Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore

By Johnny Kan

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Johnny Kan graduated from Southeast Asia Union College and began his pastoral ministry in 1993. Currently, he is the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore.

Singapore is a small, heavily urbanized, sovereign island city-state in Southeast Asia at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula between Malaysia and Indonesia. Singapore has a total land area of 719 square kilometers.1

The Singapore area is comprised of a mainland and other islands. Singapore’s mainland is 50 kilometers (31 miles) from east to west and 27 kilometers (17 miles) from north to south with 193 kilometers (120 miles) of coastline. These figures are based on 2.515 meters (8 feet 3.0 inches) High Water Mark cadastral survey boundaries. Singapore is separated from Indonesia by the Singapore Strait and from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor.2

According to the official census in 2018, the population in this territory was 5,791,901. In 2018, the Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore had eight organized churches with a total membership of 3,120.

Origin of SDA Work in the Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore

With the arrival of Pastor and Mrs. Griffiths F. Jones and Robert A. Caldwell in October 1904, Singapore became the center of Adventist missions in South East Asia. Pastor and Mrs. Jones commenced medical missionary work in the local field, and the Lord blessed these efforts financially and spiritually.3 The medical missionary work was officially recognized at the Malaysian Mission Council on January 10, 1905.

The first SDA to visit Singapore may have been Abram La Rue. Between 1888 and 1903, he made trips to Singapore and surrounding regions selling and distributing Adventist literature. Around 1893 in Singapore, he moved in with an Englishman whose Australian wife later became a member of the early Adventist church in Singapore.4

On January 9, 1905, Pastor George A. Irwin, president of the Australasian Union Conference, arrived in Singapore with R. W. Munson from Jakarta, Indonesia. During his short stay in Singapore, Pastor Irwin held evening meetings in the mission home.5 While inviting people to these meetings, Pastor Jones made his first call at the house of a Mr. Fox. Providentially, Fox happened to be the Eurasian gentlemen who had kindly entertained E. H. Gates and R. W. Munson for three weeks during their visit to Medan in North Sumatra in early 1902. Fox’s wife and two of his children were baptized in late 1905, becoming the first baptized in Singapore. The Fox family soon moved to Surabaya and was the first Sabbath-keeping family in Java.6

The Chinese formed the bulk of the population of Singapore and are the leading cause of the country’s prosperity. They were also the most hopeful and eager recipients for missionary work. It was believed that Singapore could be the headquarters of all missionary operations in this region since it was at the crossroads of Southeast Asia.

Organizational History of Churches

Construction of the First Church Building on Penang Road

Until the first church building in Singapore was constructed in 1909, pioneer missionaries held Sabbath meetings in the mission house. The mission began negotiations with the colonial secretary for a plot of government land on No. 5, Penang Road, District 9, Singapore, between Penang Road and Fort Canning Road. They required approval from the Australasian Union, so the purchase was not made until January 1909. They broke ground on February 13, 1909. The first church building constructed in the Malaysian field was dedicated on August 11, 1909. Several church officers and members witnessed the dedication.7 It was near two churches that belonged to the Methodists. This church on Penang Road was used by three congregations. After World War II, the congregations moved to new church homes. After 1958, the church building was used as a health and welfare center. In 1969, as it was no longer used for worship, the building was surrendered to the government according to the terms outlined in 1908.

Balestier Road Church

On June 12, 1951, negotiations with a missionary society for a plot of government land on a 99-year lease on 120 Balestier Road were concluded at a price of $81,000 SGD. This would be the new home of the English-speaking church in Singapore. Its first service was held on Sabbath, November 3, 1951.8 On January 19, 1952, Balestier Road Church was dedicated.9 Today, the church houses almost 250 worshippers who actively serve in community outreach endeavors.10

Maranatha SDA Church

In 1927, ten Malay-speaking people gathered in rented quarters at Race Course Road. Not long after, the Malay chapel was moved to 186 Rangoon Road. In 1951, after a building at 120 Balestier Road was purchased for the English-speaking congregation, the Malay-speaking group started a time-share arrangement and gathered at the building for worship at 7:00 AM, earlier than the English-speaking congregation. Pastor R. A. Pohan tended to the needs of the Malay-speaking congregation while encouraging them to secure their own place of worship. Soon, the Malay-speaking congregation found government land in the Katong area with a 99-year lease. They were not allowed to construct a church building but were allowed to build a bungalow for church services.

