God fanned the spark of divine grace into a blazing flame through the lives and ministries of the Wesley brothers and their fellow pilgrims in the early Methodist movement. That flame touched our shores on 7 February 1885 when James Thoburn and William Oldham landed in Singapore.
Their arrival was not the result merely of human planning and intention. That God was directing them can be evidenced by the fact that Charles Phillips, the man who had issued the Macedonian call to Thoburn through a letter, was waiting for them at the Singapore harbour even though he had not been informed of their arrival, at least not by humans. The night before Thoburn and Oldham arrived in Singapore, Phillips had a dream of their arrival. It was a small reminder of God's hand in the arrival of Methodism in Singapore.
After a series of quickly-arranged evangelistic meetings, the first local Methodist church was constituted on 23 February 1885. The spiritual and organisational engines of Methodism went into full gear soon after. The Methodists began schools, medical and publishing work in rapid succession, alongside their church-planting work. From Singapore, missionary work expanded to other countries in Southeast Asia.
After more than 130 years, the Methodists in Singapore today number more than 42,000 members with many more others in the community, worship in 46 local churches and several preaching points. We have 15 schools with great educational traditions (comprising 22,000 students and 1,700 teachers) and 16 social service units that minister to more than 11,000 disadvantaged children, families and elderly. We have mission work through the Methodist Missions Society in 7 countries and have set up a Provisional Annual Conference in Cambodia, and Annual Meetings in Nepal and Thailand. All these are important milestones in our history.
Indeed, God has blessed us abundantly with His presence, committed servants, tireless visionaries, great institutions, and wonderful fruits of ministry. Firstly, let us not forget our great heritage. At the heart of it is our loving Sovereign God, who in Christ, and through His Spirit has worked in our midst to shape a people for Himself. It is His saving and perfecting grace that has brought us thus far and will bring us even further. Our history is really the story of what God is doing in, among, and through us. It is not our might or power but His Spirit that makes the real difference (Zechariah 4:6).
Secondly, let us not forget our focus on biblical holiness, expressed through personal and social holiness. Our message of salvation should bring people through conversion into holiness maintained by the exercise of the spiritual disciplines at the individual and community levels. Our busyness cannot be a substitute for our holiness. Holiness has to do with being bathed in God's love and being like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season (Psalm 1:2). It has to do with divine love.
Thirdly, we must rediscover and retain our passion for mission that sees the world as its parish. We must have the same passion that brought Methodism to our shores, and with it, we must fulfil all that God wants to do through us. We must never become so comfortable that we fail to see the brokenness and needs around us. We must remain tender-hearted and risk being spent for the sake of others.
Fourthly, we must continue in the connection that unites us all in Christ our Lord. The Methodist connection has both privileges and responsibilities. We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:2), so that the beauty of Christ can be seen in our communal life and the mission of Christ fulfilled through us. In a world that celebrates selfish individualism, we must demonstrate the beauty of life lived together in a covenant of love for and commitment to one another.
These are important aspects of our Wesleyan heritage that we must keep at all costs so that the glory of God can continue to shine in our midst. May God bless His people so that lives may continue to be touched and destinies changed forever by His abiding grace.