A young leader’s opinion of some foreign missionaries

May 2009    


As a young man studying in ACS, Chen Chang Lok was a favourite student of the Principal, the Rev Kingsley Pease. After completing his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree at the University of Chicago, he returned to Singapore in 1919. His experience of a holier-than-thou attitude of certain missionaries moved him to write this letter to his mentor around 1920 while temporarily working for a local import-export firm. His trenchant observations provide us with food for thought.


‘IT [the firm he was working for] sounds big but little money actually comes to my pocket just now. However, we are doing fairly large business, and in a few years, I hope to lay by a little and then get me a real companion in life. When that time comes, then congratulations will be in order.

In the matter of the rubber shares and your desire to have me look after your interest acting as your attorney, I shall be most happy to do so. I will prepare a form or if you like it prepare one yourself and have it signed before a notary public … I am in touch with the share market here and will do my level best to guard your interest.

As for my own relation to the Mission here, I make my presence conspicuous by my absence. They have no use and no happy account of me, and if they were to speak frankly, they would that I were not here in Singapore.

The young men of the Baba Church are quite independent and we run our church much as we like, a thing not altogether pleasing to the Mission. Hood Keng is the Mission’s last straw and even he has refused to join the Mission. This of course is quite displeasing to the missionaries, so much so that when he went up for ordination much objection was raised, and the accusation of disloyalty was made against him.

Whenever the missionaries preach, invariably it is against money-making and forsaking the work of the Lord. One day Cherry capped the climax by contrasting the missionary against the native preachers. I need not say that we retaliated in a way most displeasing to him and he lost his temper. But we should [not] worry. However, he is a man enough to at least attempt to right the glaring wrongs the Mission commits against the native preachers …

I suppose if I make money now, they will blame me, and if I make no money they will deride me and run me down. But … I am doing God’s work in upbuilding the lives of the many young men whom the missionaries can never hope to touch. They can shout from the pulpit all they want to, but in the day of reckoning, they will find their works by no means … count as they fondly think.

No doubt, they are praying for my soul but the young men are praying for a real baptism of the spirit for the missionaries. Many openly belittle your efforts and justify the action of the Mission, but I have given a true account to the young men, and we shut out every such utterance. Of course, it is useless for them to come to me about it for they will find a pretty hot time of it.

Finally, I wish you all success, health and happiness. Bear my love to the children and send me their pictures whenever possible. Oldham Hall has no more Hylam boys and I know not the whereabouts of your Hylam squad. Leng Im is a manager of a big rubber plantation in Malacca. Why Gin is Contractor for Rilan Brani, Hood Kiat is managing partner of G.H. Kiat and Co, stationers & book-sellers. The boys are doing well. [Seow] Poh Leng is Manager of Ho Hong Bank, Singapore. So much for this time. Hope you are all happy and well.

Your loving lad,

Chen Chang Lok.’

— Letter courtesy of Mrs Pease-Simpson, granddaughter of the Rev Kingsley Pease, slightly edited.

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