constitution states that “every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression”. Parliament may enact laws to restrict this for national security, public order, morality, or for prohibiting defamation or incitement to offences (among other things).

In sum: A Christian can profess, practise and propagate your faith privately and publicly. You can evangelise to anyone. You can express worship to God. However, there are of course legal limits.

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) empowers the Government to restrain (i) a religious leader, (ii) any person who is inciting, instigating or encouraging any religious group or religious institution or any religious leader to be, or (iii) any other person from:

(a) causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups;
(b) carrying out activities to promote a political cause, or a cause of any political party while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief;
(c) carrying out subversive activities under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief; or
(d) exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.

The Internal Security Act (ISA) empowers the Government to detain any person to prevent him from acting in any manner prejudicial to Singapore’s security or the maintenance of public order or essential services.

The Sedition Act makes it an offence to “to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore”.

The Penal Code has further relevant offences. Section 298 prohibits anyone from deliberately “wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person” by speaking, making sounds, gesturing, placing any object in the sight of a person, or causing any matter to be seen or heard by a person.

Section 298A criminalises a person who “knowingly promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion or race, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious or racial groups” by words, signs, visible representations or otherwise, or who knowingly does anything “prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious or racial groups and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility”.

Finally, the Parliamentary debates on the above legislation and the MRHA White Paper set out further guidance on what the Government considers to be no-go boundaries in this area. I would point out that it is not clear whether “religion” in the above laws includes atheistic worldviews. While the Court has defined “religion” in another context to mean beliefs relating to God, it is not clear that definition applies to the above laws, especially since some strands of certain religions do not necessarily involve belief in God.

 

There have been various cases over the years which reveal how the Government applies the above principles and rules.

In the recent Amos Yee case (Public Prosecutor v Amos Yee Pang Sang, 2015; Decision ex temporare), the teenage video blogger was convicted under Section 298 of the Penal Code for the remarks in his video comparing Lee Kuan Yew with Jesus, saying “they are both power hungry and malicious, but deceive others into thinking that they are compassionate and kind. Their impact and legacy will ultimately not last as more and more people find out that they’re full of bull”.

The blogger called followers of both “completely delusional and ignorant and have absolutely no sound logic or knowledge about him that is grounded in reality”.

In the Chick Publication Tracts case (PP v Ong Kian Cheong, 2009), a Christian couple was charged under the Sedition Act (among other things) for distributing comic tracts published by Chick Publications which were deemed seditious and to have promoted feelings of ill-will between Christians and Muslims. Unfortunately, we do not know from the decision what exactly about these tracts were denigrating.

In the Andrew Kiong case (decision unreported, see Page 43 of Bias and religious truth-seeking in proselytisation restrictions), Kiong was convicted under Section 298A of the Penal Code for injuring religious feelings of another person by leaving envelope-sized cards on the windshields of cars that he believed belonged to those of another faith, which contained questions that were calculated to insult them.

In the 2005 Bloggers cases, three bloggers were convicted under the Sedition Act for posting online comments against other races (see Public Prosecutor v Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 2005; Public Prosecutor v Lim Yew Nicholas, 2005; Public Prosecutor v Gan Huai Shi, 2005, from Page 39 in Bias and religious truth-seeking in proselytisation restrictions; Page 120 of Kerstein steiner religion and politics in Singapore; and Page 219 of Maintaining Religious Harmony).

In the case of Benjamin Koh, he “spewed vulgarities, derided and mocked their customs and beliefs and profaned their religion”.

In the case concerning Pastor Rony Tan of Lighthouse Evangelism Church (see Page 44 of Bias and religious truth-seeking in proselytisation restrictions), the Internal Security Department (ISD) investigated video clips of Pastor Tan in his church service interviewing people who had converted to Christianity from other religions, a segment which led to laughter from the congregation. He also compared the efforts of someone from another religion to seek answers from his mentors as “the blind leading the blind”.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement that the comments were “highly inappropriate and unacceptable as they trivialised and insulted” others’ beliefs, which could give rise to tension and conflict between the faiths. ISD told Pastor Tan that in preaching or proselytising his faith, he must not run down other religions, and must be mindful of the sensitivities of other religions.

Eventually, the situation was defused after the clips were removed, and Pastor Tan made a public apology and personally visited the religious leaders of the other faiths.

In another ISD investigation concerning Pastor Mark Ng of New Creation Church, (see Page 46 of Bias and religious truth-seeking in proselytisation restrictions), a video was posted online by someone else (not the church) in which he can be heard joking with the congregation about traditional rituals; in one instance, he compared praying to the gods of other faiths to “seeking protection from secret society gangsters”.

He subsequently apologised and the church sought to have the video removed.