On August 14, 1954,11 Union President J. M. Nerness formally opened a modest house of worship in a fine residential area on 730 Dunman Road. This was the beginning of “Maranatha Hall,”12 a name chosen by the church’s early pioneers that means “the Lord is coming.” For a long time, it was also called the Dunman Road Church for its location along the road. In 2001, the church building was in dire need of a significant renovation. After several negotiations with relevant authorities, the church optimistically began the rebuilding project.13 Today, the church named Maranatha SDA Church houses over 140 regular worshippers, who actively evangelize for the Lord in and beyond the church’s immediate neighborhood.

Thomson Chinese Church

In 1953, C. M. Lee, an elder of the Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church, offered a roughly 20,000-square-foot plot of land at 297A Thomson Road for a church building.14 Elder Lee single-handedly initiated building plans. He planned for a church, which he later donated, that would seat 500 worshippers and have a basement with six classrooms and two offices for future use as a school. In 1956, Wang Fu Nan, an architect, was contracted to draw the building plans, and Chin Too Min, a church elder, supervised the construction. The building was completed in 1957. Members of the Chinese Church donated furnishings and fixtures. The church that used to meet in the Penang Road building commenced worship services in the new building at Thomson Road on February 2, 1957.

On January 18, 1958, the church was dedicated in a grand but humble ceremony. Soon after, San Yu High School started in the church’s basement.15 Today, the building houses the San Yu Adventist School, a merger of San Yu High School and Seventh-day Adventist School, and the Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church, commonly named Thomson Chinese Church. The church houses over 300 worshippers who are actively engaged in evangelism.

Jurong English Church

Jurong English Church started as Queenstown Church, a branch Sabbath school for residents of the Queenstown area in the early 1970s. As the church progressed, it sought a more permanent place of worship. It first used a two-story shophouse at 104 Stirling Road to house both the English and Chinese language congregations. The group later moved to a bungalow in a private residential area at 1 Angora Close, which proved unsuitable for the expansion of the work.

The early 1980s saw the importance of establishing the Adventist presence in western Singapore. To better accommodate the Queenstown congregation and expand the work in western Singapore, on July 1, 1983, the West Malaysia/Singapore Mission applied for the tender of a piece of land. This land was 3,793.2 square meters, located at Jurong East Street 13, and priced at $350 SGD per square meter for a total of $1,327,620 SGD.16 On October 10, 1983, the mission received official news that the Seventh-day Adventist Church won the tender for the 60-year leasehold land, effective from the date of purchase.17

The groundbreaking ceremony for the three-story church complex was held on November 25, 1984.18 In October 1986, the Queenstown English Church started meeting in the 450-seat main sanctuary. During its first worship service, five people were baptized. The church has since been renamed Jurong English Church. The church building officially opened in November 1986. The Jurong English Church was dedicated on Sabbath, August 28, 1993.19 Today, the church houses over 300 active worshippers and reaches out to many children and parents of the Adventist school house operated by Jurong English Church and Jurong Chinese Church.

Jurong Chinese Church

Jurong Chinese Church began in the 1960s as the Queenstown Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Company. In 1963, the pastor of Thomson Chinese Church, Lim Tian En, rented a two-story shophouse at 104 Stirling Road in the name of the “Seventh-day Adventists Charitable Clinic.” Due to a shortage of pastors, Pastor Lim Tian En assisted the Queenstown Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Company in Sabbath afternoon services, which about 30 members attended. A Malaysian lady pastor, Ho Yuet Chang, served as the company’s pastor from April 1963 to 1969, when Pastor Mathew Yuen became its pastor. In that time, worship services were conducted in Chinese and English. Chinese-speaking members met in the afternoon, and English-speaking members met in the morning.

After Pastor Lim Tian En emigrated, the shophouse he rented was returned, and its members transferred to Thomson Chinese Church. In 1986, the members who had transferred to Thomson moved to the Jurong Church building at Jurong East Street 13, and their church was officially named Jurong East Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church, commonly called “Jurong Chinese Church.” Both Jurong English Church and Jurong Chinese Church work in unison to further the mission of the Adventist Church.

Seventh-day Adventist Community Church

Unlike other local churches, the Seventh-day Adventist Community Church began in the former Malayan Seminary (renamed “Southeast Asia Union College” in 1958)20 and grew out of a need for a school church. Bible instructors at the training school often doubled as church pastors. Weekend services, Friday evening vesper hours, Sabbath School, church services, and Sabbath afternoon M. V. Society meetings were some religious activities that characterized workers’ training and the school’s soul-winning objectives. The school changed its name throughout the years, and the attached church adapted its name accordingly.

The government takeover of the Upper Serangoon Road property in 1996 forced the union office to move to another location. The new union office’s establishment at 798 Thomson Road in December 1998 offered some hope. In 1999, Southeast Asia College Church moved to the auditorium on the ground floor at the rear of the Southeast Asia Union Mission building. Later, the church was renamed Seventh-day Adventist Community Church. It currently accommodates over 150 worshippers and seeks opportunities to reach out to its community.

