Singapore Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church, and

San Yu High School

James Wang Ho Chun (王候春)

Basic Demographic Information

Official Name: Singapore Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church

Church Administrative Unit: Singapore Conference, Southern Asia-Pacific Division

Date Officially Formed:

Founding Minister:

Church Website: ???

Current Address: Singapore

Date on which Current Sanctuary was Established:

Current Membership: .


As I am invited to write the history of the Chinese Seventh-day Adventist Church in Singapore, let me begin by pointing out that the Chinese make up 77% of the 2.6 million people in Singapore. Presently there are 2,500 Seventh-day Adventists in Singapore and 95% of them are Chinese. Of the seven Seventh-day Adventist churches in the Singapore Mission, five are English-speaking congregations and two are Chinese-speaking. This article only focuses on the development of the Chinese congregations and the San Yu High School in Singapore.

The Beginning of the Adventist Work in Singapore

Since Abram La Rue (拉路), a self-supporting Adventist colporteur, arrived at Hong Kong in 1888, he had been to Singapore and started to sell Adventist literature there. It was the seed sowing period in Singapore.

In 1904 the Australasian Union Conference (澳大拉西亞聯合會) sent Pastor and Mrs. Griffiths F. Jones (鍾士) to set up a mission station in Singapore. The Joneses were accompanied by Robert A. Caldwell (葛威爾), a self-supporting colporteur. Shortly afterwards, E. C. Davey (戴威) and his wife arrived from Australia to begin medical missionary work in Singapore. A small inexpensive treatment room was set up in the mission home.

In 1909, the first Adventist church building was erected at No. 5, Penang Road, with a congregation of 50 people. This church soon developed into the Chinese, English, and Malay-speaking congregations; they took turns to meet for Sabbath services.

In 1912, Francis A. Detamore (戴德慕), father of Fordyce W. Detamore (戴德模), a well-known evangelist in the 1950s and 1960s, succeeded G. F. Jones and came to Singapore from the U.S. Under his leadership the Malaysian Union Mission (南洋聯合會) was organized. The English name of the union was changed to the Malayan Union Mission in 1929 when the Netherlands Indies (荷屬東印度), now known as Indonesia (印尼), became a separate union. In December 1956 the Malayan Union was renamed the Southeast Asia Union Mission (東南亞聯合會).

In 1918, the denomination bought 6 acres of land on Upper Serangoon Road to set up the permanent location of the union office, a publishing house (南洋時兆報館) and a training school, Malaysian Seminary (南洋神道學校), which in 1958 was known as Southeast Asia Union College (東南亞聯合學院). In 1948, a 1.8-acre site, one city block north of the union headquarters, was purchased with the Thirteenth Sabbath Overflow Offering of December 1946. On this plot the Youngberg Memorial Hospital (陽伯紀念醫院), later renamed Youngberg Adventist Hospital, was established.

All the administrative staff members were English-speaking, and they relied on English for evangelization and daily correspondence. During the previous 15 years, the Singapore government actively promoted the use of Chinese language. Today the Chinese denominational workers and many church members are fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

The development of the Chinese Work

(a) A Life Sketch of Elder C. M. Lee

In 1902 C. M. Lee (李創錨), a native of Guangdong province, arrived at Singapore at the age of 17. In 1905, he was ill and came to the newly set up Seventh-day Adventist treatment room in the mission home for treatment. At that time, he, having been educated in Presbyterian schools in China, first learned about the Adventist message and was converted and baptized by the Church. He was recruited as a colporteur and sent to Java, Sumatra, British North Borneo and Thailand to sell Adventist literature.

In 1909, he returned to China and was employed as one of the editors in the Shanghai Signs of the Times Publishing House (上海時兆報館). He was then aged 24.

About 1912, he married Lily Chan Teck Soon (曾德順), one of the early converts of G. F. Jones. As the climate in Shanghai did not agree with Mrs. Lee, the Lees returned to Singapore in 1914. Subsequently, C. M. Lee was appointed pastor of the Chinese congregation. Later he resigned from the post for health reasons.

