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Starting small in Singapore

CMS missionaries Marty and Jenny Foord serve in Singapore, where Marty is the principal of the Evangelical Theological College of Asia (ETCAsia), and Jenny is Dean of Women. Here Jenny describes the exciting growth and impact of this Singaporean initiative. 

When we were first approached by a group of Singaporean pastors to join a start-up theological college, ETCAsia, we had many questions. These pastors were doing extraordinary work in their own churches, and some have experienced breathtaking growth. Surely they didn’t need our help? 

A thoughtful Singaporean initiative 

But we found that these pastors had thought matters through very carefully. They had spent the better part of 15 years praying and planning for a college like ETCAsia—an evangelical college where future ministry workers could train locally in Singapore, rather than in Australia or the UK. And yes, they did want Singaporeans to run the college—eventually. Their prayer remains that in time, God will raise up godly, gifted local ministry workers to lead the college.

Therefore we see ourselves as interim workers who are praying that God will put us out of our task here in Singapore!  

Wonderfully, we are already seeing this happening. Our Greek lecturer is a recent graduate of ETCAsia. In 2023 another Singaporean will join the faculty as a New Testament lecturer after completing his PhD. Other students show enormous promise as potential future faculty members.  

Also, like many Singaporean Christians, the pastors who founded the college are passionate about outreach to surrounding Asian countries. They pray and hope that the college will become a training centre not just for Singapore, but also for near neighbours in Asia. This academic year we will have a student joining us from Vietnam and another from Hong Kong, as well as local Singaporeans.  

Staff and students at ETCAsia.

Challenges greatly outweighed by encouragements 

At the same time, we cannot pretend that it’s all been smooth sailing. Start-up theological colleges can be fragile in finances, reputation, and many other ways. We currently have a small faculty, a very small administration staff, and we can barely fit into our tiny premises. These are humble beginnings.  

But in God’s mercy, the encouragements have vastly outweighed the challenges. Outgrowing our facilities is a great problem to have! Over the past six years since the college opened, God has grown our student body. New students have continued to enrol, even in the last two years of the pandemic.  

Godly students in hard situations 

Another praise point is that our students are godly and faithful. Many of them come from non-Christian homes and have faced all kinds of difficulties in trying to live out their faith. For example, some are expected to participate in ancestor worship rituals, but as Christians, they cannot worship anyone but the one true God.  

We recently heard how one of our older students gently guided a younger student in dealing with family expectations of ancestor worship at her uncle’s funeral. It would normally be expected that she would participate in the ancestor worship rituals. To not do so would seem extremely offensive and disrespectful. The older student advised the younger to make herself as helpful as possible in caring for her relatives over the five-day funeral, by serving the food and drinks, and making sure everyone was comfortable, and suggested that it might be good to offer a financial contribution for her deceased uncle’s medical bills.  

The aim was to be a good witness for Christ, and her conduct was noticed and appreciated by the older generation. Thankfully, it also lessened the backlash. Even though the family observed that she didn’t participate in the ancestor worship rituals, they commented on how helpful she was and started asking why the other young people weren’t being so helpful! No one criticised her for holding to the Christian faith, which is what can often happen in these situations. In areas like this, and in many other ways, our students teach and inspire us. We are learning much about the difficulties that Singaporean Christians can face. 

Reaching the region 

Another great encouragement is our alumni. ETCAsia now has two (soon to be three) graduate cohorts. One graduate has recently returned to Myanmar with his wife, where he is now the principal of a Christian training college. They are facing considerable danger during this time of unrest but have never wavered from their goal of serving Christ in their home country. Other alumni are currently working as pastors, youth workers, children’s workers, women’s workers, and campus workers here in Singapore. Another has very recently moved to Cambodia as a missionary. Our soon-to-be third group of graduates includes two congregational pastors, a church planter, a women’s worker, and a missionary to Japan.  

Tailoring ministry to the context 

Since we arrived, we’ve been challenged to tailor every part of our ministry to the local context, whether we are serving at the college, or at a local church, or meeting with a campus group. Every workshop, Q&A session, or pastoral conversation needs to fit the contours of the local life. Every sermon and lecture needs to be shaped and applied in a way that is relevant and culturally sensitive to the lives and struggles of Christians in Asia. Serving cross-culturally is a privilege, but it’s also very humbling! As outsiders, we are and always will be learners of this culture. 

We thank God for each student and graduate, and pray that our Father will continue to raise up many more workers for his harvest fields here in Asia.

GIVE

You can support the ministry of the Foords and other CMS missionaries by prayer and regular financial giving. Go to give.cms.org.au to play a part in what God is doing in Singapore and beyond.

Read more online

Read more about the Evangelical Theological College of Asia on their website.