The Impact of a Uniquely Singaporean Chinese Student Ministry
My first encounter with campus fellowship started even before I entered the university. In 1962 Dr Choong Chee Pang, then Nanyang University Christian Fellowship (NUCF) member, encouraged and managed to persuade a few Chinese-speaking youth like me to attend the FES Annual Conference at Port Dickson. Little did I realise that the conference paved the way for my life-long involvement and conviction in student ministry. At the conference, I was amazed by how fervently the students in the CF studied the Bible and how biblically sound the speaker’s talks and expositions were. This first encounter put an indelibly edifying memory in me.
I enrolled in Nanyang University in 1965 and immediately joined the NUCF. Almost all of us NUCFers stayed in the campus hostels then. So, in addition to regular Sunday evening fellowship meetings, I vividly remember that we had plenty of time together discussing life and faith matters over meals, group bible studies, and prayer meetings in our dormitory rooms. The bonding among us being deep and strong, no doubt helped in the sense of “trapping” us in a secluded Nanyang campus with poor and inconvenient access to transportation at that time.
I only discovered much later that we, the Christian students, were not the only Christians around on campus. There were also numerous Christian lecturers and professors who stayed in the campus dormitories. Not only did they frequently attend our gatherings, they also occasionally opened their homes to us and provided us an oasis for delicious home-cooked food. More importantly, their hospitality provided us the space for intentional soul care and encouragement for each other. At the same time, they became a living embodiment for us by demonstrating what a Christian life of work, family, and ministry would and should look like.
Looking back, my time in NUCF was indeed one of the best periods in my life.
Upon graduation, I became more involved with the NU Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (NUGCF) which has been instrumental in shaping the Chinese churches in Singapore for the last five decades.
In 1997, for example, NUGCF started mission work with refugee villages in Northern Thailand where people were able to communicate in Chinese (Mandarin). It prompted some of us to reach out and serve them. We began with short trips, quickly followed by more meetings and discussions. We then started one mission school for kindergarten-age children there. By God’s grace, the NUGCF managed to set up three kindergartens over the years and sustained this ministry up till 2016. Since then, as we believe in indigenous ownership and management, we handed over the whole operation of these schools to the locals. I believe that this is one little thing graduates could do to participate with God in world mission.
Lastly, it must be noted that there was no question of the relevance and impact of the Chinese-speaking ministry in the 1960s, particularly in NU where courses were taught in Chinese. In recent times however, many people have asked me if Chinese-speaking ministry is still relevant and makes any difference given how campus students mainly read, study, and speak in English today.
I would unequivocally say it is still much needed so long as the Chinese-speaking student ministry is aware of the following. First, it must be more intentionally missional, especially in reaching out and serving the increasing number of Chinese-speaking international students in the campus (i.e. students from China and Malaysia). God has brought them to our shore and Chinese is the language of their heart. Second, the Chinese-speaking student ministry must remain the platform to challenge the local students to embrace the identity of a uniquely Singaporean Chinese Christian, who lives out their Christian life worthy of the gospel of Christ, not just as an import from the English-speaking world, but also grown out of and shaped by local Chinese distinctiveness.
David Wang Mei Hsiong joined Nanyang University (NU) in 1965 and graduated in 1969. He was the principal of various schools: Chai Chee Secondary School (1985-1989), Presbyterian High School (1990-1995), Cluster Superintendant MOE (1996-2001) and Anglican High School (2002-2004). David also served as the Chair of NU Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (NUGCF) in various years from 1971 to 2007.