Tracing God’s Hands in FES-GCF-OCF’s Relations

A reflection on FES-GCF-OCF’s relations through the years (1959-2019)

by Elder Dr Lawrence Chia

Was it simply coincidental or significantly providential that both the Fellowship of Evangelical Students Singapore (FES) and the Overseas Christian Fellowship in Australia (OCF) were established in 1959?  Expectedly, both FES and OCF celebrated in 2019, their respective 60th Anniversaries. 2019 also saw several special events in which members and friends of both FES and OCF were deeply involved. These included the General Assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in Indonesia and the World Transformation Conference in Melbourne.  

For us in Singapore, there was the nation-wide  ”Celebration of Hope”, which also marked the 40th Anniversary of the Billy Graham Crusade in Singapore in 1978 where several members of the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship Singapore (GCF) -the graduates’ counterpart of FES, and OCF had key roles. Interestingly, several of these OCF-ers had also participated in the Billy Graham Meetings in Australia in 1958 when they were students. Notably all the organisations referred to share similar doctrines (i.e. their Doctrinal Basis), values, and ethos such as Inter-denominational precepts and practice, involvement in evangelism and missions, stewardship and service.

Besides being a blessing to church and community, both FES and OCF have meant and done much for multitudes of individuals. While some of these heartening accounts have been written elsewhere, I am grateful that through this sharing, I can testify and pay tribute to the good work of both the FES and OCF. Many in Singapore may know, even recall, that from about the 1950’s, many students in our schools, colleges and tertiary institutes were helped to have a Bible-believing faith that they were convinced to be real and relevant. They were thus resolved that as they progress in their studies and careers they would be salt and light in a needy world they could contribute to. For quite a number of these, they found themselves alone and even isolated as society and even the church (keeping in mind the nominal / liberal church climate then) were not only non-sympathetic but adversarial regarding  their aspirations, beliefs and concerns. Suspicion, opposition and even hostility were common encounters.  

We can imagine how thankful and thrilled these returnees must have been to find like-minded Christians in FES circles. Besides providing the warm and close fellowship which they had experienced and treasured in their student days in OCF and their respective College or University CFs, the counsel and encouragement received from fellow members and especially seniors who have had similar experiences, were a tower of strength. These, of course, included prayer support – not common in church-life during those days. Thus, returnees in those crucial years found many like-minded Christians among the graduates of FES, who were also members of the GCF. Members of the various Christian Fellowships (CFs) affiliated to FES were encouraged upon graduation to join GCF. Additionally, in these circles, there were many much admired and much appreciated role-models who were both exemplary and inspiring in their lives, ministries and contributions to church, community and country.

While the thoughts, testimonies and tributes above would seem and sound glowing, the satisfying situations then could have turned out quite differently. Returnees from overseas were naturally drawn to one another and desired, even driven to stick together, keeping their close ties, bonds and sense of belonging, fostered by those formative years together overseas. Thus, settling back would be seamless and not a traumatic transition with awkward adjustments to new situations, colleagues and companions. Thus, several OCF-ers then were inclined, indeed tempted, to set up their own OCF Alumni.

Their high spirits, their desire to do what they believe needed to be done in the home situation would be driven by their deep convictions like “back in Australia we did it this way and we saw great results”

Some of us shudder to think of the many toes those keen, committed but insensitive (of course they would not be aware of this aspect or perception) returnees would have stepped on, Christians’ and non-Christians’ alike. Their attitudes, activities and actions would also have attracted the attention of our ever alert authorities and government to the great detriment of the Christian cause. It is in this very area that I feel our local grads have been such a great help. While many of us may have enjoyed the social and political climate in Australia, these were certainly very different from our respective situations in our Asian countries. I cannot sufficiently emphasize the role that GCF and FES played to help our Christians in Singapore adopt postures and positions, and thereby have a work and witness that have made government appreciate us. Even observers outside Singapore have wondered, even admired that in Singapore, state and church have a mutual respect and relationship that have seen both prosper and progress.

While we now can rightly resonate and rejoice with those happenings in those past crucial decades, we must ensure that we consolidate even as we celebrate. We can never thank and praise the Lord sufficiently for the privilege of seeing FES, GCF, and OCF being used in that amazing evangelical awakening, if not revival, with all the accompanying developments. Besides increasing awareness to show and share Christ’s love and gospel at home and abroad, GCF-ers and OCF-ers contributed to the establishing and strengthening of various para-church and other organizations. Due to space and scope constraints, we will only briefly cite groups like Scripture Union, ISCF, the Evangelical Alliance and its 2 key projects that flourish today as the National Day Service of Thanksgiving and GoForth through SCEM and then SCGM, the internationalisation of OMF with local Home Councils, setting up of DTC, and the change in theological climate in Trinity Theological College. Other areas include Keswick in Singapore, support for the Lausanne Movement, World Transformation and various Prayer movements. It was a joy to see our folks hunger increasingly for God’s word and theological education and many responding to the call of the Ministry and full-time service here and overseas, including as tent-makers and marketplace personnel.

GCF & OCFers at SU's Campsite in Batam
GCF & OCFers at SU’s Campsite in Batam (20 Feb 2023)

For those of us who have seen something of Singapore these past seventy even sixty years we must truly thank and praise the Lord for the privilege and joy He has given us, GCF and OCF to so contribute to Church, society and nation. We must continue to pray for our ever increasing discipleship and stewardship in partnership with fellow evangelicals. We must guard against complacency and compromise. While we rejoice in church growth there could be a lack of a proper concept of and concern for the body of Christ. This is where our respective background in our FES’s student groups and OCF could remind us of our enduring and endearing values of evangelicalism, inter-denominationalism and various healthy and balanced attitudes between church and para-church life and  work, social, societal and spiritual, professional and personal priorities.

On a different note, allow me to address those who do not see the relevance or even need for membership of GCF and its subscription. I believe identification is important. For busy lives in a busy Singapore, membership (through regular, systematic communication, conferences and camps, lectures and seminars, publications) makes it much easier to be involved in strategic alliances, winsome witness and work in an increasingly complex world with its confusion, competition and conflicts. The modest membership fees ($50 annually) could also be seen as a contribution to the Lord’s work in and through GCF. Many are disappointed, even disturbed by situations in countries where people had previously looked up to. This has caused many to look for an Asian voice. The Lord may expect Singapore to give the needful thought leadership and be that voice. If so, then GCF and OCF are called upon to respond to  “unto whom much has been given, from the same much is expected.”

Elder Dr Lawrence Chia is an active member of both GCF and OCF Alumni. He has been serving as the Vice-President of FES for almost 30 years. He is an Ordained Elder of the Presbyterian Church in Singapore, worshipping with the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church. He also served as a Professor and Special Advisor for the Faculty of Science of the National University of Singapore.

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