“Unfolding His Story”: blogpastor’s book reflection

“Unfolding His Story” by Georgie Lee and Galven Lee tells the story of the Charismatic movement in Singapore through the flesh and blood of personal accounts and the skeleton of sound historical research. Like a kaleidoscope, the varied mini-narratives in the book form varied patterns and repeated colours from similar materials with the twist of time and circumstances. It is a must read if you want to gain prophetic insight into the times we are living in. You may not agree with the conclusion of the authors regarding the direction that the altars of the past are pointing to, but you cannot ignore this book.

I first met Galven in Dawson Place. He was an NUS history student doing research on the charismatic movement. My Hyundai Matrix was being serviced and he interviewed me to capture an account of the outpouring of the Spirit upon students that I was a part of. People had heard about the “Clock tower revival of ACS” but little was known about the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon students who were fasting and praying at the back of the science laboratories of Dunearn Technical Secondary School. Later I bumped into his father at a Love Singapore Pastors’ Prayer Summit. He was on fire about a school of discipleship that the FGB Gatekeepers have started. I did not know that at that time the idea for this book had already taken form. It was with some anticipation when I held it in my hands.

It is not follow a strict chronological account of the charismatic movement. In keeping with the living throbbing movement it seeks to describe, the best structure seems to be that of the authors weaving together all the testimonies of many witnesses who were called to the stand to recall their stories as accurately as they can remember them. Repetition, differing nuanced viewpoints and bias will inevitably be present in the integration of these stories, like in the synoptic gospels, but the discipline of historical research that forms the spine would keep that to the minimum.

I read the book during my Chinese New Year vacation in Bangkok. It was interesting, a page turner, and it helped me fill in the blanks in my knowledge of what happened, and I gained some insights as I reflected on what I read. Let me share several of the things I gleaned and some understanding of God’s ways I observed.

Firstly, God loves to use the most unlikely of people to glorify his name. Why was the Spirit poured out on secondary school students? Though they have time and energy, they have no power, position nor money to change the rusty machinery called church. Why was the Spirit poured out on Anglican clergy? They were drier than the bones lying in the valley of Ezekiel’s vision. And the two key persons he used: a mild mannered liberal Bishop, and a prickly social gospel minister. Yet the Holy Spirit saw what humans do not see: one was a stabilizer and the other a bulldozer, and both were needed for the spread of the movement. Then there was that multitude of bored, discontented, nominal, mid-life professionals and businessmen of denominational churches. When the breath of God went into them they became an exceeding great army. Finally even foreign talent were unlikely tools in God’s workshop: an Indian healing revivalist by the name of Edgar Webb; the ang mohs Brother Baker, white haired and mono-toned Rev Brian Bailey and long haired Rev Trevor Dearing.  You cannot help but see that it is God at work through these unlikely heroes.

Secondly, Georgie argued that the spiritual development of the church mirrored that of the development of a Singapore in its search of identity as it sought to shake free from colonialism, its rapid development, and its formation of external wings, and now a maturing and plateauing economy. This was a gem and his arguments were quite convincing.

Thirdly, he mentioned the interesting symbiotic and resistive relationship between the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It was with refreshing honesty that this was raised in the book. I do recall that each group would avoid the events planned by the other group. The Pentecostals tend to look down on the new kids on the block even though it was their faithfulness to the full gospel that was no small factor in the beginnings and the early nurture of the charismatic movement in Singapore. However, like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the Pentecostals generally stayed away from the charismatic party of fatted calf and joyful music that the undeserving denominational people were sovereignly blessed with.

Fourth, the authors rightly mentioned the three waves that revived God’s people and swept multitudes of Singaporeans into the churches. The first were the Pentecostals. The second wave was the charismatic wave. The third was the Third Wave. You get a better picture of what these are when you read the book. In addition there is a helpful glossary of these and other terms that are placed at the beginning of the book.

Fifth, the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit can be seen in many new converts in many new small churches begun, in church extensions or plants, and in the rise of several megachurches in Singapore. This is fruit of breadth. The revival also spawned many missionaries and full time workers and pastors. Out of the revival that birthed the church I serve, I can easily count 19 missionaries and pastors and full time ministry staff. Many other clergy and pastors I have met in countless conferences share a similar participation in the charismatic revival. This is fruit of depth.

Sixth, the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International (FGBMFI) was the platform that God used to rapidly spread the message of the baptism of the Spirit and the spiritual gifts for all. This platform was a catalyst for many great blessings. The organization’s incredible success bred its own decline.  As church members were strengthened and equipped by attending FGBMFI events and returned as revived members, their churches became more capable of doing what FGBMI did. Her revitalizing role suffered gradual erosion and she drifted into irrelevancy.

Seventh, the church today mirrors the maturing economy of Singapore. What is needed for the church to get out of the plateau is to make a paradigm shift and think kingdom of God and not merely local church. It has to focus on uniting to transform all the different aspects of society and culture. The FGBMFI has gone through a name change (now FGB Gatekeepers) to reflect their new cutting edge vision of wanting to transform and disciple all realms of society and culture.

What did I like about this book? It is interesting and chockful of facts and bits of history and testimony that helped fit in the missing jig saws in my understanding of what God did during the 1970s to 1990s. What happened at Jedburgh Gardens; and how the charismatic revival came to the Anglicans and Methodists; and who’s who in the leadership of the charismatic movement, were all puzzles that this book solved for me. It helped me connect the dots. It also gave a clue to the future. Connecting the dots of the past gives me a general sense of where the dots are prophetically pointing to. And of course I liked it that one of the many valuable photos in the book showed a younger me.

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