In 1916, he took his wife to Kuching (古晉), Sarawak (砂拉越), where Mrs. Lee’s younger sister—–Amy Chan Teck Sung (曾德雙) —– and her dentist husband Tan Soo Meng (陳樹明) were self-supporting Adventist missionaries. C. M. Lee opened a photo studio and sold cameras. He also assisted his in-laws in their missionary work. As a result the Kuching Chinese church was organized. In 1923, he returned to Singapore and later became a wealthy merchant.

During the Second World War, the Adventists in Singapore suffered badly under the Japanese military rule. Pastor Tan Kia Ou (陳鏡湖) was appointed acting president of the Malayan Union Mission and Elder C. M. Lee assisted him throughout the war. After the war ended, there was an increase of church members. Both the English and the Malay congregations moved out from the old church building on Penang Road in 1951 to the newly acquired church on Balestier Road. In 1953 the Malayan Union purchased from the government a piece of land on Dunman Road to build a place of worship for the Malay-speaking congregation. The Chinese congregation stayed on Penang Road until 1957 when they moved to the new church building on Thomson Road.

In 1953, C. M. Lee, while serving as chief elder of the Chinese congregation, envisioned there would also be a new home for the Chinese congregation. He donated his personal properties and hoped the Far Eastern Division would erect a new church building on the land that he donated. But he waited for several years and the Far Eastern Division did not act.

In 1956, C. M. Lee was determined to build a church with 550 seats at his personal expenses. Because of his enthusiasm and commitment to the Christian education, he allocated 6 classrooms and 2 offices at the lower floor of the new church building to be used as a Chinese school. The impressive new church building was completed in 1956. All the members offered to pay for all the equipment and furniture in the church.

On January 18, 1958, there was a ceremony to dedicate the building to the service of God. All the Seventh-day Adventist institutions and churches in Singapore sent their representatives. The ceremony also marked the founding of the San Yu High School (三育中學) in Singapore. The close relations between the San Yu High School and the Chinese church will be discussed later.

(b) The Chinese ministerial training

In 1952 the Chinese church leaders realized that it was impossible to recruit ministers from Mainland China anymore. They made suggestion to the Malayan Union Seminary (predecessor of Southeast Asia Union College) in Singapore to start training Chinese ministers, and offered financial support to the proposed ministerial training program. Pastor Tan Kia Ou, a renowned and experienced solicitor, was asked to chair and coordinate a fundraising campaign. Several tens of thousands of Singapore dollars were collected from various Chinese churches in Southeast Asia.

In January 1954, the Chinese ministerial training program was opened at the Malayan Union Seminary. Pastor Joshua Chong Yun Foh (張永和) was appointed as the director, with Pastor Samuel Tsai Shu Shen (蔡書紳), editor of the Malayan Signs Press (南洋時報兆報館), and Pastor T. C. Chin (陳道震), treasurer and assistant business manager of the Malayan Union Seminary, as teachers. The Chinese ministerial training course was a three-year program. After graduation, students were to be employed by the local missions in the Malayan Union Mission.

There were more than 20 male and female graduates from 1954 to 1960. Twelve of them became denominational workers. Many years later, 7 of these 12 graduates were ordained pastors, 3 of them were woman Bible workers, and one was a colporteur.

The founding of the Old People’s Home

Because there were many elderly in the local Chinese community and the church in need of care, the Chinese church decided to open an Old people’s home in the Toa Payoh government housing estate in 1981. It was called “The Adventist Home for the Elders (安息日會老人之家).” It admitted 20 seniors and provided them with housing, meal and health care. The church members visited them regularly, studied the Bible with them, and provided voluntary services. They made the senior residents feel better about their situation, and the government and the community gave material support to the old people’s home.

In 1994, the Department of Social Welfare and some community leaders helped the home to expand its facilities. The Chinese church pastor, Yuen Fook Kee (袁福基), and the church elders dedicated money and time and contributed to the success of the old people’s home.

