“I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”—John 4:38 (ESV)
Through His living and abiding Word, God causes sinners to be born again to new life and hope in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:23). Yet how is God’s Word made known to all people? Scripture and history show us that God often does so through another vital instrument—people.
Through people from all walks of life, with their different gifts and abilities, God started and grew the Bible Mission in Singapore to what it is today. As the Society continues to celebrate its 180th Anniversary, we want to especially remember and honour our volunteers—those who freely chose to serve the cause in often unnoticed yet valuable ways.
An Established Precedent
From the get-go, the Bible Mission in Singapore has been a movement initiated and advanced by volunteers. Men and women, driven by a singular desire to make God’s Word known to the nations, sacrificially gave of themselves and their resources to advance the mission.
The first Committee of the new Singapore Auxiliary Bible Society in 1837 was comprised of men who took it upon themselves to facilitate the work in an orderly and effective manner. Their wives and other ladies in the region also came together to form a corresponding institution—the Straits Ladies Bible Association—which concentrated on reaching out to the local women and children.
Making God’s Word available to people was the main task of the Society in the early years. However, colporteurs* were engaged to distribute Bibles and tracts only in 1883. Until then, this responsibility lay in the hands of missionaries and volunteers. It was no easy task—besides difficulties in transport, they had to endure strong opposition from many quarters. However, they persevered in their efforts, and thus preserved the Bible Mission work in Singapore during a period of great challenges.
Going Beyond the Bounds of Duty
As the Bible Society entered the 20th century, the Bible Mission in Singapore continued to survive and thrive through such a spirit of self-sacrifice. Difficulties such as opposition, discouragement and danger from bandits did not stop the colporteurs from going beyond their bounds of duty to make God’s Word known to as many people as possible. These included bringing the Gospel to parts of Southeast Asia where no missionary has ever gone before. They even reached out to fierce tribal warriors like the Sea Dayaks in Sarawak!
During the Japanese Occupation, when others left, a handful of colporteurs stayed fast to the cause despite meagre salaries and the risk of losing their lives. One of them, Tan Jit Thau, even distributed 103,099 Bibles, Testaments and portions by himself—almost 60% of the total number distributed throughout the whole Occupation!
In the second half of the century, the advance of the Bible Mission quickened as faithful individuals partnered with the Society in various new initiatives to spread the cause in their own spheres. For example, in 1968, Bible Societies in the Asia-South Pacific region held a Scripture Evangelism Training Institute in Singapore. Its purpose was to train Christians to use the Bible in evangelism. This was fulfilled as men and women from various denominations and Christian organisations, lay and ordained, enthusiastically participated in the training. In turn, they helped advance the mission as they brought the Word of Life to rural and industrial areas, upper-middle class areas and housing estates, and even night markets on their own initiative.
The Bible Mission has since grown and expanded to meet the evolving Scripture needs of the world. As such, the need for like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ to join in this mission is greater than ever. Today, we are thankful that there are more than 200 volunteers—Sowers-in-Action—who labour alongside the Society in a wide variety of ways.
Some of our Sowers-in-Action contribute to the mission in the vital area of leadership, bringing valuable expertise from professional fields such as church leadership, business, accountancy and academia.
Examples of such volunteers include the Society’s Board members, as well as the members of the Society’s various ministry committees. They utilise their experience to ensure that the Society and its initiatives are going in the right direction, and that the Bible Mission’s needs are always being addressed. Some of them are even continuing the legacy of their fathers as they serve the Bible Mission! (Read more about this on the next page.)
In our day and age, the Bible is made available in a wide variety of languages, formats and mediums. With this comes the corresponding challenge of training people how to read and engage with the Bible. The Society organises various programmes to promote Bible literacy and engagement. Yet these are only possible because of individuals who bring their teaching gifts to equip the people.
Through courses such as the Biblical Studies Programme, Kids in the Book, Crown Financials and Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, these volunteers impart their knowledge and skills to others, enabling them to understand and apply the Bible in various aspects of their lives. Others, including senior figures in local churches and seminaries, also volunteer in our International Bible Experiences’ Bible Land Tours as Spiritual Directors. Through their guidance, many participants gained a deeper understanding of God’s person and plan in His Word as they toured the lands of the Bible.
Apart from the roles of leading and teaching, many of our Sowers-in-Action contribute to the Bible Mission through their gifts and acts of service. These volunteers generously avail themselves of their time and energy, coming forward eagerly to contribute in whatever ways they could.
Some of them bring their specialised skills in areas such as information technology, photography, editorial and design, helping the Society to be always up to date in this technological and social-media savvy age. Others help in areas such as data entry, registration, managing book tables at various events, and packing and mass-mailing the Society’s various publications and materials. One such group of volunteers has even been doing so faithfully for almost 30 years!
Many Gifts, One Purpose
In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul tells us that the one true God endows various gifts and services on His people “for the common good”. This is especially so in the sustenance and growth of the Bible Mission in Singapore. From its beginning to its present, faithful men and women freely contributed what they have been given, great or small, for the purpose of making the Word of God known to all peoples. Some of their roles and contributions may seem mundane, but their service and self-sacrifice are integral to the whole of the mission, and definitely not hidden from God’s sight.
As we praise God for sustaining and growing the Bible Mission in Singapore these past 180 years, we also thank Him for all these unsung heroes through whom He has greatly blessed the Society and the community. As we reap what they laboured, we also enter into their labours, and invite you to join us in the great work of making the Word of God available, accessible and credible to all peoples.