“After we became independent, the point that he (the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew) always reiterated was never do to the minorities in Singapore what happened to us when we were a minority in Malaysia…”
PM Lee Hsien Loong, 2012
This quote (above) resonated with me.
On 13 May 1969, racial riots broke out in Malaysia. I was four years old. My parents were in Chow Kit Road, the scene of the heaviest rioting, when rioters came charging at them with parangs, sticks and iron pipes. They fled for their lives and, miraculously, escaped unscathed.
Shaken, they moved my siblings and me – all five of us, the youngest barely a year old – to Singapore under the care of a guardian, while they remained in Malaysia. I have since called Singapore home.
Experiences shape our perspectives, beliefs, values, and worldview but can also seed prejudices. I have never forgotten this traumatic experience and the takeaway – a conscious choice to love my neighbor – is well entrenched in my psyche. Still, with growing demands on my time, and life as part of the majority in Singapore, inertia soon crept in.
Some have labeled Singapore a great nation because of her economic achievements and her habit of topping all sorts of charts from “best airport” to “safest city” to “best investment potential”. But we are reminded that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members” (Mahatma Gandhi). And, a great nation can only be forged by great citizens; people with generous spirits.
There are things that we, as God’s people, can do to spark and sustain care for the minorities, who are often also the marginalised, in Singapore.
First, humanitarian concerns have theological underpinnings. We need to preach it, teach it, and to “shout it aloud” and “not hold back”. Israel was eager to know God’s ways and to be near Him. They were seeking God and fasting. Yet, Isaiah declared them rebellious and sinful. Why? Their worship was incongruent with their works.
God is interested in seeing His people “break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts… [share] your food with the hungry, [invite] the homeless poor into your homes, [put] clothes on the shivering ill-clad…” (Isa. 58:6-7, The Message). That is the kind of worship acceptable to Him because “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matt. 25:40, NLT)
God cares about His creation, especially human beings because we are created in His image. He is not only concerned about whether we join Him in eternity but also how we live our lives on earth. Society’s marginalised matter to God. And if they matter to God, and God matters to us, then reaching out to the marginalised must matter to us.
Second, we must keep the conversation going, lest we forget. We need to talk about it over our pulpits, in our small groups, and among friends. We need to infuse our prayers with such concerns. Care for minorities must be on our lips and in our hearts. We must reject being provincial in how we do church.
A few years ago, Singapore witnessed a rising NIMBY (notin-my-backyard) syndrome where residents opposed the locating of something considered undesirable, like eldercare facilities and foreign worker dormitories, in their neighborhood. That was an opportunity for Christians to be altruistic and welcome these developments which society needs.
While some Christians did rally for an opposing GIMBY (good-in-my-backyard) feeling towards these developments, they were sporadic and largely absent. Recently, a friend suggested SIMBY (start-in-my-backyard) as a better Christian response because it actively welcomes and pursues minorities in love.
Finally, we have to “just do it”. The marginalised often experience loneliness, “lostness” and feelings of being left behind. A friend who visits the homeless told me, “You’ll be surprised how little people can survive on.” Her point was that we needed to offer friendship as well as food. Jesus was a friend to them. It is antithetical to be followers of Christ if we are not friends with these friends of Jesus. It is not too difficult to offer a listening ear to another fellow human being for a few hours a week.
Singapore’s late founding father emphasised care of minorities. Jesus exemplified it. Will we welcome, speak up and care for them as our own?
Lorinne Kon worships at Paya Lebar Methodist Church with her husband, Siow Aik, and three school-going children. She is active in prison-related ministries, including Prison Fellowship Singapore and 70×7, and is passionate about advocating for, restoring and integrating the marginalised back into society.