In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us “… seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you“. Giving priority to God can take place in many aspects of our lives. How do we translate it to our daily work? Methodist Message finds out from businesses that are different in what they do but have the same focus on serving God and his people.
An opportunity for a fresh start. This is what Breakthrough Missions (“Breakthrough”) offers former prison inmates who seek to be rehabilitated. Originally a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts with an evangelical objective, Breakthrough has since expanded its activities to become a social service organisation that provides a diverse range of services: book binding, furniture restoration, food and beverage, landscaping, and even foot reflexology.
Established in 1981 by Pastor Simon Neo, who had himself broken his addiction to drugs with the help of a Christian drug rehabilitation centre, Breakthrough introduces its residents to the Christian faith in the hope that the faith will motivate them to seize their second chance and start over. The programme structure guides residents to observe the spiritual disciplines of daily devotions and prayer. It also provides training so that they are equipped with the skills and positive work attitudes that will serve them when they find work. Group and individual counselling sessions are provided to guide residents in self-management.
However, there is no religious discrimination. Freddy Wee, Deputy Director at Breakthrough, says, “Ours is a faith-based Christian programme that occupies, educates and equips residents for rehabilitation. All are welcome, whether or not they believe in Jesus.”
Shortly after it was established, Breakthrough began to offer book binding and picture framing services from the small workshop on their premises, for the simple reason that those were the only skills that the staff and residents had at the time. As the number of staff and residents grew, and as more space was made available, more services were offered. Staff at Breakthrough identify the residents’ God-given talents and guide them towards jobs that suit their abilities. More able ones are encouraged to take the lead and impart their knowledge to the others. Experts in the various vocations could be members of the staff, residents or volunteers. In each vocation, hands-on training is provided and the experts are tasked to assess the trainees to ensure that the quality of their work meets the expected standards.
Freddy explains, “We trust God to provide. We run Breakthrough in a way that enables us to cover our costs and earn a little, but we do not work on Sundays because that is when we go to church. It is very important that we put God first.”
Nonetheless, Breakthrough is firm about the need for everyone to do a good job. “Every person has to do their best so that they can glorify God,” says Freddy. “We tell our team that the community pays us for our services and we must give them a high level of service so that they are willing to continue to engage us.” He proudly shares that Breakthrough’s customers include large organisations whose high standards and expectations are met by the services offered by Breakthrough. “This is our testimony to everyone—we are not perfect but we are changed by God and we give our best.”
Former residents at Breakthrough have gone on to work with other employers but the alumni still meet once a month for fellowship and prayer meetings. Freddy notes with satisfaction that they retain the discipline and values learnt at Breakthrough. “They start their day with morning worship, they work hard and they have learnt to be responsible.” All this helps them re-integrate into society while living new and meaningful lives.
When David Tan ran his business of computerising supply chains during the dot-com era over 20 years ago, he told God, “This is my blueprint. Please bless me and I will go and bless your people.” He called it his “business with a mission”.
But God had other plans: the dot-com bubble burst and his business folded. When he recovered from the crisis, David, who was born into a Methodist family, asked God for direction. God opened doors and led him to the founding of Netatech, a company which provides environmental engineering solutions. David, now 57, describes his new company as “a mission with a business”.
David’s company, Netatech, helps clients implement solutions such as irrigation, rainwater harvesting, high-tech greenhousing and vertical farms. But “missions comes first” even while dealing with scientific solutions. He cites the example of a project in Maetho, Thailand, in which David’s business partners provided funds to build 40 greenhouses in the padi fields belonging to the mother-in-law of a colleague, Tinnakorn John.
“We choose to work with someone in the marketplace with a heart for God. We get to know them, share each other’s challenges and pray together. We take our time to grow the relationship. As farmers, we know we can only plant the seeds and tend to the plants, but the Lord brings the harvest.” These Netafarm greenhouses produce enough Chinese spinach, lettuce, coriander and cabbage to be shipped back to Singapore twice a week. Better yet, the harvest includes more than just vegetables.
David adds, “We need partners who are business people who can create a viable business for the community. We take care of the technology and the finances. We are a for-profit business so that we can use the profits to help people. But we are not missionaries who teach the gospel. For this, God provides a spiritual guide, such as a pastor. The people realise that our interest in them is not just financial. They also realise we care for their spiritual well-being. Our motivation for helping them comes from something bigger—the love of God. We love them and build relationships with them.”
