This week, at 3:18am, on 23 March 2015, Singapore lost a great leader in their founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. For the past few days, tons of tributes and accolades have been posted and shared, and appropriately so. In the words of PM Lee Hsien Loong, “we won’t see another man like him.” Clearly, there will never be another Lee Kuan Yew.
Of the many lessons that we can learn from Mr Lee, the following stood out for me, as an Archippus.
1. He knew his assignment. From the early years, the case for action for a better Singapore gripped his heart and that, for him, became an assignment of a lifetime. It became a focus and a passion, a flame that raged on for years to come.
2. He gave his life. This quotation is well-known by now: “I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.” Those who worked with him would readily testify that every moment, thought and action concerned Singapore. In Christian-speak, Mr Lee poured out his life as a sacrifice that others, you and I, might be blessed.
3. He identified with the unknowns. As Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen shared so eloquently in his tribute in Parliament, “Mr Lee identified closely with the hopes and aspirations of common Singaporeans. In his first election in 1955, he told the voters of Tanjong Pagar, that out of 25 divisions, he wanted to represent ‘workers, wage earners and small traders, not wealthy merchants or landlords’. This was why he ‘chose Tanjong Pagar, not Tanglin’.” Whilst it’s nice to rub shoulders with the powerful and the rich (and he did), his heart was always with those who were almost anonymous. I suspect that is because deep within, he saw himself as working alongside these, rather than lording over them. Though he towered in stature over most, Mr Lee was one of us.
4. He was willing to suffer for the sake of the nation. Whether you agree or disagree with Mr Lee, we cannot deny that this man has had his fair share of fights and skirmishes with his opponents and enemies. And yet, he held on to his convictions, not for himself, but for the greater good of the security and future of Singapore and Singaporeans. He always had a bigger picture, a greater purpose beyond himself, one which many world leaders recognised and respect him for.
In his condolence note, Manpower Minister Mr Tan Chuan-Jin wrote, “You have fought for Singapore your entire life. You have fought the good fight and have finished your race. We will press on. We will soar on wings like eagles, we will run and not grow weary, we will walk and not be faint. We will never give up. Rest in peace Mr Lee Kuan Yew.” These are words we use in church, almost too casually. Yet, in Mr Lee, we witnessed an example of one who ran his race all the way. Even in his 70’s and 80’s, he was very alert and still involved. And even now and beyond, at his passing, he continues, and will continue to inspire us for generations to come.
Reflecting upon the above points, I can’t help but notice the parallels with what we hold firm as key Christian tenets. Jesus, our Lord and Saviour displayed them all, and more. The Apostle Paul was willing to “endure all things for the sake of the elect” (2 Tim 2:10). When his life might have been endangered, in Acts 20:24, he declared, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish the race with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”; and finally in 2 Tim 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
For most of Mr Lee’s life, although influenced by Judeo-Christian teachings (thank God!), he was not a Christian. I have phrased it as such because there is speculation that he might have declared his faith in Jesus in those final moments. No one really knows except Jesus, the Righteous Judge, to Whom salvation belongs. But Mr Lee’s salvation, though important, is not the main point here. Instead, the question that hit me rather poignantly was, “What about me, one supposedly a new creation, with the authority of the name of Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit?”
Please do not mis-read this. I am not suggesting that we can all be Lee Kuan Yews for he truly was in a class of his own. However, can we not all be duly moved by what needs to be done in our own areas of influence and be convicted enough to know and fulfil our assignments? Should we not be willing to serve others (that’s what the word ‘minister’ means: servant), to give up our own interests for the sake of others in the church and society? Should we not be running our races with purpose and passion instead of going through our Christian life ritualistically and aimlessly? Is that not what being an Archippus is all about?
I will close this reflection with another Lee Kuan Yew quotation:
“You know the Singaporean. He is a hard-working, industrious, rugged individual. Or we would not have made the grade. But let us also recognise that he is a champion grumbler.”
Indeed, we Singapore-Christians are a hardworking and efficient bunch; yet more than just the influence of our Protestant Work Ethics, we owe much to Mr Lee’s personal example and that of his contemporaries. Let us stay focussed to the task the Lord has assigned to each of us that together, Singapore will fulfil her destiny as the Antioch of Asia; and … no champion grumblers, please.
All thanks and praise to the Lord for gracing us all with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, truly a man raised “for such a time as this”.