Interview with Galven
More than forty years ago, Protestant Christianity in Singapore was turned upside down. Teenagers in schools broke out in tongues; institutions, such as St. Andrew’s Cathedral and Wesley Methodist Church, transformed into disorganised gatherings of Charismatic worship; and prayer and bible study groups burgeoned along Shenton Way. Written by a father–son team, Unfolding His Story is the first book that meticulously documents the Charismatic Movement in Singapore.
We spoke to Galven Lee, an innovation executive with a telecommunications company, about this notable period that drastically changed the face of Christianity in Singapore. He shares more about how looking to the past informs us, Singaporean Christians, on what God could have in store for our nation in the future.
How did you get started with writing this book?
A series of providential events! I had to write a paper for an Independent Study Module in the National University of Singapore (NUS) one day. As I sat down to think about what I was interested to do — I wanted to do a Christian topic — it occurred to me that I could research more about the Charismatic era. I had heard a few stories, but didn’t know the full picture. I wanted to learn more about my spiritual heritage, and also because no one had already done it. After broaching this topic to my lecturer, she was not only interested in it, but had been praying for 10 years for more students to research on Christian topics!
My parents were also involved in the Charismatic movement; they were part of a “home group” that grew into a church. Thus, they had the network for me to tap upon, and it all fell together for this paper.
After writing this paper, I decided to continue pursuing research on the Charismatic movement and it soon led to 5 papers and an honours thesis, supervised by both Christian and non-Christian academics from NUS and the Australian National University (ANU), where I also studied. After all the effort, my parents thought about compiling all the research into a book, and the idea resonated with me. With the support of FGB Gatekeepers Singapore (FGB) and a publisher, this book came to pass.
What were the reasons for writing it?
As a second generation Christian in Singapore, I wanted to discover my personal spiritual heritage. I had grown up in the Anglican Church and superficially understood its theology and doctrines, but I did not necessarily understand why all these mattered in the larger picture — the ‘so what?’ question. For example, I pondered on the significance of the “charismatic” gifts.
I also wondered why Christianity in Singapore today has this profile: middle-class, English-speaking, and with more than half of us hailing from Pentecostal/Charismatic backgrounds. It isn’t always like this in other countries. There was little historical context provided for me to understand my identity — who I was and what made me a Singaporean Christian. Knowing how we got here, we can understand the bigger picture of how Christianity has developed in our nation and where we can go to next.
Apart from personal reasons, I also wanted to share with others this sense of possibility — a belief that if God had moved in Singapore in the past, He can do so again, at any given time. This is especially crucial, as based on current world events, we can easily feel hopeless about the future.
I really believed I had a responsibility to tell this story — God’s story in our nation — to help others understand who we are and get excited about God’s calling for us Christians in Singapore!
How did your father get involved with co-writing this book?
My father was a journalist with The Business Times and The Straits Times, and after leaving full-time journalism, he remained a correspondent for the Financial Times of London for a few years. He has an interest in writing and always dreamt of writing a book one day. He had thought of writing a finance-related book, as it was his area of expertise, but then the idea for this book came about.
He sees this book as chronicling God’s story in our nation for the benefit of Christians, and to pass it on to the next generation. He also wants to discern the times of Christianity in Singapore; he believes that we have to move beyond evangelism, towards discipling and thinking about redeeming the culture for His Kingdom.
What is your idea of passing on to the next generation?
We often think of the connection between generations as the passing on of the baton from the older to the younger generation. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there is also the idea of the synergy of the generations. This means that the senior person does not retire, but instead mentors and disciples the younger person, and passing on wisdom while running alongside each other in service to God.
How do you personally relate this to God’s character?
God, Himself, is Trinitarian and as a result, He created family as the main institution. The most important relationships can be found in the family: husband–wife, parent–child. He has designed the family in this way — there needs to be a passing on of teaching and wisdom between the generations. The Son always sees what the Father is doing and follows.
