Written by Elder Francis Lee
The work of the Lord requires the Spirit of God to guide and help us. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zech 4:6). Nobody is able to accomplish anything for the Lord by his own power or strength. As Jesus said, “without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Today’s dedication of the Gethsemane Media Centre (GMC) is testament to God’s goodness and faithfulness to His people. This building project, which took 6 years to complete, was accomplished because God has been good and gracious to us, as recounted by this report.
1) God’s Call to Start the Church Building Project: Aug 2013
In mid-2013, with increasing ministries and worshippers in our church, it became clear that we would need a larger space for our church’s administrative centre, better studios for our Bible Witness Media Ministry (BWMM) and a more spacious work area for The Gethsemane Care Ministry (TGCM). In addition, finding venues to accommodate our fellowship meetings and seminars became difficult in terms of capacity and affordability. Just as God, by His Spirit, worked on the hearts of “the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites” to rise up and set forth to rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in the days of Ezra (cf. Ezra 1:5), God likewise acted on the hearts and minds of our church leaders. In Aug 2013, the Church Session unanimously agreed to work towards raising $5 million by 2015 to purchase a larger place to meet our increasing needs.
that point in time, we did not know many things. Can we ever reach this mammoth target of $5 million, as we are not a big or wealthy church? Will this $5 million be enough, considering the very high property prices in Singapore? How to go about buying a place, in view of many restrictions on churches buying property? We did not have all the answers, but we were assured that God is ever faithful to His people and He will help us. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps 84:11).
2) God’s Testing in the Early Years: 2014-2015
In the beginning, the funds came in at a very slow pace; by end 2014, we only had $548,000. But we continued to trust God. Thank God for Pastor, who led by example and sold his HDB flat to raise money for the Building Fund. In 2015, the church had 4 fasting and prayer sessions (March, June, Sept and Dec) as we sought the Lord’s help and recollected His promises (cf. Phil 4:19). In 2015, while our General Fund was running a deficit of about $41,000, we were also trying to raise about $120,000 to buy a new van for Pastor’s continued ministry use. Thank God we were united in the Lord’s work! We fasted and prayed together, and members gave cheerfully so that we resolved the deficit, bought a new van and continued to contribute to the Building Fund.
By end 2015, we had about $1.74 million (still far from our target), but we “staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief” (Rom 4:19), and continued in faith, knowing that God will work out all things for our good in His time (cf. Rom 8:28). The so-called “delay’ in our finite minds turned out to be providential. In addition to funds, God showed us that He had to help us to obtain a number of government approvals before any purchase was possible. Furthermore, when we were ready to purchase a place in 2018, the property prices were not as high as before and it became advantageous for us to buy. Truly, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3:5-6).
3) God’s Leading of the Church Leaders: 2016-2017
In 2016, the Church Session decided to buy an industrial unit due to the following reasons:
Firstly, buying an industrial unit was the most viable option in terms of the space we needed and the financial outlay required. Secondly, the media work of BWMM and the printing work of TGCM qualified us to use industrial premises zoned B1, which was for light and clean industries. Thirdly, with new URA rules (effective June 12, 2012), there was greater flexibility by the government in allowing for religious use in industrial buildings, limited to 2 days a week and up to 40% of total space.
However, there were statutory regulations to surmount. The church, being a society, is forbidden to buy. God gave the leaders needed wisdom, and an entity known as a CLG (Company Limited by Guarantee) came to our knowledge. The CLG is used by non-profit organisations for charitable purposes. We did not want a private limited company as it would give an impression that the church is involved in business activities for monetary purposes. We needed professional help; by God’s leading, we went to a law firm through a sister from True Life BPC. At our meeting with them on 25th Jan 2016, we were briefed on the steps required to register a CLG. On 21st Feb 2016, we explained to the congregation the concept / purpose of CLG. Thereafter, we took 6 months working on the CLG’s constitution. We named the company, Gethsemane Bible Witness Limited (GBWL), whose constitution we wanted to be closely aligned to that of the church, so as to reflect the purpose for setting up this company. Being for the work of the Gospel, not as a profit-making business, it is to be operated according to Scriptural truths. However, the lawyers kept warning us not to link GBWL too closely to the church as the authorities viewed religious entities more stringently, and our application might fail.
Notwithstanding, we trusted in God and proceeded with what God’s Word has guided us to do. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). We had an ECM on 7th Aug 2016 to seek the congregation’s endorsement of the registration of GBWL and the selling of the old Church Resource Centre (CRC), which was duly given. Praise God for the unity of hearts! We submitted for incorporation in Sept 2016 to the government regulatory body known as ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority). Thereafter, it was a time of waiting patiently upon God. “I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry” (Ps 40:1). Having heard nothing from ACRA for almost 4½ months, God finally answered our prayers and we had successful incorporation on 14th Feb 2017. What a relief! Otherwise, we cannot buy an industrial unit even if we had the funds. This successful incorporation of GBWL was an encouragement to our hearts from the Lord and prepared us for further “battles” ahead.
