Imagine Singapore Idol for Jesus. Laurel, Kapa, Juliana, and I walked into City Harvest Church, the second largest church in Asia, not knowing what to expect. Our homestay hosts Jackie and Yvonne had hinted that the service would be energetic and “youth-oriented.” From the second we were escorted by ushers with headset microphones into an auditorium full of thousands of young Asians singing in unison, we knew our preconceptions were off-base. I assumed the church would be more like my 200-person church at home than a televangelist service. So along with three Americans and two overwhelmed Singaporeans, I awkwardly observed what I consider the most interesting two hours of my life from an sociological standpoint.
On stage, four young, attractive, stylishly-dressed singers led the congregation in song. They danced around, pumping up the audience with the enthusiasm and intensity I have only seen in NCAA basketball coaches and Richard Simmons. Behind them were two huge TV screens that alternated between showing the main singers on stage and members of the congregation. After about half an hour of singing (and dancing and jumping), we were instructed to sit down.
“Are you ready to dance for God??!”
The crowd roared an affirmative ”YEAAHHH!” as I quietly cringed. Although I tend to be enthusiastic during group activities, I felt out of place, not just because I was in a foreign country, but also because I’m unaccustomed to this type of worship. About fifteen hip-hop dancers ran onto the stage and performed a couple of routines, engaging the audience in a dance-along. After a bit more singing, a man stepped onstage wearing ripped, faded jeans, a jersey t-shirt, and trendy tennis shoes. The man turned out to be Reverend Kong Hee, who is famous in Singapore not only for preaching, but also for being married to Ho Yeow Sun, one of the most well-known Singaporean singers. He spoke about dreams, praising Martin Luther King, Jr., criticizing John Lennon for claiming to be more popular than Jesus, and listing the different types of people there are in the world: those with no dreams, those with low dreams, those with the wrong dreams, and those with God’s dream. An animated, engaging speaker, he had the attention of every single person in the congregation during his half-hour sermon sprinkled with hand gestures and catch phrases.
I left the service overwhelmed not only by the energy radiating from the auditorium, but by the fact that this outrageous service took place not in the heart of the Bible belt, but in Southeast Asia. In a way, the service seemed fitting with what I already know about Singaporean culture- it was technologically advanced, well-organized, and perfectly timed. But before the service, I had yet to see Singaporeans be anything but subdued during a performance. Even at an outdoor drumming festival, Marie and I were the only people in the entire crowd to dance. The Christian evangelical movement has the power to move Singaporeans to physically express excitement for their religion.
View live feeds of services at the home page of City Harvest Church