Last week, I traveled to Singapore to explore our educational options in Asia. This city-state in the South China Sea has captured my imagination ever since I first visited in 2007. I traveled there to participate as a guest in the Forbes Global CEO Conference and to visit parents and alumni who’ve come to Westmont from this beautiful paradise. Since that first encounter, I’ve returned three times, and all the visits have been stimulating, positive and memorable.
Singapore continues to amaze me. Founded in 1819 by Colonel Raffles, a British explorer and naval officer, the city has been at the crossroads of major trade routes for centuries. Occupied during World War II by the Japanese, it first gained autonomy in 1945. After brief stints on its own and reconnected to Malaysia, the city officially established itself as a republic in 1965. Nearing its 50th anniversary as a country, Singapore has undergone dramatic development.
Today, it boasts one of the most advanced economies in the world with one of the highest GDP indices of all countries. With few natural resources and surrounded by Malaysia and Indonesia, it has become a center for international finance and world commerce and a gateway to Southeast Asia. The strict laws and harsh and predictable punishment make it one of the safest places in the world with one of the lowest crime rates.
In so many ways, Singapore is emblematic of our world today. The people are multilingual and multicultural; the typical Singaporean is 60 percent Chinese and differing parts Tamil Indian and Malay, speaks at least two Asian languages, and conducts official business in English. Culturally and constitutionally pluralistic, Singapore restricts any single religion from having a parliamentary majority. Although 60 percent of the population is Buddhist, the city insists that Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Taoists have fair and balanced representation as well.
Perhaps because of its size—4 million Singaporeans and 1.5 million expatriates who work there—Singapore is widely known for its pragmatic approach to national problems. For example, when traffic was choking the island paradise, the government imposed an import tariff on cars of more than $100,000 (SG) per vehicle. This effectively drove most citizens to the public transit system or heavy reliance on the clean and efficient taxis.
The harbor area and central business district are stunning in their development and beauty. Rivaling districts of any great city, they sport some of the most elegant modern architecture anywhere, and the surrounding water makes them glisten in the sun.
Singapore also sits at the crossroads of the Christian church. Navigating the delicate balance between religious tolerance and deep commitment, the church throughout Southeast Asia has developed a striking reach and influence. Traveling to many non-Christian and less tolerant countries in the region, Christian leaders report vibrant communities of Christian faith where the church is growing and flourishing as we move deeper into the 21st century. All this reminds me of one of the most interesting and enjoyable benefits of my work: seeing the way in which our life with God takes shape throughout the world.
Today, Westmont sits at the crossroads of the world pursuing the full expression of our global initiative. Students studying at our Westmont in Istanbul program reported seeing American warships headed past the Golden Horn and up the Bosporus to the Black Sea on their way to Ukraine last week. As I write this entry, our student service trip to Ensenada is underway as we enter our 40th year of Potter’s Clay. Later this summer, 10 different Emmaus Road teams will spread throughout the world learning and serving, as each new generation of students strives to be global citizens, preparing to go anywhere in the world to serve effectively.