Singapore – Christianity and the Marketplace: Part 1

The Gospel Coalition recently published an article with the heading How the Gospel Takes Root in 'Crazy Rich' Singapore. The title nods to this summer's hit movie Crazy Rich Asians, but also recognizes the amazing strides this small nation has made transforming from a Third World island to a First World country in just one generation.

In 1963, Singapore gained its independence from the United Kingdom and joined with other former British territories to form Malaysia. Due to ideological differences, Singapore separated from Malaysia just two years later to became its own sovereign nation. The first few years were turbulent for the new country, but under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father, the nation began to stabilize and experienced rapid development. Just fifty years later, Singapore is now ranked very highly in numerous international rankings. For example, Singapore is recognized as the most "technology-ready" nation, the top international-meetings city, the city with the "best investment potential", the world's smartest city, the world's safest country, the second-most competitive country, the third-largest foreign exchange market, the third-largest financial center, the third-largest oil refining and trading center, the fifth-most innovative country, the second-busiest container port, a tax haven, and the only country in Asia with an AAA sovereign rating from all major rating agencies (one of only eleven worldwide). (Wikipedia)

This remarkable accomplishment is due, no doubt, to the determination and ingenuity of its people. But can affluence and piety coexist? Unfortunately, the same attributes needed to succeed at nation-building—self-reliance, pragmatism, and materialism, for example—also make it difficult for people to accept their need for the Gospel message.

Pastor Guana Raman of Agape Baptist Church has been open about challenges in preaching the Gospel and making disciples in Singapore. On the surface, he says, Singapore looks like a well "Christianized" nation. There are more than 800 churches in 278 square miles. While several high-profile mega-churches have gained international fame and recognition, Pastor Raman fears that there are many churches in Singapore that are theologically weak and shallow. "Many churches preach heavily moralistic sermons or, on the other hand, proclaim "hyper-grace," subtly (if not overtly) proclaiming the prosperity gospel," says Pastor Raman. "There is a great need in Singapore for more theological depth."

While Pastor Simon Murphy of Redemption Hill agrees with Pastor Raman's experience that Christianity in Singapore often exhibits the extremes of hyper-moralism or hyper-grace, he also believes that the majority of the nation's churches are preaching God's Word correctly, but that there is a disconnect in the way that it is being received by the people. "While most churches earnestly strive to preach the Word and display the love of Christ, the Gospel is merely assumed in some churches, and the way it intersects with one's life and circumstances is not clearly grasped," says Pastor Murphy. "This disconnect easily leads to Christianity being seen as either a moralistic religion, where the approval of God needs to and can be earned, or as a contract between God and man, where faith and/or works results in security and prosperity."

The culture and history of Singapore may be a major reason why many of the country's people struggle to grasp the true nature of the Gospel. Christians in Singapore are used to an easy, comfortable life. According to Pastor Raman, because the nation has not seen a major catastrophe or major economic downturn, many Christians have not experienced suffering and have come to believe that God is a god of love but not a god of wrath. Many Singaporeans are more interested in a god that heals and blesses people than the true God of the Bible because the country's culture places value on things that bring in more money, more comfort, and more convenience. "There is little understanding of the doctrine of sin and, therefore, little appreciation for the work of the cross and the grace that comes to us from the finished work of Christ," says Pastor Raman.

The Growth of Business in Africa

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Over one thousand business executives from around the world were asked the question:  "How many companies in Africa earn annual revenues of $1 billion or more?" Most respondents guessed  there were 50 or fewer such companies. What would your guess be?

We often think of Africa as an unattractive market for business. But in reality, Africa is experiencing rapid modernization—the same economic shift we saw in Europe and North America during the 19th century and in Asia in the 20th century. While the rest of the world's population growth is slowing down, Africa's population, currently at 1.2 billion, is projected to double during the next 30 years. More than 80 percent of this population growth will occur in cities. Africa already equals North America in its number of cities with more than one million inhabitants.

The disposable income of Africans is also increasing. This is allowing more people in Africa to adopt the latest technology. While the continent has historically lagged in this area, smart phone connections in Africa are expected to double from the existing 315 million in 2015 to 636 million by 2022, nearly equaling that of Europe, and reaching twice what is projected for North America.

It is time for us to change our perceptions about business capabilities in Africa. There are not 50 companies in Africa earning revenues of $1 billion or more but 400 companies in Africa earning revenues of $1 billion or more, and nearly 700 companies that have revenue greater than $500 million!

The companies that are succeeding in Africa claim that success does not come easy. The geographic complexity, infrastructure gaps, and relative economic and political volatility make business on the continent challenging. However,  for leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit, it is well worth the effort. Tidjane Thiam, the Ivorian-born CEO of Credit Suisse and former head of Prudential, knows firsthand what can happen when a company develops the right strategy and gets into an emerging market early. When building Prudential's business in Asia, one $50 million investment multiplied to $4 billion in a little over 15 years. Looking at African markets today, Thiam sees a similar opportunity. "You've got the demographic boom combined with GDP growth rates of 6, 7, or 8 percent," says Thiam. "There is an element of breaking ground, but the long-term rewards will be very high."

Executives around the world concur with Thiam's view of the market. The nearly 700 companies in Africa with revenue greater than $500 million have both grown faster than their peers in the rest of the world in local currency terms and have become more profitable than their global peers in most sectors. The income per capita of people in Africa's cities is currently more than double that of the continental average. Yet, when one thousand executives were surveyed, the majority predict that within the next 20 years, most of African households will be a part of the “consumer” class. As this happens, demand for certain products and services will grow. There are dozens of entrepreneurs who have already launched startups aimed specifically to address Africa's vast unmet needs and unfulfilled demands.  Yet, there is still room for more competition.

So, what business strategies in Africa yield the greatest success? Companies that are able to piggyback on strong industry trends or use innovation to serve underserved markets increase their odds of outperforming other businesses. If you own a diaper company, for example, it would be worth your while to know that Nigerian women give birth to more babies every year than all the women in Western Europe combined. Gaining exposure in high-growth cities, countries, and regions is just as important as knowing where market opportunities exist. Twenty-four million Africans are moving to cities each year. Successful companies know which cities to focus their efforts on. Nurturing vocational and managerial skills among African workers is another great step toward ensuring success. Half of Africans are currently younger than 19. In 6,000 days, the continent will have the largest working population, even larger than China. Creating internal training processes will also ensure that there will be a new pool of talent, grown and groomed from within.

Resource Global is committed to discipling and mentoring these young marketplace leaders in Africa as well as different global cities around the world.  We do this by resourcing mentors to come alongside key local city leaders. We believe that these leaders can be the catalysts to Gospel growth in their cities.  We will see this impact in their work, homes, church, and cities.

For more information on Africa please go to:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/17/africa/business-trends-shaping-africa-in-2019-and-beyond/