In Jewish culture, there is a strong emphasis on the transmission of God’s word and laws. In contemporary culture, much of the parenting takes place from the mother. However, in Jewish culture, parenting, specifically teaching about God, is primarily seen to be the father’s role. This is something our culture has not been fully awakened to.
Do you feel that this is something God is bringing the local church to?
Probably globally too. But specific to Singapore, when we were expelled from Malaysia and gained accidental nationhood, we were, in a sense, orphaned. The future was highly uncertain and there was a crisis of identity, both in the spiritual (What does it mean to be Christian in Singapore?) and secular (What does it mean to be Singaporean?).
Many of our leaders — including Mr. Lee Kuan Yew — played the role of a father. When Mr. Lee passed away, my father made this observation: While Mr. Lee has often been seen as a disciplinarian and task master, when he passed away, many Singaporeans saw him as a father in their moment of grief. However, even though we have lost a father, God remains our eternal Father. The passing of one of our founding fathers points to our need of a father figure, and it is time to return to our Heavenly Father.
Maybe we have a new crisis of identity today; the direction to take is not necessarily clear. The world is so different from before, and our aspirations are vastly different from the previous generation. For Christians in Singapore, there exist also so many conflicting voices and fault lines.
I believe that we need a revival to galvanise a nation to unity and possibility — to be bold about our faith and to believe that God can and will work in a mighty way. We don’t have to be so afraid. The crucial way to resolve this crisis of identity is to know the Father. Once we know our identity as sons and daughters of the Father, then we can operate from a place of strength.
What does revival mean to you?
Revival is an intervention by God that is often disruptive. It is typically radical and its purpose is to inject life and renew our understanding of who God is and what we can do as Christians, whether personally or communally.
Strictly speaking, revival implies that you were once alive. Revival therefore is for Christians, however the momentum of revival also brings non-believers to know Him. It also speaks about openness to God as it transcends our understanding of institutional structures. It makes us willing to let God work, sometimes even in different and strange ways.
When we think of Singapore, we think of us being the Antioch of Asia. What does our prophetic destiny mean to you?
In short, connections and convergence. Connections because Singapore is a hub for so many things, whether in finance, education, or maritime trade. Singapore being the Antioch of Asia does not mean that we only send out missionaries; in the larger sense, God is using our nation as a connecting point, a point of convergence, for numerous things.
When we, Christians, pay attention to this, then we can be Kingdom ambassadors aligned to this reality of connection and convergence. We will think, “How can I make use of the international, inter-industry, and interdisciplinary connections and convergences in Singapore to introduce Kingdom values and practices and the gospel to my personal life or organisation, with the wider impact of reaching the nations?” We need to expand our understanding of Singapore as the Antioch of Asia.
Personally, how does your destiny relate to the Antioch of Asia?
One of the themes of my life is “international.” I believe that God will involve me in activities with a global dimension. This ties in with many things I am involved in: At FGB, we’ve been discipling people overseas (in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, and Hong Kong), my girlfriend is currently living overseas, and I’m currently working on a digital product related to travel.
What is your dream for Singapore?
My dream is that we will continue to hold fast to our spiritual destiny, and continue to preserve and export godly values whilst remaining relevant to the times. I hope that young Christians — those under 40 years old — will recognise that our nation has a spiritual heritage that transcends many divides, whether theological or denominational, that can unite us to pursue God’s common purpose for Singapore. Understanding what has gone before, both good and bad, will also help us to act on our spiritual convictions in a passionate yet grounded manner. There shouldn’t be a distinction between the sacred and secular in terms of how we approach our life, work, and relationships. The Lordship of Christ needs to permeate all areas of our lives, then we can be living, authentic witnesses of the Kingdom in the coming revival.
God can and will work through us. He will bring another revival if we remain as willing channels, just like all those people did forty years ago.
The book Galven co-wrote with his father Georgie, Unfolding His Story: The Story of the Charismatic Movement in Singapore, can be purchased at most Christian bookstores, Kinokuya, and Select Books. If you know of anyone with a story to share about the Charismatic Movement, do contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org. They could include it in the next edition of the book.