In June 1867, Josiah Spiers spoke to 15 children in a drawing-room in Islington, London, about Jesus Christ, thus pioneering a new approach to ministering to children.
In the summer of 1868, Spiers went on holiday to Llandudno in North Wales and spontaneously held a children’s meeting on the beach. He drew the text ‘God is Love’ in the sand, invited children to decorate it, then told them a Bible story. These meetings grew rapidly to become the Children’s Special Service Mission (CSSM), which later became the Scripture Union (SU) we know today. Meantime in South London, a British civil servant Tom Bishop who also had an interest in children's ministry, met Spiers in the spring of 1868. They were to work together for the next 40 years, establishing a ministry that remains relevant to our time.
In 1879, CSSM introduced a system of daily Bible reading for children. Initially, members received an annual membership card with a list of daily readings and suggestions for prayer. By 1893, CSSM had distributed 13 million children’s Bible notes leaflets in 50 languages around the world. Children’s magazines were also produced, with explanatory notes. Booklets of notes were also published for UK soldiers fighting in the trenches in the Great War (1914-18). After the war, adult Bible Daily Notes were published for adults generally from 1923, and the Notes were soon distributed abroad as well.
The first Christian Boys’ Camp was held in 1892 in Littlehampton England, led by Major Leibenrood, a veteran from the Zulu War (1879, South Africa). In 1880, the Caravan Mission to Village Children (CMVC) was started, using a baker’s cart to travel from village to village. The CMVC soon merged with CSSM, and later both names were dropped in the 1960s when Scripture Union (SU) became the unified name of the movement as a whole.
With societies stabilised and normalised after the Second World War (1939-1945), SU developed a new kind of ministry in state schools, called the Inter-School Christian Fellowship (ISCF). SU was warmly welcomed into schools, and this ministry made a lasting impact with children and youths not only in the UK but also in other countries. Pioneering and developing unique ministry has always been a feature of the SU movement and it continues today. Today, many national movements use internet applications to impact young lives for Jesus. The form and context may differ from country to country, and situation to situation, but the needs of children and young people remain the same everywhere.
(Photo: The movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ tells the story of Eric Liddell)
(Photo: David Adeney)
Scripture Union (SU) Singapore
SU Singapore started by the move of God’s hand. Paul Contento, an Italian American, and his wife, Maida Contento, a Scot, were missionaries serving with the China Inland Mission (CIM), and they had been stationed at the Chinese border with Mongolia. They had met in the mission field and were married in 1933 in Tientsin. Rev Eric Liddell, a co-worker at CIM. (Eric Liddell, as many might know, was the Olympic runner who chose to honour God by not running on a Sunday. The movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ tells the story of Eric Liddell.)
When the communists rose to power in post-war China in 1949, the Contento’s left China together with other missionaries. They were deployed as the first Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) missionaries from the new OMF missionary base in 2 Cluny Road, Singapore. Singapore had about 3% Christians then, from the earlier work of Rev John Sung and other missionaries.
Rev Paul Contento started the Inter-School Christian Fellowship (ISCF) in Singapore although he was involved in the Singapore Theological Seminary with Dr Calvin Chao. The ISCF was placed under Inter-varsity Fellowship (IVF) or Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES). Later, FES felt that it would be more appropriate for ISCF to be under SU. It was when Paul Contento handed ISCF to SU and even recommended Brother Charlie Tan to SU as a great worker for children. Through the ISCF and IVF, many Christian leaders were raised to lead local churches and para-church organisations.
(Photo: Elisabeth and Paul Contento with Prof Khoo Oon Teik)
History of SU Singapore:
1950 – SU reading notes ordered by a Bro Ralph Mitchell from Bethesda Church were distributed to Brethren assemblies and a few other churches in Singapore. Paul Contento used these daily notes to grow the spiritual lives of Singapore students at the many ISCF and IVF meetings.
1954 - Dr John Laird from SU England visited Singapore to speak at an Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) Chapel service, and at an SU Rally held at Raffles Institution in Bras Basah (where Raffles City is now located).