Chuan Hoe Church

Chuan Hoe Church began as a Voice of Prophecy club started by Southeast Asia College Church in 1972 at the house of an Adventist, Robert Chan, at Upper Serangoon Road. It was later organized into a Sabbath school service known as “The Punggol Group.” In ten years, the group grew to 50 converts, primarily teenagers. Since then, it has worshipped in homes at various locations. In 1988, it achieved church status and was named Chuan Hoe Church. In 2001, Singapore Adventist Mission purchased private housing property at 226 Yio Chu Kang Road to house the congregation. The church has about 40 active worshippers.

Filipino SDA Church

As part of the Global Mission Outreach program, a special task force was formed to reach out to various ethnic foreign groups in Singapore. On January 1, 2010, the first Filipino pastor was employed specifically to reach out to the thousands of Filipinos in Singapore.21 Many churches already had Filipino members, but the largest Filipino group congregated at Balestier Road Church. The first regular afternoon Filipino worship service was on July 2, 2011, with almost 100 members present. Since the Filipino group projected a growth in membership, it searched for a meeting place to congregate as a church and purchased an industrial unit at Woodlands 11. The group moved into the new unit on June 1, 2013, and convened as a church at the venue until March 2019. The place was not ideal for a church; inconveniences and technical restrictions hampered its growth. After much prayer and persuasion, the Filipino SDA Church decided to move to 798 Thomson Road, where Southeast Asia Union is located. It shares its location with the Seventh-day Adventist Community Church.

Indian Church

The Singapore Mission, as part of the Outreach program, was tasked with reaching out to ethnic and migrant Indian workers in Singapore in 2007.22 An Indian pastor was employed specifically to work among the migrants and reach out to local Indians.23 The worshippers quickly grew to almost 50 meeting regularly. An industrial venue at 20 Midview City was purchased to house this group, and they used it from 2011-2018. Changes in the Singaporean government’s immigration policy and a restriction of work passes significantly impacted the Indian Church’s membership. After several months of prayer and counsel, the group joined the Seventh-day Adventist Community Church at the end of 2018.

Reorganization of Singapore Mission to Singapore Conference

On November 11, 1987, at their annual meetings, the Far Eastern Division and Southeast Asia Union committees approved the bifurcation of West Malaysia/Singapore Mission into two separate missions.24 On November 26, 1988, the Southeast Asia Union Mission triennial session voted to set up two missions. On December 2, 1988, the Southeast Asia Union Mission executive committee elected two officers, Pastor G. Pauner as president and Sim Chor Kiat as secretary/treasurer, for the Seventh-day Adventist Mission of Singapore (Singapore Mission). On December 20, 1988, the first Singapore Mission executive committee met to carry out policies.

The Seventh-day Adventist Mission of Singapore held its first triennial session in March 19-21, 1988. The first constituency meeting at San Yu High School was attended by 24 delegates from eight congregations in Singapore and representatives from Southeast Asia Union Mission, Far Eastern Division, Southeast Asia Union College, and Youngberg Memorial Adventist Hospital.25

In July 9-10, 2011, Singapore Mission officially became Singapore Conference and held its first conference session. Delegates from Southern Asia Pacific Division, Southeast Asia Union Mission, the local conference, institutions, and all local churches were present at the meeting. In total, over 80 delegates attended the meeting.

History of Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore (Singapore Conference)

1914-1956 Malay States Mission under Malayan Union Mission. The states of Johor and Malacca were added in 1932.

1957-1972 Seventh-day Adventist Mission of Malaya under Southeast Asia Union Mission.

1973-1987 West Malaysia/Singapore Mission under Southeast Asia Union Mission.

1988-2010 Peninsular Malaysia Mission under Southeast Asia Union Mission caused by the formation of Singapore Mission.

2011- Singapore Mission renamed Singapore Conference.

Conference Office Address

1988-1990 90 Jurong East Street 13, Singapore 609648

Conference Territory Population and Church Membership

The membership count begins in 1988 after the bifurcation of the West Malaysia/Singapore Mission. The churches in Singapore formed the mission. Singapore Conference’s membership growth remains relatively challenging. In 1988, the territory had a population of 2.846 million and a church membership of 2,072. In 1990, the territory had a population of 3.047 million and a church membership of 2,112. In 1995, the territory had a population of 3.525 million and a church membership of 2,229. In 2000, the territory had a population of 4.028 million and a church membership of 2,267. In 2005, the territory had a population of 4.266 million and a church membership of 2,371. In 2010, the territory had a population of 5.077 million and a church membership of 2,751. In 2015, the territory had a population of 5.535 million and a church membership of 3,003. In 2018, the territory had a population of 5.640 million and a church membership of 3,120.

