Embracing the strangers in our midst

On Wednesday during one of our regular Healing On The Streets (HOTS) outreaches, a friend and I were returning for a debriefing session at Plaza Singapura McDonald’s with the rest of the group. We were stopped outside Macs at the Vardi & Migdal booth by a saleslady named Tom (yes, a lady!) to try their Dead Sea products. This is one of the many Israeli companies selling their Dead Sea products in Singapore. After chatting a while about the products, we asked if she had any pain in her body. She was curious why we asked her that and we told her that we pray for people and God heals. We managed to pray for some rash or something on her hand and also that God will bless her with great sales the rest of the week – these people earn on commission. In all, we had a nice 10-15 minutes chat with her and I left her my contact, promising to introduce her to my Singaporean friends.

In June, another friend and I were stopped at Funan Centre by a saleslady from the Sea of Spa shopping cart (outside Polar) selling Jericho Dead Sea products. We chatted for about 20 minutes – about the products, Israel, etc – as she got us to try the products. My friend, a missionary, could not afford the products which were quite expensive. After the long talk, I didn’t really want to buy the products either because they were expensive. However, I also felt bad for taking up so much of her time – although I shouldn’t have felt bad about it! In the end I bought some stuff. We continued to chat with her and her guy colleague about their life in Singapore. We ended up praying for them too. The guy asked us to pray for his mother who is ill and so we did and also prayed for good sales for them. We invited them to church and they invited us to attend a Synagogue (although they are not devout Jews). I’m praying and hoping that this will take place as I know they are pretty busy with work.

These people work about 6 days a week for quite long hours each day. This is like an overseas work experience for them. Each would probably stay about 6 months or so. And they live together in a place with their colleagues. They get one day off a week (which is not fixed on any particular day), but they probably use that day to take a rest from the tiring week.

Since I’ve been involved in outreach to international students the past few years, this group of people caught my attention. They’re not studying here, but they are similar to the many international students in that they are young adults and they are not really assimilated into the Singaporean society. Like many international students here, most of these Israelis would not have any/many Singaporean friends – partly because they live with other Israelis and they hardly have time to have much of a social life as they work long hours.

They are the strangers in our midst: the young Jews selling Dead Sea products, international students studying in Singapore or low-income migrant workers here to earn money. God has brought the mission field to our doorstep and there are tons of foreigners out there who would love to get to know more Singaporeans. Because of the situation they are in – be it needing to work too long hours, having no/few contact point with Singaporeans or Singaporeans not accepting of them (low-income migrant workers) – it’s hard for them to get to know Singaporeans. Because this is our country, the onus is on us to be the ones to take the first step to show hospitality to them. Invite them to get to know our circle of friends – most would be totally delighted if we were to extend a welcoming hand to them. Those of us who have lived overseas before know how difficult it can be to get to know the local people.

There are about 100,000 (our government aims for 150,000 by 2015) international students in Singapore, most of them being young adults studying in private schools where there are few Singaporeans studying. Most, therefore, do not have close Singaporean friends and are very open to friendships. There are more than 1 million foreign workers in Singapore. About 250,000 are in the construction industry, which basically means they don’t really have Singaporean friends – except maybe their bosses or supervisors. Probably another 250,000 to half a million of these foreign workers are low-class/low-income workers in other sectors, which also means that they probably won’t have any Singaporean friends because we just don’t associate with them for various reasons.

Unlike many locals who have heard the gospel one too many times, many of these people may not have heard the gospel before. They are much more open to the gospel because they are in a new land and they welcome local friendships enormously. My heart is especially for the low-income migrant workers, especially the construction workers from South Asia. I’ve talked to many over the past few months and they are so open and friendly. Nowadays, I often pass construction sites and ask them if they have any pain or sickness. It’s such a joy to start a conversation with them. If only I could speak their language (most can speak basic conversational English but would be more comfortable in their mother tongue), I would definitely spend much more time reaching out to them.

For Christians who have a heart for the nation of Israel and pray a lot for them, how about going beyond praying for them to showing hospitality to many of these young Israelis all over Singapore. Embrace them, invite them out and if possible share Christ’s love with them. There are many of such stalls in shopping malls filled with Israelis. And I know there are many Christian groups that believe strongly in praying for Israel and also many Christian groups that visit Israel. I’m generally not into all this as too many of these groups are unconsciously tied to right-wing political agendas and I think money could be much better spent than going on a holiday to Israel! That’s my personal opinion that everyone is entitled to if they so desire. But regardless, wouldn’t it be great if these same Christians who are so passionate about praying for or visiting Israel come together to befriend and welcome these young Israelis in our midst! Personally, I think God would be much more pleased with us actually spending time with them, befriending them and reaching out to these Jews, than if we were to only pray for them or visit the Holy Land.

Anyway, we’re living in a really exciting time in Singapore. It’s only in the past 5-10 years that we’ve seen a huge influx of migrant workers and international students. I’m all for missions and I want to be a missionary overseas one day. But it’s exciting to be in Singapore now too. There are incredible opportunities to embrace the strangers in our midst and demonstrate and share Christ’s love with them. And you may just live a missionary life vicariously through the lives you touch in Singapore, for when these people return to their homeland they will be your missionaries – and a better one than any of us could ever be!