Founding of Singapore San Yu High School

(a) The Founding Period

In 1956, Elder C. M. Lee built a new church building for the Chinese congregation at his own expenses. He set aside 6 classrooms at the lower floor of the church building to be used as a school. Because the denomination already had an English elementary school, an English secondary school and an English training school for many years, the Chinese Church proposed to found a Chinese school and name it “San Yu High School.” They asked the Malaya Mission and the Southeast Asia Union Mission to approve the proposal.

In 1957, the school board was organized. The board then made an application to the Department of Education for official permission to operate a school. After the approval the school board was busy with all the preparations and student recruitment, and appointed Pastor Joshua Chong Yun Foh (張永和), as the principal. Pastor Chong was then also served as Chinese church pastor and director of the Chinese Ministerial Training department of the Malayan Union Seminary.

In January 1958, the San Yu High School officially opened with a staff of 10 people including the principal. There were only 167 students.

In September 1958, in response to a call from the Malaya Mission, Yang Chung Pei (楊忠培) came from Taiwan to be the principal. Yang’s experience helped the school to expand quickly.

In 1961, the Malaya Mission was faced with a financial difficulty and decided to close the school in 1962. At a church business meeting, Tan Hian Tsin (陳賢進), a school board member and a younger brother of Chan Shun (陳俊), made a proposal that the Chinese Church should take over the operation of the school. The church immediately launched a fundraising campaign for the school. In the denomination history it was the first time that a high school was run by a local church.

Since 1963, there has been a yearly Jumble Sale, what American would call a rummage sale, to raise money to cover the operating cost of the school. This actually helped stabilize the financial foundation of the school and contributed to its growth.

(b) The Period of Consolidation

In 1968, Yang Chung Pei returned to Taiwan to be the business manager of the college there. The San Yu High School board then placed a call for Wang Ho Chun (王候春) from Hong Kong to be the next principal. Because there was a limited quota on students at the Chinese senior high schools in Singapore, the board decided to expand the San Yu High School into a senior high school and its application was approved by the Singapore government in 1970.

Since 1970, the number of student enrollments grew rapidly. The board of directors decided to build a new building for classrooms and set up a fundraising committee to accomplish this task. With the generous support of church members, students, parents and community leaders, the board was able to begin the construction in 1974 and completed it in 1975. Ten years later, in 1985, the second building for classrooms was completed.

In 1994, the school board purchased new teaching equipment and put air-conditioners in all the classrooms. This completely transformed the school environment.

From 1969 to 1994, the San Yu High School had made significant progress. What follows is a summary of its development:

Teachers: All the teachers were educated at universities in Singapore and abroad. They all had bachelor degrees. Few teachers even had master degrees. All of them had the government licenses to be full-time teachers.

Teaching Medium: To be in line with the government’s educational policy, the school had adopted a new policy on teaching medium since 1984. It used English as the first language and Chinese as the second language. Besides the Chinese lesson, all the other subjects were taught in English.

Student Numbers: The annual average student enrollment was 350.

Teaching Objectives: The school lived up to the principle of Christian education and love; and it stressed a balanced development of the spiritual, the mental, and the physical parts of the person. This explained why the school was called “San Yu.”

(c) Curriculum Development

Junior High Level (Junior High 1 to 4): The curriculum was designed to prepare students for the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level) Examination, and to help them get the academic credentials for going to the senior high school or the junior college for further education.

Senior High Level (Senior High 1 to 3): The curriculum was designed to prepare students for the Singapore-Cambridge Advanced Certificate of Education (Advanced Level) Examination, and to help them get the academic qualifications for going to the universities or the job market.

Throughout the development of the San Yu High School, the school sought to be financially self-sufficient. Its success also had to do with the following factors:

  1. God’s blessings and guidance;

  2. Cooperation between the Chinese Church and the school. This collaboration has always been a key to the school’s success.

Principal Wang Ho Chun served the school for 26 years and he officially retired by the end of 1994.