Reflections on Singapore 1987

Mequon, Wisconsin

We came 376 strong from 65 countries. We met on the campus of the National University of Singapore (NUS), June 1-10, 1987, for a conference called Singapore ‘87. It had been more than two years in the planning by members of the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization.
Those of us who were nominated filled out the application and passed the three reference forms on to appropriate colleagues. Susan Perlman, Jews for Jesus and head of the North American selection committee, prepared us for the fact that only one out of every five nominated would be selected. My nomination probably had something to do with my role in teaching evangelism in a Christian college, writing a book on evangelism, and editing this journal
Eventually came the June 16, 1986 letter from Brian Stiller that I had been selected as one of the forty North American participants. Then began the personal preparation—first sharing the excitement with friends and family, then gathering funds, applying for passport, digesting the information that came about the substance of the conference, learning about the practicalities of clothing and climate, flights and visas, etc.

Background of Singapore ‘87

Singapore ‘87 is a part of the Lausanne movement, a movement with which some readers are unfamiliar. What is Lausanne? It is at least six things:

  1. Lausanne is a city in Switzerland where many international conferences are held.
  2. Lausanne is an event, the International Congress on World Evangelization, convened by Billy Graham in 1974. TIME magazine called it “possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held.”
  3. Lausanne is a covenant. The Lausanne Covenant, drafted at the Lausanne Congress, is a statement on the mission of the Church. All those nominated to attend Singapore ‘87 were asked to reflect their measure of agreement with the Lausanne Covenant.
  4. Lausanne is a vision—a vision of the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.
  5. Lausanne is a committee, the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization (LCWE), consisting of 75 men, women, and young people, leaders in evangelism from all parts of the world, who give direction to the Lausanne vision. Leighton Ford is Chairman of the LCWE and Thomas Wang is its International Director.
  6. Lausanne is a movement of all who are committed to world evangelization in the spirit of the Lausanne Covenant.

A second international congress is planned for more than 4,000 Christian leaders for 1989 in Singapore. Preparatory programs are underway to focus on large urban areas, the Muslim world and other unreached peoples; to mobilize lay ministry; and to equip emerging younger leaders to reach the world for Christ. But for now, we must return to Singapore ‘87.

Some years ago, Leighton Ford, LCWE Chairman, was saddened by the death of his twenty-one-year-old son Sandy. Reflecting upon the purposes of God, Ford began to think about the future leaders in world evangelization, many of whom were not much older than Sandy
Then, in January 1983, the LCWE began to study emerging leadership among evangelical Protestants worldwide. The study discovered that many current leaders in denominational and parachurch organizations are within a few years of retirement, that many potential leaders are attracted by financially secure positions rather than risk-taking opportunities, and that many older leaders indicated a strong desire for younger leaders to be given a greater opportunity to join them. Realizing these facts, he began to think of how younger leaders might be challenged, encouraged, and equipped for future positions of leadership. Singapore ‘87, in large part, is the result of Ford’s meditation upon the future of world evangelization.


What would be our specific goals at the conference? How would emerging leaders be challenged and equipped? Our focus at the conference was threefold:

  1. To provide a place for younger leaders to meet and develop relationships, to sharpen their understanding of the task of world evangelization, and to encourage each other in that task.
  2. To explore effective models and methods of leadership together, to challenge them to be dynamic biblically guided leaders and to strengthen their confidence in the truth, relevance and power of the Scriptures.
  3. To equip younger leaders in confronting the spiritual issues, challenges and needs of their regions.
Singapore, the City

Why was the city of Singapore chosen? Because participants can travel freely; Singapore has no visa restrictions. Because it is an excellent hub of competitively priced airline travel to and from many points on the globe. Because the National University of Singapore’s Kent Ridge campus had accommodations costing much less than hotels and conference centers. Because there are many helpful Christian leaders at the university. Because Singapore is a safe city and a clean city. Because Singapore is an ideal middle ground between the West and the Two-thirds World.

