Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the Bible Society of Singapore’s 200th Anniversary Bible Mission Banquet

Source from Ministry of National Development, 2023: Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the Bible Society of Singapore’s 200th Anniversary Bible Mission Banquet (mnd.gov.sg)

Good evening! It is my pleasure and privilege to congratulate the Bible Society of Singapore on this key milestone – 200 years of the Bible Mission here in Singapore and the 186th anniversary of your official registration. I am glad to be here tonight, with Christian leaders from different parts of the world and our interfaith leaders, to commemorate and celebrate with the Bible Society on this historic and significant occasion. I had the privilege of joining some of you at Bible House for the ETHOS Conversation back in 2019. It is good to join you again.

The history and legacy of the Bible Society have been closely intertwined with Singapore’s history. Having founded Bible Societies in Java and Sumatra, the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, was a strong advocate of setting up a bible mission in Singapore since our founding. In 1823, his friend, Dr. Robert Morrison, a missionary and bible translator, started the Bible Mission by distributing 1,000 copies of the Chinese New Testament to the migrant communities in Singapore. 

200 years on, the Bible Society of Singapore continues to play a pivotal role on both the local and global stage. In addition to your efforts in printing and distributing bibles, you also made a significant impact by providing care and support for those in need. In fact, the videos that you played show the work you have been doing in the most difficult parts of the world today in troubling times. You have extended your humanitarian missions to countries such as Türkiye, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, amongst others, demonstrating your commitment to global outreach.

Closer to home, you provided much-needed support and care to vulnerable communities in Singapore, through your community service arm, SowCare. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you were one of the first few organisations to respond to the Government’s urgent call to provide Safe, Sound, Sleeping Places (S3P) for the homeless and rough sleepers, and those who were displaced because of the pandemic. Since then, SowCare has been operating a temporary shelter at Bible House at Armenian Street, where the homeless and our rough sleepers can enjoy a good night’s sleep and tend to their basic needs, while agencies work together to help provide them with more stable living environments.

In Singapore, we are a secular state with a multiracial and multireligious society. The role of religious organisations in society is important. The idea of S3P is to provide temporary shelter to those who need respite. Religious organisations – Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Taoist, Buddhist, and interfaith – all faiths are providing that alongside secular organisations, working together with the government and social service agencies.

The sustained and extensive community efforts are testament to the important role that religious organisations in Singapore can play in our community, and to partner us in uplifting the lower-income and the vulnerable in our society. One way to do this is by joining us in Community Link, or ComLink for short. Through ComLink, we seek to tackle inequality in a way that is quite different from the past, and how we see people have done all around the world. Through ComLink, we make good use as custodians of data. We work with befrienders to proactively reach out to families with children who are residing in rental flats.

For the benefit of our foreign friends, rental flats are provided by the government at subsidies rates for those who have no other housing options. They are the minority in Singapore because 90% of our people own their homes, and 80% live in public housing.

We use the data that we are the custodians of. With consent, we reach out to 15,000 families with children who are living in our rental flats. Our befrienders work with them on the action plan in order for us to provide more holistic support to fulfill their needs and aspirations, while honouring and respecting their choices. We certainly need more volunteers who can connect to each and every one of these ComLink families, because we customise a plan of action along with each and every one of these families. And only then do we pull in all the government agencies, secular and religious organisations, to provide support in furthering each of these plans, as opposed to what has always been the way we do it, which is the other way around.

So we need more volunteers to help us, and tonight, with the whole Bible Society here and our friends from interfaith, this is a call-out for action. I hope that more religious organisations, including churches, can encourage your members to contribute their time, energy, and expertise in supporting, befriending, and journeying with these families. You can also contribute by running programmes for these families and providing funding as well as in-kind donations.

Religious organisations can partner us to support these efforts. Together with other social service agencies, religious organisations are in a unique position to establish relationships and foster trust with these families within our community. You are not simply a place of worship, but also a place of refuge, and a safe space for people to find a listening ear and seek help in times of need. I hope that more religious organisations can work with our social service agencies in respective towns. Your ideas, local knowledge, and ability to organise and mobilise resources and manpower will be invaluable as we step-up efforts to support these families.

Religion and religious organisations play an important role in strengthening the social fabric in our multicultural and multireligious society, and the government has been working closely with religious organisations to support these efforts. We recently announced a revised land allocation and pricing framework for Place of Worship land. Under the revised framework, new Place of Worship sites will be allocated through a balloting exercise instead of a price bidding tender process. The price of the sites will be determined by the Chief Valuer based on its fair market value, referencing the price of Places of Worship land that had not been subjected to tender before. The new framework is meant to give greater assurance to religious organisations in Singapore, so that you can focus on serving the community.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Bible Society for being an active supporter and contributor to our ongoing efforts to strengthen bonds among different faith groups and communities. Over the years, you have helped to build a cohesive and resilient society here by collaborating with other grassroots organisations and religious communities. For example, you worked with partners such as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore to discuss avenues for interfaith dialogue and collaboration. You are also active in our Racial and Religious Harmony Circles, which serves as an important bridge between religious, ethnic and community groups at the grassroots ground level.

In closing, I would like to thank the Bible Society for your contribution to society throughout the past 200 years. I hope that you can continue your good work for many more years to come.

Congratulations once again, and I wish all of you a wonderful evening ahead. Thank you.