While David is clear about his mission objective, he is equally clear about how Netatech should be run. “We want to be known for our business first. Our faith is woven into our personal lives. We are all not perfect and we need Christ. And because Christ died for everyone, we hire and work with people regardless of their faith.”
The owner of the land in Thailand on which Netatech built 40 greenhouses is Lamon, who is also the mother-in-law of David’s Christian colleague, Tinnakorn John. Lamon is reputedly a shaman and, being attuned to the spiritual realm, was able to sense that something was different about David and Netatech. As part of David’s arrangement of caring for the spiritual lives of his business partners, he befriended the pastor of the village church, who became a mentor to the employees on the farm. They turned to the pastor for spiritual guidance despite not being believers. As a result, Lamon herself eventually converted to Christianity and was baptised in 2019.
Sound of Art
Nearly 20 years ago, Galven Lee’s parents commissioned an artist friend to produce a painting for their new home. They requested, among other things, that the painting should have a biblical theme and cause the viewer to sense the presence of God. This request led to the production of three paintings that capture the gospel message. More than that, it drew the artist back to God and kick-started the Lee family’s venture into the Sound of Art, an art gallery with a mission.
Galven, 33, who works in the telco industry but also helps out with the family business, considers his involvement with Sound of Art more of a ministry than a business task. His interaction with artists and clients on behalf of the gallery allows him to explain how the artwork can be used to share the gospel, and where his contacts are not believers, it is an opportunity for him to make a connection and to pray for them.
The gallery describes the art it supports as that which “inspires and speaks to the soul, with an emphasis on the themes of faith, hope, love and shalom”. Using this guideline, artworks submitted to the gallery are reviewed on their own merits, regardless of the artist’s faith. As its curator, Galven evaluates the pieces on their theme and skill of execution. Although it may be subjective, the artwork should also be one that he thinks most people can appreciate. He says, “My family knows we cannot compromise on excellence. God has given us special giftings and we want to uphold that standard.”
Kingdom work, in this context, also takes the form of supporting Christian artists such as Mr Byambajargal, or Byamba, a young Mongolian artist. Recognising Byamba’s talent and growing potential as an artist, Sound of Art chose to represent him in its gallery here. Byamba is a committed Christian who uses his art as a way to express his faith, and his paintings convey his testimony of God’s work in his life. His paintings were sold out at a Sound of Art exhibition of his work held in Singapore in 2022.
Galven is clear on the objectives for the artists. He says, “We want our artists to become world class. We don’t want them to be pigeonholed as Christian artists. We want the world to say, ‘This is a great artist and by the way, he is a Christian.’ For this to happen, the artists need financial support, encouragement and opportunities.”
In December 2022, the gallery organised an event called “The Art of Christmas” at i12 Katong, where its gallery is located. The event included an art exhibition featuring paintings related to Christmas, including those by artist Dominique Fam of Wesley Methodist Church. It provided an opportunity for members of the public to experience Christmas through art and musical performances put up by churches in the neighbourhood.
“We view our business through the lens of Christian outreach and we do not hide the fact that we are Christians,” says Galven. “At the same time, we are conscious of the need to be sensitive to other religions. Our mission is to be enablers and our medium happens to be art.”
Still, to be able to continue its business, Sound of Art has to be profitable. Galven explains, “Our end goal is more for the mission than for the financial gain. We believe that the business must grow for it to make an impact. For that to happen, we need to turn a profit so that we have the resources to expand.” That many may hear God speak through the art that it supports surely makes the Sound of Art an unusual but creative channel to do Kingdom work in the marketplace.
Little Boy’s Lunch by Swasti Wonowidjojo
“In this novel depiction of the miracle where Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand, the artist chooses to focus on the little boy. His complexion is ruddy, his gaze earnest though apprehensive, and his arms grasping the lunch items tightly against his chest. Is the little boy counting the cost of giving up his lunch? Or is he worried that his contribution can scarcely feed even a fraction of the 5,000 gathered in the field? The little boy understood that when we choose to surrender our possessions, even our lives, to be used for a greater good, it has a profound multiplier effect that blesses many others.”
~ Galven Lee, Sound of Art