There have been reportedly three occasions when the Government considered invoking the MRHA: First, when a Muslim leader urged Muslims to vote for a Muslim candidate in a General Election; second, when a Christian pastor used his church publications and sermons to criticise Buddhism, Taoism and Catholicism; and third, when an Islamic religious leader condemned Hindu beliefs (Nirmala, Govt Reins in Religious Leaders, The Straits Times, May 12, 2001, cited in Kerstin Steiner, Religion and Politics in Singapore: Matters of National Identity and Security, A Case Study of the Muslim Minority in a Secular State, Osaka University Law Review 58 Pages 107 to 134; see Page 119 of Kerstein Steiner: Religion and Politics in Singapore).

 

Evangelism to anyone and everyone is clearly permitted by the Constitution. What the laws seek to prevent is “insensitive, aggressive religious proselytisation”. It is perfectly permissible to point out differences between one’s religion and another’s. The Penal Code criminalises speech which deliberately promotes ill-will between religions.

Article 15(1) of the Singapore Constitution.

The Government has clarified that a person writing an article based on facts, notwithstanding that it may be racially or religiously sensitive, will not likely be caught; a critical but rational and objective discussion of religion and religious principles will also not likely be caught.

Similarly, a person may share his testimony of his conversion from one religion to another on the Internet, stating how he found fulfilment and meaning in life after he converted to the other religion, without denigrating another person’s religion (see Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee’s statements in the Parliamentary Debate on the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill).

But is an entirely different matter to denounce other religions in the process. (See the comments from Prof S Jayakumar, then Minister for Home Affairs, in Column 1050 of the Second Reading of the Religious Harmony Bill in 1990). So, for example, we should not say another religion is a “threat” or say that a particular person in another religion is “the anti-Christ” or suggest that some particular belief or practice of another religion is from the devil.

Or, in simple terms: You should promote your own faith without putting down any other faith.

Other examples cited as “insensitive or aggressive proselytisation” include (see the Annex to the MRHA white paper):

  • Pasting posters or distributing Christian pamphlets about a Christian seminar at the entrance of a temple of another faith.
  • Trying to convert students who felt depressed after failing their examination.
  • Pamphlets describing the Pope as “Communist” and the “anti-Christ”.

One other example cited: Trying to convert critically-ill patients on their death beds without regard to their vulnerabilities or sensitivities of their relatives. This does not mean we cannot minister to people who are vulnerable. Indeed, all the more when they are in need, we should meet them where they are and be with them!

The point is that where there are sensitivities and vulnerabilities, we should minister, and not attempt to convert, especially where the person has no desire to be converted.

But if the person is then interested to hear your views, you are free to share, preach, and lead the person to faith (see Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee’s comments in the 2007 Parliamentary Debate on the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill).

 

While the MRHA is intended to prevent the conflation of religion and politics, this does not mean that religious leaders cannot participate in politics, campaign for or against the Government or any political party, or be involved in any action relating to public policy.

What it means is that they must do so in their capacity as individual citizens and not as religious leaders (see Parliamentary Debate on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill and the MRHA white paper, paragraph 22). Indeed, there are and have been elders of churches who have held political offices.

What is clearly a no-go, however, would be to use one’s religious office to push for or against a political candidate solely based on religion.

Examples of instances where the Government has deemed that religion was used for political purposes include:

  • Preaching in a sermon that the political climate is oppressive;
  • Declaring in a sermon that certain politicians, judges and ISD officers would face God’s punishment for detaining those involved in the alleged Marxist Conspiracy;
  • Urging workers in a sermon to stand up for their rights to press for wage increases and to vote “with their eyes wide open” in the General Election.

Further, the Government has stated that it is “neither possible nor desirable to compartmentalise completely the minds of voters into secular and religious halves, and ensure that only the secular mind influences his voting behaviour” (MRHA white paper, paragraph 24) It is an explicit statement that people vote and make political decisions based on both religious grounds and non-religious grounds.

So both Scripture and law accept that our religious and ethical values should be considered when participating in the democratic processes as citizens.

Yet, does this mean that religious leaders cannot teach on issues which are matters of public policy? Not at all. Given how extensive legislation and policies are in touching various aspects of our private and public lives, if that were the case, then religious leaders would not be able to teach on almost anything!

Instead, the Government has made clear that religious leaders can teach on issues regarding ethics and conscience such as abortion (MRHA white paper, paragraph 26a).

The Government also recognises that religious or ethical beliefs have political and social implications, and its intent is not to determine whether such beliefs are right or wrong (MRHA white paper, paragraph 27).

 

I end with the questions I started with: Do you fear sharing about your faith in Jesus with a non-Christian? Do you fear speaking publicly about important issues from your perspective as a Christian?

I once feared all this. Yet God’s Word compels me to do it. And the laws of Singapore permit me to – to the extent that I speak about my faith sensitively, winsomely and without denigrating other religions. So what have I to fear but the tyranny of criticism?

Have you seen and heard the work of God in your life? If so, you can be like Peter and John who declare in Acts 4:20, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”


As a Christian who is also a lawyer, Ronald JJ Wong believes in access to justice for all. Burdened for the common good of society, he advocates for the marginalised and volunteers pro bono for the less privileged.

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