Remembering Dr Bobby Sng
By Tong Suit Chee
Dr Bobby Sng, who served as Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (GCF) Graduate Secretary from 1978–1981 and 1989-1992 was called home to the Lord on Monday 14 October 2019 at the age of 83.
Many of us who knew him through his decades of service in student and graduate ministries, and para-church organisations, as well as a Christian stateman will miss him dearly. He was widely acknowledged as having had a key influence on generations of evangelical Christians in Singapore.
Since he first started serving in Christian ministry a year after he graduated as a doctor in 1962, Dr Sng also became the general secretary of the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES), and president of the Bible Society of Singapore. He also sat on various boards and councils of many Christian organisations such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore, Overseas Missionary Fellowship (Singapore), Scripture Union (Singapore), St Luke’s Hospital, and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.
Dr Sng has been associated with GCF since 1962 when he was first elected to the executive committee. In GCF, he played a significant role in its many activities, especially in the setting up of St Luke’s Hospital and the purchase of the premises at North Bridge Centre. He has written many books including In His Good Time – The Story of the Church in Singapore (first two editions published by GCF and the third edition GCF co-published with the Bible Society of Singapore). The following are tributes from previous GCF presidents and a GCFer, who has worked with him for many years.
A very hard-working co-worker in the Lord
It was in 1964 when I first met Dr Bobby Sng. He was already running a clinic in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia where the GCF/FES were holding their combined annual conference that year. I attended the conference with my family. My six-month old younger son was taken ill and God providentially sent Dr Sng to the conference where he prescribed some medicine for my son’s illness.
Our friendship was established when Bobby returned to Singapore in 1969 to assume the appointment of general secretary of FES. As we are both members of GCF, we had regular fellowship through meetings and annual conferences, either in Cameron Highlands or Fraser Hills in Malaysia.
I had greatly benefitted from the sharing by Bobby at GCF Spiren meetings, where he was a regular speaker. His sharing was usually based on his personal experience of biblical truths and knowledge of church history. They were insightful and edifying. I remembered one afternoon when he called me for clarification of a certain term relating to the building industry as he wanted to use it as an illustration in a talk that he was preparing. This incident gave me the impression that Bobby was careful and thorough in his messages that he gave.
When Bobby became Graduate Secretary, 1978-81 and 1988-92, I was also the GCF president about almost the same time. It was during this period that I found Bobby as a very hard-working co-worker in the Lord. My experience of working with him was at the initial search for the premises for the Graduates’ City Centre, which became a reality in 1988. Another time was when GCF conceived the idea of a Christian nursing home for the aged and I was involved in the building project. In both these instances, Bobby was in the forefront of action.
The ministry of GCF and student work had truly been blessed by the invaluable contribution of Bobby’s services. He had been the driving force in many of GCF projects. All that this servant of God had done, he did it for the Lord, who is his saviour and master.
By Kok Siew Hoong (GCF president — 1976/77 to 1978/79, 1987/88, 1988/89)
Appealing leader & engaging Bible expositor
Bobby was ten years my senior. When I knew him in my late twenties, a decade seemed like a generation. He was my “Big Brother”. My Christianity was nurtured mainly amongst peers in church. It was only on joining the GCF that I had fellowship with many more mature Christian professionals. Together, we searched Scripture to contend with many issues that confronted our faith — marriage and divorce, abortion, the sanctity of life, and the Charismatic Movement.
Bobby wrote the book, In His Good Time – the Story of the Church in Singapore, since the founding of Singapore by Stamford Raffles in 1819. I read both his first and second editions. Truly, God was at work blessing the growth of the church with different waves of migrants from China and India in search of a better way of life. For the author, it was no easy task to research through archives from different sources and interview elderly church leaders to build a collective memory of the church in Singapore. Contextualised in an anti-establishment era, it was Bobby’s book that sealed my fundamental love of the church. For every generation, an update of God’s story of our Singapore church will be a national blessing.
Essentially, Bobby did not believe in mentoring. With his respect for “individual sovereignty”, he preferred to teach and expound the word of God faithfully that we become servants and disciples of Christ. When my company was holding a weekly Bible study in the office in the city, he was there to help us. Whether in our GCF, committee or Spiren meetings, many of us were eager to hear his exposition of Scripture. We knew his teachings had been refined by wisdom and maturity. He handled contentious or “out of bound” issues with integrity and clarity of thinking. With his understanding of Scripture and macro worldview, his leadership was more appealing than assertive. He engaged us to think biblically.