1955 – Dr Leon Dale from Australia (who was then teaching at the University of Singapore) initiated the first SU Singapore Committee.
1956 – Rev Lester Pfankuch (from New Zealand) was seconded to be the first ISCF staff worker in Singapore.
1957 – Mr Charlie Tan was introduced by Rev Paul Contento of OMF as SU Singapore’s honorary children’s staff worker.
1958 – Rev Tony McCutcheon was seconded from Melbourne to become the General Secretary of SU Singapore and the Federation of Malaya. Dr Khoo Oon Teik, a university professor, became the Chairman of the first SU Singapore Council in 1958 and served diligently till 1973.
1960s – The 1960s saw the building of SU as an organisation and her ministries in Singapore. In 1960 the first ANZEA Regional Council (consisting of SU movements of Australia, New Zealand and East Asia), was formed under the chairmanship of Mr Alan Kerr from Australia. This 1st Council met in Sydney. In May 1961, SU Singapore was officially registered as a Society with the Registry of Societies. By 1962, Singapore, together with Japan, joined Australia and New Zealand as full members of the ANZEA Council.
By 1960, Bible Reading Notes subscription in Singapore had increased to more than 3,000 (for English) and 600 (for Chinese notes). The ISCF ministry grew to 60 English speaking groups. Dr Prof Phoon Wai-On joined the SU Singapore Council and became the Chairman of the English Bible Reading Committee in 1963. At the same time, Elder Goh Ewe Kheng (who founded the Church of Singapore) became Chairman of the SU Chinese Committee. Under Elder Goh’s efforts, the Chinese ISCF grew to 25 groups in 1968.
The SU Book Centre, started by SU Singapore to meet the growing needs of Christian literature was opened in 1963. In 1965, the first SU Junior ISCF Committee was formed with Ms Kam Poh Kin, a teacher as Chairperson. In 1968, the very first SU Junior ISCF camp was organised.
1970s – Through the 1970s, SU Singapore grew in her camping ministries and the distribution of Christian material at the SU Bookshop. Mr Winston Yap was appointed the General Manager of SU Book Centre and he served until 1995. In 1972, SU Singapore moved to its present location at the Bible House, 7 Armenian Street. In 1972, the first SU campsite was dedicated at Wing Long Road, Changi. In 1978, SU obtained a 30-year lease from Sentosa Development Corporation for a campsite on the island, a disused British Army Barracks and grounds. The camping ministry working with educators impacted thousands of young lives for Christ, and hundreds of campers came to Christ at these children and youth camps. Many would recall their camping and salvation experience from the SU Campsite on Sentosa. Through the 1970s, SU Singapore assisted in the Billy Graham Crusades. Prof Phoon Wai-On became Chairman of SU Singapore after Dr Khoo Oon Teik’s retirement as Chair. At the staff level, Rev Alfred Yeo was General Secretary from March 1979.
1980s – The 1980s saw the fast expansion of SU Bookshop sales and the steady establishment of SU Children and Families Ministries (CHIFAM). On 19th June 1984, SU Singapore celebrated her 30th Anniversary. Mr Eric Chan became Chairman of SU Singapore in 1985. At the working level, Prof Freddy Boey stood in as Honorary General Secretary of SU Singapore till 1988 when he left for graduate studies in Melbourne.From 1988-1990, Mr Harry Cotter an Australian seconded from OMF, came to serve as Associate Director at SU Singapore. From The late 80s saw the need for SU to adjust her students’ ministry approach due to education policy changes disallowing the teaching of religion as an examinable subject and holding ISCF meetings inside the schools.
