True Religion

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

Singapore is a considered a modern economic miracle. The pace in which we changed from a third-world to first world nation has been studied and held up as a model for other nations to follow. According to World Bank data, we are considered the 2nd richest nation in the world.

Even before the movie came out, Singapore has been known as the home of “Crazy Rich Asians” and we are now in the top 10 countries in terms of the average personal wealth of individuals. But this conspicuous wealth can sometimes obscure the reality that there are many in our midst who struggle to make ends meet. That there are those in our midst who are “Crazy Poor Asians.” I was reminded of this in two ways this week.

On Tuesday, I attended a briefing on the results of the Celebration of Hope, where they also shared on the initiative that follows on for the rest of the Year of Proclamation. The next step is for a Migrant Workers Outreach from now till the end of the year. As they shared about the needs of this community amongst us, I was particularly struck by the fact that there are clear needs often hiding in plain sight as we go about our lives in busy Singapore.

Of the 5.6 million people who live in our land, almost 1.4 million people are foreign workers. While there are some PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) in this number (21%), the vast majority of those who labour in our midst are work permit and foreign domestic workers (59%). And most of them come from South and South East Asia (According to MOM).

Many of these workers are engaged in “dirty, dangerous and demeaning” jobs, which Singaporeans largely avoid. And as such they are mostly poorly paid and over-worked. They have left families and homes because of economic necessity, and they arrive on our shores hoping that they can make enough to provide a better life for the loved ones they have left behind. They have had an integral part in building our nation into what it is today. In fact we in Good Shepherd are directly beholden to them as they work on our new building right on our church site!

The reality is that many of them would readily say, “We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.” (1 Chronicles 29:15) And if we are to continue to proclaim the message of hope in this year, the Lord would say to us, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

In time to come, we will be sharing about how we can love these workers in our midst in real and practical ways, and I hope that we will rise up as the people of God to reach the “nations” that have come to our shores as these migrant workers.

The second way the Lord reminded me of the least and lost amongst us came from a breakfast meeting I had with a pastor who heads a ministry which serves the homeless in Singapore. Many of us are probably surprised that there is a homeless problem here since Singapore boasts the highest level of home ownership amongst the G20 nations, even though we have 2nd most expensive housing market in the world. And maybe for this very reason, it is inevitable that we would have people who slip through the cracks, and find themselves homeless.

He shared with me the plan to set up a centre in the old Margaret Drive polyclinic building (next to the Queenstown library), which will provide a shelter for “rough sleepers,” who are people who sleep in public, exposed places. There are complex and varied reasons why these people have slipped through the many social safety nets set up by our government and other voluntary welfare organisations. This centre hopes to be able to at least provide some respite, and basic amenities to such people. It is my hope that we in Good Shepherd will be able to partner with this work in some way as well in the days ahead.

As Jesus reminded us that we will “always have the poor” (Mark 14:7), but all the same we have a God-given responsibility to care for “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40,45) And this is what James meant when he pointed out that “religion that is pure and undefiled” (James 1:27) means caring for those who are vulnerable, disenfranchised and usually forgotten by most of society. In his day they were the “widows and orphans” but in our context they are the forgotten who are in our midst–migrant construction workers, cleaners and even the very domestic workers who live in our homes, as well as the nameless and faceless homeless that exist in our prosperous land.

May we as God’s people be moved with compassion for the least and the lost. That we will not become numb to the many needy in our midst. May God open our eyes to see them, love them and care for them. The word of the Lord tells us, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)