4) God’s Providential Guidance: 2017-2018
For any property acquisition, we had to seek the approval of MCCY (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) as church funds were involved. However, the ministry would process our application only if we have a specific property in mind. We had to sell our old CRC and with the monies in hand, exercise an option to buy a property before applying to MCCY. We had much difficulty in selling the CRC as the property market conditions then were poor. We had few viewers in 2017, and those that came were not interested. God guided us to Knight Frank in Oct 2017 and provided us a buyer through them. The buyer requested that the completion to be within 6 months instead of 3 months. We agreed and sold the CRC on 28 March 2018 for $1.25 million, with completion in 6 months. With this sale, we had about $4 million in our Building Fund, and we set forth to search for a property, during which we discovered that with the softening of the property market, prices had come down significantly since we started this project in 2013. Hence the “delay” in our earlier years of this project was not really a delay, but God’s good timing, for we were then able to consider bigger units.
In 2013, we had thought we would only be able to afford to purchase a 5,000 square feet unit, but now we could even consider units of 11,000 square feet. Then God providentially guided us to 33 Ubi Crescent in April 2018. The premises met our requirements but the seller initially wanted $4.6 million, which was way beyond us. We intended not to consider it, but the agent and owner were eager to do the sale with us; after negotiations, the owner was willing to sell at $4.1 million – a reduction of $0.5 million! We could sense God helping us but even at that price, we were stretched in our finances. Other than the purchase price, we had to factor in renovation costs, legal costs, stamp duty and GST. Furthermore, we were also aware that the sale completion date of the CRC was 28 Sept 2018 while that of this new place would be 15th Aug 2018 (i.e. a month earlier), if government approvals were obtained. This was a concern, for the money from the CRC sale will not come in on time. How will all things work out?
God said in Isa 41:13, “For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” We trusted God to work it all out for us and we paid the initial deposit on 15th May 2018. Some weeks later, we learnt that the (33 Ubi Crescent) owner’s daughter had come to our church to worship, being a new believer in Christ! Ironically, she was initially not aware that we were buying her father’s property. She only learnt of it through our church prayer meeting and from her father’s incidental mention of selling his property to a church during their drive past Ubi Crescent. To the church leaders, this was an amazing situation! Anyhow, the buyer of the CRC subsequently requested for an earlier completion in Aug 2018. Praise the Lord! There was no need for worries. God is in control of all things!
5) God’s Moving of the Authorities: 2018
After exercising the option to purchase 33 Ubi Crescent, we had to get approval from 3 government bodies. Firstly, we applied to IRAS for the GST registration of GBWL to get GST refunds on the purchase of the property and subsequent renovations. (The GST on the property purchase was $287,000, a very significant amount!) Approval was obtained on 5th June 2018 and IRAS refunded us the money. Secondly, we had to apply for change of use of the premises for our media ministries. God gave us the grace to write the application to URA which was submitted on 4th July 2018. Praise God, we got the approval on 3rd Sept 2018. Thirdly, we wrote to MCCY on 27 Aug 2018, to seek permission to transfer the Church Building Fund to GBWL for the purchase of the property and subsequent renovations. MCCY set many tasks for us to do before they would consider giving approval. It was a struggle trying to fulfil all these governmental requirements, but God gave us wisdom to complete them and we obtained MCCY’s approval on 31st Oct 2018.
In all our applications, God moved the people in authority to help His people and accomplish His purposes. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” For the record, the purchase of 33 Ubi Crescent by GBWL was completed on 15th Nov 2018!
6) God’s Provisions: 2018-2019
Even as the Lord was moving the authorities to approve our applications, He was also providing the funds needed for the renovations and other expenses. We had about slightly over $4 million when we bought the property, but it was not enough. God moved His people to strengthen their leaders’ hands with their cheerful giving. Indeed, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Cor 9:7-8). We received over a million dollars in about 6 months, from May 2018 to Oct 2018, and our Building Fund rose to $5.2m. More funds came in during our renovations. This was the Lord’s marvellous work. “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for me?” (Jer 32:27).
7) God’s Uniting and Using of His People for the Renovations: 2018-2019
The planning and execution of the GMC renovations was a mammoth task, in which many brethren stepped forward to offer their expertise and time. Praise God for their dedication to the work, and their spirit of cooperation and unity. We were also heartened by the brethren who were knitted with us in this work through their prayers and cheerful giving. Not everyone could be physically doing the work, but God uses them in many other ways. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Cor 12:4-6).
The planning took a few months, from Nov 2018 to Jan 2019. Tenders and evaluation of quotations were carried out from Feb to March 2019. Work started on the premises on 22 April 2019. We are grateful that God kept all the workers safe during the renovations, with no mishap or serious injuries. Praise God that He sent people who were not from our church to help us with our renovations. Thank God we were able to preach the Gospel to the workers during our Thanksgiving dinner for them on 11 Oct 2019, the day when we also obtained the permit for occupation!
When we began our Church Building Project in Aug 2013, nobody could have foreseen the magnitude of the task and the difficulties in this endeavour. Now, as we look back, we thank God for all that He has done. During these 6 years, our hearts were at times faint and weak, but His goodness and faithfulness towards us never failed. God provided for us, strengthened our hearts, increased our faith and kept us united in heart, so that by His mighty hand, we are led to victory with the accomplishment of this work. As we recollect the Lord’s help and blessings, let us cry out like the psalmist in Ps 103:1-2, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”. To God be all the glory, honour and praise!