Happenings

A Chinese Peter making fishers of men in old Singapore sea village

Mar 2005    

‘“CAN anything be done to bring the Gospel to the thousands of seamen who sail in and out of this harbour every month?” inquired an old salt, a Norwegian captain who has been sailing in and out of Singapore for twenty years.

“If God leads us to find the proper man I will be responsible for his support …’’ After a diligent search the captain accepted a Chinese evangelist colporteur, Mr So Sieu San, a member of Geylang Chinese Methodist Church, and gave him the commission to preach the Gospel by word and by printed page to the seamen of the harbour …

We met him at the Beach Road market where he conducts us through the odoriferous fish and vegetable market to the slippery stairway at the farther end. Here at the water’s edge is waiting a sampan with its cheery boatman, all ready to take us across the Singapore harbour to the village over the water where work has been so recently begun.

It is a fifteen minutes’ beautiful ride of changing vistas, with our sampan taking us like a magic carpet into a strange new world. Passing through lines of old Chinese junks, Malay sailing ships, native sailing vessels of many different types, hailing from as far east as Bugis and from as far north as Siam and Indo-China, some with hoisted sails ready to start and others with half-sails slowly coming to anchor, we gradually come out into a patch of open sea.

There ahead of us lies a sea settlement, a large collection of huts, closely huddled together, housing some thousand people, the whole village perched on bamboo poles half immersed in water. This village which the Chinese call “Chui Ten Chu” is a tropical Venice, Singapore’s last remnant of old China. No one seems to know how old this Chinese settlement is, some say fifty years …

… Our approach has been announced by the excited and jubilant cries of the children, as they recognise the colpor-teur’s boat and hurriedly make their way to the central square where they know the colporteur is coming to show them pictures and tell them stories. Feeling somewhat like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, I follow the colporteur through jostling crowds of children, to one end of the coffee shop where our evangelistic meeting is to be held right in front of the opium den.

As I looked into the opium den on that first visit and saw some dozen men lying about on low tables, sleepily poring over their lamps and, in long breaths, inhaling the noxious fumes, I said to the colporteur, “This is a rather interesting place to hold an evangelistic meeting – right in front of an opium den.” “Why, they all smoke opium in this village,” was the colporteur’s reply …

As we were looking around for a suitable place for the women’s and children’s meeting, someone beckoned to us from the court of the temple, inviting us to come inside and suggested that this would be a good place. At first our two women teachers were a bit afraid to open this first Sunday school in a Chinese temple, but after many assured them that it was quite all right, they hesitatingly entered the temple court, followed by scores of excited women and children. The children were seated on the floor while the women stood in the outer circles; at the centre were the two Eveland (Seminary) girls, holding up a set of Bible wall pictures, while one made her voice predominate above the crowd. Soon the group was held in rapt attention as the teachers narrated to them stories of the Bible, stories of Jesus, Stories of the Sea.

As I watched that crowd of women and children and as I looked over to the group of men surrounding the colporteur, I remembered that the first disciples of Jesus were fishermen … that Jesus found it necessary to teach the multitude from the pulpit of a boat, because the crowd pressed him so [closely] on the shore.

Over there was a Chinese Peter, an ex-boatman and fisherman, now preach-ing the Gospel of Redemption to his countrymen, fishermen entangled in their own nets, of demons, gambling, opium and worldly lusts.

Were not these rough fishermen like the same raw material which the Master used to make his first apostles? Could these hardened fishermen, like Peter, James and John, leave their nets to follow the Christ? How many out of this village, where there is not yet a single Christian family, will hear the call to be not only fishers of the sea but fishers of men? ’ – MM Dec 1934, p. 9-10.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.

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