1990s – In August 1993, SU Sentosa Camp Centre hosted the 1st SU East Asia International Students camp, which brought together Christian student leaders from all over Asia, to foster a regional cohesion. SU Singapore’s 40th Anniversary was celebrated in May 1994, with The Reverend John Stott (a principal author of the Lausanne Covenant), as Speaker and Guest-of-Honour. Several Council Chairman leadership successions took place during this era: Mr Tan Soo Jin (1991-1993), Dr Douglas Kong (1994-1997), Elder Goh Ewe Kheng (1998-2000). At the staff level, Sister Mona Chia was appointed Executive Director of SU Singapore in 1991, and she remained until 1997. Bro David Leong took over from 1998-2011, and SU ministry partnerships grew deeper and wider, under his leading. To contribute to the growing number of SU movements in East Asia, Rev Alfred Yeo was elected to the SU East-Asia Regional Executive Committee from 1995 to 2004.
2000s – Prof Freddy Boey was elected SU Council Chairman from 2001-2005. SU Singapore partnered Psalty (the singing songbook) USA ministries to hold annual national events at the indoor stadium, with good support from many churches. In 2003 Maj (ret’d) Michael Wee was appointed Chief Executive Officer of SU Singapore, working alongside Mr David Leong, who had to focus on a growing portfolio of ministries. In 2006 Mr Jon Ong, a lawyer, was elected as SU Singapore as Chairman. He served till 2009. The late 2000s also saw a refreshing of council members and staff, as the baton passed to a younger generation, including the induction of 3 female leaders as council members and one female pastor, Pastor Flora Chew, as senior ministry staff. In 2007, Mr Jon Ong was elected Vice-Chairman of SU East and West Asia (SUEWA) Regional Executive Committee, where he served till 2017, mainly to build companion movements across Asia. The companionship concept bonded the Asian SU movements (which spanned Tokyo to Istanbul) as one big entity. In 2011, Mr Jon Ong was elected as the first Asian to serve on the SU Global Board (re-structured from the previous Executive Committee of SU International Council.)
2010s - Rev Alfred Yeo served as SU Singapore as Chairman from 2009-2014. He invited Sister Valerie Ong to manage the relocation of SU Singapore to St Andrews Village, and the re-occupation into modern offices and equipment at the new Bible House. At the regional level, Sister Valerie also spearheaded the planting and expansion of children clubs in Yangon to the river delta, when SU Myanmar became Singapore’s companion movement. SU Singapore expanded into specialist children and youth ministry education, with the 1st Certificate in Practical Children Ministry from 2011, 1st Certificate in Youth Ministry from 2013, and a certified programme of Walking with Wounded Children Certificate, from 2014. With more volunteers on board, SU Singapore started leading Biblical tours to Greece in 2018, for adults/youths seeking healthy Biblical adventures by walking the missionary steps of Apostle Paul through Greece. These programmes had good take-up rates. Helmed by SU Singapore's ministry specialists, the programmes are highly relevant to meet today’s specialist training, re-skilling, and upgrading needs of church workers and volunteers, and they enjoy the endorsement of pastors.
From 2015-2018 and since 2019, Bro Arnold Khoo served as Chairman of SU Singapore, except for 2018-2019, when the Chair was Bro Sunny Lee. Dr Lim Teck Boon, a former youth and missions pastor, was invited to serve as SU National Director from 2013 -2017, before he was seconded to the re-structured SU global staff team as its Field Development Director for Asia, from 2017. Since 2011, the SU movements of Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City), Cambodia, and some others have worked with Singapore on ministry and activities, or seconded their staff and volunteers to be trained. From 2018, SU Singapore forged closer ties with each of her companion movements.
As the Covid-19 pandemic raged on globally from early 2020, SU Singapore continued to work with local churches, and community workers and educators, so that the message of Jesus Christ could reach children, young people and their families, to raise the next generation of committed believers. In these 2 years, we have moved much of the people ministry, equipping programmes and Bible conferences online, using YouTube and Zoom, among other hi-tech and social media tools. Where the pandemic protocols allowed, face-to-face meetings have been held to encourage and strengthen many church workers and young believers. SU continues to attract passionate workers and volunteers to join us. By the grace of God and placing our trust in the Lord, our journey, together with our ardent supporters and ministry partners continues.
Scripture Union Singapore seeks to engage children and young people
to experience God daily through His Word and empower them to serve.