According to legend, Singapore received its name centuries ago when Sang Nila Utama, the Prince of Palembang, landed on the island and encountered a strange animal which he mistook for a lion but which was probably a native tiger. The name Singapore in Sanskrit means “Lion City.” Standing guard at the mouth of the Singapore River, the 8-meter high Merlion (half-lion, half-fish) is the symbol of Singapore
In 1817 Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles selected the island as a British maritime base. During his nine months in Singapore, Raffles laid the principles for the city’s development as a free port, and Singapore rapidly became a giant international marketplace of Southern Asia. The name Raffles is still prominent in the city. There is a Raffles Boulevard, a Raffles City (shopping center), and some of us stayed in Raffles Hall (dormitories at NUS). Most famous of all, however, is Raffles Hotel, the place that Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham made their second home
Lying just one degree north of the equator, the 240 square mile city-state boasts the second busiest seaport in the world (second only to Rotterdam), the third largest refining Operation (after Rotterdam and Houston), the largest airport in Asia, and one of the key financial centers. Singapore’s 2.6 million people are 77% Chinese, 15% Malay, 6% Indian, and 2% Eurasian of European. To spend time in the city is to have a truly multi-cultural experience. Places like Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street are products of Singapore’s multi-cultural heritage. To spend time in the city is also to have a truly tropical climate experience. The temperature reached an average high of 90 degrees each day and approximately 90 percent humidity
The Christian population of the island is estimated at 10–12%, about half of that amount Protestant. More than 40% of the undergraduates on university campuses belong to one of three Christian student organizations: The Navigators, Campus Crusade, or InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Singapore, the Conference

In order to accomplish the goals stated earlier, the conference was divided into two parts: “The Leader as Risk Taker,” with emphasis upon integrity, vision, and family life; and “The Leader on the Cutting Edge,” with emphasis upon such world issues as unreached peoples, the cities of our world, the self-sufficient and the oppressed. In other words, the first half of the conference emphasized the leader, and the second half concentrated on the task.

In his opening address, Rev. Brian Stiller, chairman of the Singapore ‘87 planning committee, compared the passing of the torch in world evangelization today to the passing of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Stiller, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, called participants to “be ready to run with courage, creativity, and faith.
Workshops were held on four of the ten days on such topics as “The Leader’s Family” (Leighton Ford), “Biblical Authority and Cultural Relativity” (John Stott), “Motivational Leadership” (Clive Calver), “Cooperation in World Evangelization” (Gottfried Osei-Mensah), “Reaching the Intellectual” (Ramesh Richard), “The Leader’s Devotional Life” (Jim Chew), “Multiplying Your Ministry” (Ramez Atallah), and “Leading with the Pen” (Brian Stiller)
Bible study each morning during the conference was led by Ajith Fernando, national Youth for Christ director in Sri Lanka, June 2-5, and by Peter Kuzmic, President of the Theological Seminary in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, June 7-10. Fernando presented leadership models from the book of Acts, discussing Stephen, Philip, and Barnabas. Kuzmic discussed the kingdom of God, its extension, and our servanthood within it
Joe Webb presented a fantastic multi-media presentation entitled “The World We Are Called to Reach.” Utilizing nine slide projectors simultaneously, it challenged us to think of the unreached people all around the world. Later John Stott spoke on “Reaching Unreached People—An Evaluation and a Challenge.” The address, an evaluation of some aspects of the church growth movement, will appear in a later issue of this journal
Colleen Townsend-Evans and Leighton Ford both sounded a strong note for family life. Mutual servanthood in marriage and quality time with children are essential ingredients. These messages strengthened what I feel is already a strong commitment to my family. Brian Stiller encouraged the use of the written word to motivate and equip people for evangelism. Galo Vasquez reminded us that if the Christian church loses the battle for the souls of people in the cities, it will lose the war. Gottfried Osei-Mensah stressed the greatness of the task and the need to avoid unnecessary competition; there are too many people who have never heard the gospel. These were among the most profound messages of the conference for me
However, we ought not to get lost in the number of Bible studies, workshops, keynote addresses, and audio-visual presentations. The first goal of the conference, stated above, was “to provide a place for younger leaders to meet and develop relationships.” This networking was encouraged in a variety of ways
Every participant was involved in a small group for an hour each day to discuss the morning Bible study among them. My group consisted of participants from Egypt, South Africa, Bangladesh, West Germany, Kenya, Burundi, Canada, and the United States. Regional meetings were held twice during the conference for those from Africa, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, Oceania, and South Asia. Participants ate together in the three dormitory complexes and therefore shared with one another. There was ample time for participants to relax, converse, or even shop together. Roommates were never from the same country. My roommate was Peter Halldorf from Linkoping, Sweden, and the roommate of the other American participant from my denomination, Nancy Nemoyer River Forest, Illinois, was from Puerto Rico
It is expected that the relationships established during the conference will last a lifetime for most. It is further expected that these relationships will help Christians work together on the most important task in the world—the evangelization of more than three billion non-Christians. Needless duplication of effort will more easily be avoided, and unnecessary competition can be replaced by cooperation
Leighton Ford’s closing address, entitled “The Challenge Before Us,” sounded three keynotes to the conference: world evangelization, leadership, and cooperation. Recalling how the death of his son Sandy was part of the reason for his concern for future leaders, Ford called delegates to become kingdom-seekers rather than empire-builders. While there has been an emphasis in the last twenty years on transactional leadership, there is needed now an emphasis on transformational leadership. Transactional leadership has focused on the rewards and inducements of leadership, whereas transformational leadership focuses on a vision for world evangelization. Sixty percent of the world is under twenty-four years of age, and there, in part, lies the challenge. Discernment, discipline, and devotion to Jesus Christ are the equipment of the leader in the task of world evangelization.

