“Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.” —Haggai 1:8 (ESV)
What is the Bible House to you? Some might think it is a place that sells all types of Bibles; some might think it is a Bible school; for others, it might be a church.
Well, these are all true to a fair extent. In 1907, The Bible Society of Singapore acquired the land at 7 Armenian Street and built its home—the Bible House—there. Since then, it has been rebuilt twice and undergone numerous changes to meet the evolving needs of the Society and the world it serves. The current building was completed and reopened in 2011, but our work is not yet finished. The Bible House is more than just a building; it is built to further missions in Singapore and beyond—making God’s Word a living hope to all nations.
As a global, inter-confessional organisation with Scripture as the unifying factor, the Bible Society has been serving the community of faith in Singapore, as well as beyond our shores, for more than 18 decades—expanding the Bible movement, and transforming lives with God’s Word.
As we were researching for this article, we interestingly chanced upon some inspiring testimonies on their personal encounters with the Bible House and how their lives were impacted and transformed.
“I used to be a wastrel! My life changed when I met my Pastor, who handed me a tract titled ‘Jesus Loves You’. He shared John 3:16 with me and I started to question: ‘Can God really love someone like me?’ He offered to pray for me. He invited me to his church at the old Bible House located at Armenian Street.
I remember quite clearly how some church members and I would volunteer to help the staff at the Bible House slot tracts and letters into envelopes and carry the sealed envelopes to the post office to be mailed out to the donors. Although we had no idea what the Bible House was doing besides selling Bibles, we were happy to volunteer.
Six months later, in mid-2008, the old Bible House was torn down for redevelopment. We moved back to the ‘new Bible House’ in February 2011, and we met every Sunday at Bible House till 2015.” —Joseph, ex-volunteer at the old Bible House
“I came into a personal relationship with Christ during my Pre-U days in a mission school through fellowship groups, Bible study groups... and Bible materials available at the Bible Society Bookshop.
It was a privilege together with my wife to join the BS Team to visit the Amity Press in Nanjing to see the printing and publishing work as well as being involved with the Bible distribution in Chengdu (Szechuan) and Kunming (Yunnan). We also participated in Bible Engagement trips organised by the Bible Society to Israel and Turkey.” —Revd Canon Dr Louis Tay, Auxiliary Clergy, St Andrew's Cathedral
“I recall the Bible Society office in the old bungalow at 7 Armenian Street. Since Bible House’s completion in the 70’s, Scripture Union Singapore stopped “wandering in the wilderness” and settled comfortably in Bible House, which is very central and easily accessible.
In 1978, the Singapore Billy Graham Crusade office was located in the Bible House. Christians from all over Singapore visited this office for materials and meetings. We used many rooms and halls in Bible House. The former Bible House was like my second home then.” —Rev Dr Alfred Yeo, Chairman, Scripture Union Singapore
These testimonies highlight the Bible House’s uniqueness—hearing and seeing how a fixed asset like a building can, through its existence, staff and activities held within its premises, be used by God to serve the Bible Mission and the Christian community.
The Bible House—Humble Beginnings
Within Singapore, the Bible Society’s history is intertwined with the early pioneering work in the region—most notably that of Sir Stamford Raffles and Rev Dr Robert Morrison. They were some of the first to realise Singapore’s potential to be a strategic location for missions work in Asia, and it is due to their heart for the Bible Mission that The Bible Society of Singapore exists today. (Watch the Bible Movement Story here.)
The Bible Mission was in operation in Malaya as early as 1818 when the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca was used to distribute and print Bibles. When it was re-located to Singapore and merged with a Malay College to become the Singapore Institution in 1823, the printing and distribution continued. The first Bible depot was established at 591 Victoria Street.
The first references to a “depository” were in the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Annual Reports of 1879 and 1882, as well as from the reminiscences of John Haffenden, the first Agent appointed to oversee and promote the Bible Mission there. Once he arrived, he soon saw the importance of having a more proper and suitable depot. The depot was relocated to his own residence in Robinson Road, which was at a better site to facilitate the distribution of Scriptures. Its address subsequently changed again to 13 Raffles Quay in 1901.
Until then, the depots had all been rented locations, and the persuasion that the Society should have a permanent home of its own grew increasingly stronger. This finally came into being when a site at Armenian Street was purchased with funds from the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Centenary Fund on 15 November 1907.
