Post-9/11, Singapore pastor fights fear with faith

Pastor Christopher Chia was part of a dialogue with community and religious leaders that eventually led to the formation of the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.
Pastor Christopher Chia was part of a dialogue with community and religious leaders that eventually led to the formation of the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Pastor Christopher Chia found himself in a dangerous situation in the aftermath of Sept 11, 2001 - his safety could not be guaranteed.

A foreigner attending his Adam Road Presbyterian Church had been aggressively attempting to evangelise local Muslims, and even travelled to a neighbouring country's capital to give out pamphlets calling on Muslims to believe in Christianity instead.

"This totally misrepresented our church's stance," the Reverend Chia, 62, says. "We believe in sharing Jesus as much as we can, but we totally disagree with how he did it."

The Singapore authorities then paid a visit to Rev Chia at his house. "They were concerned that this foreigner's views might be misunderstood by radical Muslim quarters as my personal or our church's views, and alerted me to the danger of lone wolf attacks on me and my family or church," he recalls.

"I walked around more fearful for my young children, aged mother and fledgling church."

Turning to his faith for solace, Rev Chia says, taught him a liberating truth. "We cannot live with less fears in our imperfect world, but we can learn to fear less. If we allow fear to stalk us, we become victims. If we face our fears by faith, we become victors."

He remembers staying up with the TV kept on all night as the catastrophe unfolded in New York. "It was totally surreal. Was this a movie? A hoax? It was horrific seeing the replays," he says.

"My son still remembers going to school the next day, and it seemed the world had changed. There was such a dark cloud over everyone. The mood was that of gloom and doom."

The pastor was part of a subsequent dialogue with community and religious leaders - convened by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong - that eventually led to the formation of the grassroots Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.

"It was to prevent religious adherents (from) taking things into their own hands. We were called to cool the temperatures of our congregations, calm the nerves of our flocks, prevent any religious vigilante corps and sectarian responses," says Rev Chia of the session with Mr Goh. "Things were so fragile and on tenterhooks all around."

He recalls churches assigning members to be on the lookout during services, and some Christian leaders even opting to remove their profiles from church websites for fear of being targeted.

Amid the fear and paranoia induced by terror attacks around the world since, it is important that Singaporeans not take the country's peace for granted, says Rev Chia.

"We cannot eradicate wars and terrorism. There will come another source or cause for another bout of global fear - this Covid-19 pandemic is our latest example - but we can mitigate these," he adds.

"Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is the presence of goodwill between neighbours - and each of us is capable of sharing a small dose of peace each day."