God certainly led him to initiate the founding of St Luke’s Hospital by inviting five major church denominations to participate while GCF was to be the coordinating sponsor of this project. When I was GCF president and with Bobby’s encouragement, we were able to purchase our own centre at North Bridge Road. Today, the centre has become a city meeting point for many of our fellowship meetings and is where the premises of the GCF and FES offices are now located.
Now in my seventies and his eighties, the age gap is no longer so daunting. My wife and I value Bobby and Ivy as our dear friends and certainly, Bobby as my mentor. We will dearly miss him.
By Lim Hua Min (GCF president 1979/80 to 1981/82)
A mentor-in-chief to GCFers
I first heard of Dr Sng as a child on a family holiday in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. When I was a young boy, our holidays consisted of road trips to Malaysia. Dad was a civil servant who was entitled to ballot for a place in Cluny House in Cameron Highlands. On one of these holidays, I remembered my parents announcing that we would be attending Sunday service at the chapel where Bobby Sng used to preach. Dad explained to me that Dr Sng was an exceptional expositor, who was a missionary in Cameron Highlands.
As a young man in the Overseas Christian Fellowship in Wellington, New Zealand, we were constantly reminded that our role was to go back join our respective graduate fellowships to minister as working adults. We heard of what Dr Sng was doing in the Singapore GCF through the visiting leaders from the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), where he was accepted as one of the leaders of the movement in Asia.
I joined the GCF in 1995 when I returned to Singapore after university. Soon after, I served on the GCF executive committee and for a period of five years, served as its president.
Dr Sng was a man of godly wisdom, vision and gentleness to whom all of us in the GCF owe our gratitude. We are reminded of his achievements as a pastor, writer and para-church leader but for me, the overwhelming impression of Dr Sng was as the mentor-in-chief to all of us in the GCF. I would go to him when I faced difficult issues and needed guidance and direction. He would always listen intently to me even though I was always one of many seeking his advice after a meeting or over dinner. His response was always measured and succinct but he tended not to answer my questions. Dr Sng would instead respond with a comment on doctrine or from the Bible. His insights often revealed his love for people and his commitment to the word of God. He was never afraid of upholding biblical truths even if it meant going against accepted norms, inside or outside of the church.
We will miss Dr Sng but are comforted that he is in the hands of our Father, whom he served so faithfully in life.
By Timothy Goh (GCF president 2002/03 to 2006/07)
A listener and an encourager
I have many fond and special memories of Dr Sng. One of my earliest memories was my chat with him at the University of Singapore campus at Kent Ridge in 1979. I was the newly elected VCF executive committee chairman (1979/80) and he asked to chat with me after a VCF lunchtime meeting which we had invited him to speak at.
Although Dr Sng was the FES general secretary then, a highly regarded and well-respected Christian leader, speaker and Bible teacher; he treated me not as a young Christian student but as a co-worker in the student ministry. He did not talk down to me or dish out unsolicited advice. He asked and listened to me. He asked how I was doing as the VCF chairman and about the VCF. He encouraged me when I shared about my sense of inadequacy as the chairman. He helped me think through the issues when I sought his advice on them.
I do not remember much about what we talked about that day in 1979, but I have always remembered how he made me feel. I felt listened to. I felt encouraged. I felt affirmed. I felt helped. That was 40 years ago and all these four decades, I continued to feel listened to, encouraged, affirmed and helped whenever I met with him for chats and fellowship.
A few years ago, when I was struggling with a serious issue with a ministry co-worker, I spoke to him and he agreed to mediate between the person and me. Despite his deteriorating health, he offered to help and met with both of us together. And again, he listened and sought to help us clarify our misunderstanding and to agree on a way forward. I am deeply grateful to Dr Sng for his love and concerns for me, for his prayers and encouragement on this issue, and for all the help he has given me all these years. I will miss Dr Sng and his encouragement and wisdom, and his reassuring presence and fellowship.
By Kua Wee Seng (GCFer, former FES associate staffworker from early to mid-1980s when Dr Sng was the FES general secretary, GCF executive committee member in early 1980s when Dr Sng was the Graduate Secretary. Served together in the Bible Society of Singapore’s executive committee from mid-1990s)