Challenges and Outlook for the Future

Since Singapore is a secular and metropolitan city with a population of almost 6 million people, the SDA church is challenged to reach such a large population with a little over 3,100 members, eight churches, one primary/secondary school, one kindergarten, and a few healthcare and community institutions.

The conference’s refocused vision is to ensure “every Adventist [is] a disciple making disciples for Jesus.” The emphasis on discipleship-making invites seekers to Jesus and does not end with baptism; it continues to equip and nurture new believers until they can make new disciples for Jesus. Our mission is adjusted to ensure the Adventist message is clearly embedded within the area’s geographic boundaries. The revised mission states, “We are a people who seek and enable everyone to become fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, proclaiming the Three Angels’ Message, preparing Singapore for Christ’s imminent return.”

Despite challenges, there is no fear for the future. The church focuses on discipleship as the primary vision, and all evangelistic activities, community outreach initiatives, and local church programs exist to support the fulfillment of this vision. The local church must be spiritually and emotionally healthy in order to be ready to invite seekers and nonbelievers to its community. The church is also using media to share relevant messages with the people in Singapore, inviting them to visit local churches to experience personal, face-to-face relationships.

List of Presidents

Geoffrey Pauner (1988-1989); Sim Chor Kiat (1989-1991); George Johnson, acting (1991- 1992); Phoon Chek Yat (1992-1994); Matthew Yuen Fook Kee (1994-1999); Toh See Wei (1999-2002); Danson Ng Kim Yam (2002-2011); Johnny Kan Mun Leong, (2011- )

Sources

Adventist Crossroads, May 1988.

Adventist Crossroads, December 2002.

Adventist Crossroads, July-September 2007.

Adventist Crossroads, January-March 2010.

Adventist Crossroads, April-June 2012.

Australasian Union Conference Record, April 1, 1905.

Australasian Union Conference Record, October 2, 1909.

Maranatha 50th Anniversary, August 2004.

Outlook, February 1952.

Outlook, December 1951.

Outlook, December 1951.

Outlook, July 1956.

Cheng, Ruth, and Wu Chook Ying. Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church: Commemorating Our 50 years in Singapore. Singapore: TTG Asia Media Pte Ltd, 2007.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Revised edition. 2 vols. Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publishing, 1996. S.v. “Singapure.”

Singapore Department of Statistics. Singapore in Figures 2018. Accessed June 30, 2019. https://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/publications/reference/sif2018.pdf.

The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, January-February 1984.

The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, January-February 1985.

The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, May-June 1988.

The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, January-March 1994.

Notes

  1. Singapore Department of Statistics, Singapore in Figures 2018, accessed June 30, 2019, https://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/publications/reference/sif2018.pdf.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Australasian Union Conference Record, April 1, 1905, 2.

  4. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (1996), vol 11, s.v. “Singapore.”

  5. Australasian Union Conference Record, April 1, 1905, 6.

  6. Ruth Cheng and Wu Chook Ying, Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church: Commemorating Our 50 years in Singapore (Singapore: TTG Asia Media Pte Ltd, 2007), 110-111.

  7. Australasian Union Conference Record, October 2, 1909, 3.

  8. Outlook, February 1952, 4.

  9. Outlook, December 1951, 3.

  10. Outlook, December 1951, 1.

  11. Outlook, July 1956, 5.

  12. Maranatha 50th Anniversary, August 2004, 18.

  13. Adventist Crossroads, December 2002, 2.

  14. Cheng and Ying, 28.

  15. Cheng and Ying, 29.

  16. The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, January-February 1984, 9.

  17. Ruth Cheng and Wu Chook Ying, Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church: Commemorating our 50 years in Singapore (Singapore: TTG Asia Media Pte Ltd, 2007), 127.

  18. The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, January-February 1985, 1.

  19. The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, January-March 1994, 9.

  20. Cheng and Ying, 139.

  21. Adventist Crossroads, April-June 2012, 1.

  22. Adventist Crossroads, January-March 2010, 4.

  23. Adventist Crossroads, July-September 2007, 2.

  24. Adventist Crossroads, May 1988, 4.

  25. The Southeast Asia Union Messenger, May-June 1988, 6.

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Kan, Johnny. "Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Accessed January 27, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=DASM.

Kan, Johnny. "Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Date of access January 27, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=DASM.

Kan, Johnny (2021, April 28). Seventh-day Adventist Conference of Singapore. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 27, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=DASM.