Comments

  1. Amen brother! NZ churches are very active reaching out to international students and a large number of them return home with faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed the mission is coming to the nations!

  2. heyyy! wow yes i so agree! Foreigners need friendly and warm Singaporeans to extend a helping hand…………it helps so much when the locals are helpful and nice, I should know abt that! :P and what you are doing is really amazing!!!! I really want to encourage you to continue pressing in………continue praying for the dead until they get raised!! Don’t give up!!!! =D Please keep me updated!!

  3. As an Israeli mother of two soldiers who are just finishing up their Army service now, and are considering selling Dead Sea products overseas to save some money for their eduction, I was quite taken aback by this post.
    You start off nicely by encouraging Christians in Singapore to extend hospitality to our children. That’s a lovely idea and, as you presumably know from Genesis, one who blesses Abraham’s people will be blessed, and vice versa.
    But you then proceed to stress the attempt to convert our children to Christianity! Not only is that extremely offensive in and of itself, but do you have ANY idea how it feels to be warmly befriended by someone, invited to their home, only to discover that their underlying motive was to try to convert you?! (I do, and believe me, it’s unbelievably hurtful and insulting).
    We Jews have struggled through 2,000 years of exile and (primarily Christian) persecution, “topped off’ by the Holocaust which killed 1/3 of our people. We now finally, through the grace of G-d and in fulfillment of numerous biblical prophecies, returned home to Israel.
    Let us surviving remnants be! If you truly love us as you claim, accept and bless us as we are. If not, your idea of “blessing” us is in fact cursing us –spitting in the face of those few who have managed to survive as Jews through the long, cruel exile and finally make it home.
    If you can leave the missionizing materials and intent at home, please DO come visit us in Israel — it’s a beautiful country and of course the Holy Land for us all. But if you cannot or will not stop trying to “save” us, then please stay home — and stay away from our children. They’re all we have left.
    And I assure you: we don’t missionize and we will never bother you or your children.
    Do onto others as you would have them do to you.

    • Dear Sarah, thank you for your comments. I am certainly against any form of persecution against the Jewish people – against any kind of people, for that matter. The Jewish people have definitely suffered a lot – more than any in the world – and I’m sure people outside of your community would not have a clue as to what your people have gone through.

      I know you would not agree with it, but Christianity is a missionary religion – unlike Judaism. I understand that this may not be acceptable to many people and other religions. I don’t think I can apologize for that but be assured that I am firmly against befriending and blessing people merely for the purpose of converting them. I think that’s something we’d wish to happen (conversion, that is), but we definitely can’t convert them and are definitely against forcing them to convert. The best we can do, as Christians, is share God’s love with everyone through our actions and also share the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We believe in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with them sensitively. We don’t always succeed in doing that, to be sure. The Church of Jesus Christ is not perfect and has committed a lot of wrong – and still do.

      For me, I don’t believe in forcing the gospel down people’s throats. However, I do believe in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. If they come to accept God’s love for them in Christ, that’s great. If not, I don’t believe we should treat them any differently than if they were to become Christians – because God loves them and wants us to love them whether they become Christians or not. We ought to care for them as people and fellow wonderful creations of God, not just as a potential convert. There should never be strings attached to the love we Christians ought to show the world.

  4. We don’t treat the construction foreign workers very nicely and often less than human. It is also a dirty, noisy and dangerous industry. There is little protection of basic rights and the system is open to abuse by construction firms – not paying them on time etc. It’s a question of basic social justice something that most Christians in Singapore would prefer to ignore and I don’t blame them because the issues are complex and sensitive.

  5. Hello everyone,

    With regards to Israel, please read this article aptly titled ‘Understanding Israel’:-

    http://www.onethingministries.net/understanding-israel/

    Many of us Christians have taken to reading our Bibles (especially the Old Testament) allegorically, for example, claiming the promises God made toward Israel for ourselves. But we the Gentile church are not Israel; otherwise Paul would not have made that distinction in the letter to the Romans.

    Consider the following. The last century has seen the mass returning of the Jewish people to the land God gave them together and the re-formation of the nation of Israel. In the last century, we have also seen an outpouring of the Spirit not seen since the book of Acts.

    Coincidence? Or something more?

    The prophet Joel spoke that ‘it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’ (Joel 2:28). After what? The text before is about the restoration Israel’s fortunes by the LORD.

    Food for thought?

  6. I have visited Israel with my wife twice and I will say that our first trip there was the best holiday we ever had!!! Not only was it meaningful and spiritual, it was so fun and exciting! I’ve read the Bible since I was a kid and I finally got to walk the land Jesus walked on. I saw the same sunrise He would have seen over the Sea of Galilee! I encourage anyone who loves the Word and Israel to visit the Holy Land. Do it at least once in your lifetime. Just go and bless the economy there as you have a great time there. I recommend omegatours,.com.sg or Sar-El tours.

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