Singapore ‘87, Its Impact

How did Singapore ‘87 change its participants? How did Singapore ‘87 change me? It gave me a broader understanding of the Christian church around the world. It enabled me to learn of Africa and Asia in particular. It brought me in contact with potential authors of articles on evangelism, material that may one day be published in the pages of this journal. It gave me practical insights and stories for my preaching and teaching ministry. It reiterated the challenge of world evangelization to which I have been previously exposed. It exposed me to various cultures, teaching me to distinguish between biblical principles and church customs.

It taught me that there is freedom of worship and freedom to witness door-to-door in some of the eastern European countries. The president of the Council of Free Churches in Hungary told the somewhat humorous story of a communist party member who moved to a new community, where he was visited by a Roman Catholic and later a Protestant with an invitation to their churches. Going to a communist party friend, he complained that the Catholic and Protestant had visited him, but not his communist friends
Prayer was a larger part of the conference than in most I’ve attended. I learned that leading in prayer for world evangelization and leading others into a prayer ministry for world evangelization are important ingredients in the Christian life. I was moved by the common bond of faith in Christ that was apparent during a concluding prayer time. All participants were asked to join hands, and I found myself hand-in-hand with Leighton Ford and Steve Hoke
I was struck by a story about an evangelistic rally that was held in Nigeria. The organizers of the rally had difficulty getting a permit, but they finally succeeded. Then, the day of the rally, they boarded three buses to head for the site. One of the buses broke down. Later it began raining heavily, and then a great wind threatened to blow down their tent. Through all this adversity they prayed. Soon the rain and wind stopped abruptly. Later several people came to them admitting they had been using witchcraft to stop the buses and they sent the wind and rain. When their witchcraft was overpowered by the prayers of these Christians, they came to find out who had such power. They wanted to believe in this God
I greatly enjoyed singing in the forty-voice choir, which sang one evening during the conference. We sang an arrangement of “Oh, For a Thousand Tongues” and “Great is the Lord.” I also enjoyed the musical talents of concert pianists Mel and Holden Bowker. Holden was also our choir director
I appreciated the many multi-cultural aspects of the city and the conference: the different kinds of plant life in this part of the tropics, the frequent appearance of rice in our meals, the climate, the translation of the conference into four languages (Spanish, German, Portuguese, and French), the songs and Scripture readings in many different languages (Zulu, Icelandic, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Swahili, Hebrew, Polish, and more), the home-cooked Chinese meal at Richard and Rebecca Khou’s home, the 85% of Singapore living in high-rise apartment buildings, the driving on the left-hand side of the road, and even eating at both McDonald’s and Hardee’s in downtown Singapore
Others expressed their feelings during and after the conference. Oscar Hernandez, Mexico City, said “I’m growing like never before. I’m trying to assimilate everything, and I’m learning so much. It’s given me a new vision for world evangelization.” Abraham Sesay, Sierra Leone, commented, “Singapore ‘87 has changed my whole life. It has helped me to see that I’m not the only one that God is using, even in my small locality. I have also seen my need to make adequate time for my devotional life.” Rolf Hille, West Germany, added, “I’ve been encouraged to see how the risen Lord is working among so many people and cultural backgrounds.” Ronny Sigarlaki, Indonesia, added, “The concept of training is new to me and will be valuable. In Asia, we have a patriarchal system; older people tend to be reluctant to hand over the reins in case you make a mistake. Sunita Noranha, India, said, “Singapore ‘87 has given me a total picture of the Christian life and of the totality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here they have dealt with some issues to which I had closed my mind. It has challenged me. Meeting people from around the world who have a similar vision has broadened me. I no longer feel like a frog in a well.” I think that I could echo almost every comment that Oscar, Abraham, Rolf, Ronnie, and Sunita made.Dr. Joel D. Heck is Assistant Professor of Religion at Concordia College Wisconsin and editor of Evangelism.