The new site not only served as the desired proper depot to store and distribute Scriptures, but also functioned as the Agent’s Residence as well as the Headquarters of the Society’s work in Malaya. Thus, for the first time, the Society had a permanent landmark and building which it could call its home.
Over the years, the Bible Society’s work in global Bible missions has expanded to embrace not only making the Word available and accessible to all, but also engaging people with the Scriptures and meeting their immediate needs by adopting a holistic approach to Bible missions to the wider world. (Watch the story of the Bible House come alive.)
Into the Next Lap
2017 is a significant year for the Bible Society. This is the year we celebrate two major milestones: the 180th Anniversary of the Bible Society’s formal registration, and the 110th Anniversary of our residence at 7 Armenian Street. The missional focus is crucial to the Bible Society’s ministry spurring us to be actively involved in Bible and holistic mission work beyond our shores.
That is, we do not just hand Bibles out to people. We help different groups of people to apply the Word to their lives by addressing their specific needs. We consider our work as vital in bringing transformation in our nation and the regions around. Placed in a strategic location, we believe Singapore is called to be an Antioch of Asia to work in partnership with our sister societies in Southeast Asia (SEA Mission). Through contributions by generous donors, the Bible Society also raised funds up to S$1,000,000, both in cash and kind over the past three years, to support victims affected by the floods in Myanmar, the earthquakes in Nepal, Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, and the refugees in the Middle East. It is indeed a blessing to see how the Bible Society’s contributions here bless these faraway communities.
Addressing the Needs in China
China is the home to one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world today. To meet this ever-growing need for God’s Word in China, the United Bible Societies (UBS) and its partners, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Chinese Christian Council (TSPM/CCC), along with social development organisations such as Amity Foundation, are working together to make the Word available to the Chinese. The Amity Printing Company—one of the largest Bible printing presses in the world—was formed to serve the churches in China by printing Bibles. Singapore, though small, played a big role in the growth of the Bible movement in China. In fellowship with UBS, The Bible Society of Singapore has been working closely with churches, Christian organisations, and prominent Chinese leaders in China to channel givings annually to support and develop the Chinese ministry in China.
Continuing God’s Work in Myanmar
The Bible Society is taking the WISE (Word Intake for Spiritual Edification) programme both regionally and internationally through our sister Bible Societies. In May 2015, the Bible Society sponsored the Bible Society of Myanmar’s first literacy workshop in Yangon. Church leaders, representing the three language groups of S’gaw Karan, Asho Chin and Myanmar, gathered for this workshop to equip each language group to develop a literacy curriculum—and WISE will be the follow-up programme after the literacy curriculum.
In November 2015, the Bible Society organised a Bible Mission Trip (BMT) to Myanmar, where 13 participants visited the Myanmar Agape Orphanage in Hmawbi, Myanmar and gave Bibles to the 118 orphans.
Also, in October 2016, another BMT was organised and the team visited and distributed Bibles and relief aid to church communities in Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin in the Mandalay Region. They also had the opportunity to visit four orphanages. Some of the team members have taken it upon themselves to provide some form of financial support to the poorest of the four orphanages, where the children had to live in makeshift bamboo structures.
Channel of Blessings to the Middle East
Through the support of our partners and donors in Singapore, we strive to raise support and reach those undergoing hardships and displacement.
Over the years, the Bible Society has also reached out to the refugees in the Middle East. In November 2014, the Bible Society made an appeal to bless the refugees in Lebanon. In December 2015, a few staff from the Bible Society were blessed with the opportunity to witness the situation in Lebanon first-hand and personally minister to some of these refugees. Not entitled to even basic necessities in life, the refugees relied totally on the relief distribution packages we provided, as well as aid from organisations or churches. Your generous donations made a great difference as it provided some 25,000 refugees with Scriptures and basic necessities.
Rebuilding Lives in Nepal
The Bible Society has also contributed generously to many meaningful projects, including fundraising efforts for the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in 2015 and the BMT to Ghyang Sukathokar Village, Nepal in November 2016. We worked closely with the Nepal Bible Society to distribute Scriptures and other relief materials such as clothing, zinc roofing and sheets to help those affected by the earthquakes to rebuild their homes.
Shared Accomplishment with the Christian Community
Over the decades, there have been many who have worked alongside us to further the Bible Mission. Celebrating these two major milestones is more than the accomplishment of one organisation—it is the shared accomplishment of those who have journeyed with us along the way. As our supporters, you have been such an integral part of seeing these milestones come to fruition, and we would like to invite you to join us in commemorating our major milestones with us.