In case you (like me) are not totally current on contemporary world history, let me share with you what I’ve learned recently concerning Lee Kuan Yew and his beloved country, Singapore, highlighted by pictures I took of Singapore on the day of their beloved leader’s death. Although we didn’t know it at the time, Alan and I were touching down in Singapore on an Airbus 380 (the world’s largest class of jet) at 3:18 am. Monday morning, March 23…at exactly the same time that Singapore’s revered 91-year-old statesman, Lee Kuan Yew, was expiring nearby after an extended battle with pneumonia. Alan and I felt greatly privileged to visit Singapore during their time of mourning, while the entire world reflects on the life of this “legendary figure in Asia” (UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon) and “ true giant of history” (Barack Obama), who is almost unique in the world for his accomplishment: “Lee personally shaped Singapore in a way that few people have any nation” (UK Prime Minister David Cameron). As the current Prime Minister (his son), Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged, “He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won’t see another man like him.” In brief, Lee Kuan Yew (an ethnic Chinese, Cambridge-trained lawyer) became the Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959 at a time when the tiny island city-state nation (which even today is only 5.3 million people and 714 sq. kilometers [the size of Chicago] at the bottom of the Malay Peninsula…quite a bit of which was built by buying dirt from Indonesia!) was a British territory embroiled in polyglot strife and without natural resources. Through visionary leadership, Lee led the nation to independence from both Great Britain and Malaysia and transformed the tiny Third World country into First World status during his 31-year tenure. For more than 50 years, Lee has been one of the most influential statesmen in Southeast Asia, and he is greatly beloved by his people. As our travel guide shared, Lee Kuan Yew is regarded as the “Father of Singapore.” She explained, “He ruled with an iron hand, but we loved him because he turned our country around; he made us hard-working, clean-living, and prosperous. He made us what we are today.” She went on to explain that Singapore has no tolerance for drugs, laziness, or capital crimes, which are punishable by being beaten with a bamboo cane, hanging, or shooting by a firing squad. Therefore, there is extremely little crime and less than 2% unemployment. Government welfare assistance is only for the elderly, infirm, or mentally disabled. Singapore now vies with Hong Kong for the world’s busiest harbor! The nation has become even more prosperous than either Great Britain or America (per capita). The more our tour guide explained, the more I marveled that any one person could, by merit of his wise and charismatic leadership, so utterly and quickly transform an entire nation! To me, Lee Kuan Yew is perhaps the current world’s most apt (albeit imperfect and limited) foreshadowing of Christ, who is promised to return some day, rule with “a rod of iron” (Revelation 2:7), and restore, not just 714 km, but the entire world to it’s original splendor as a garden home of peace, beauty, and righteousness. I can’t wait! However, God tells us to “occupy until I come,” and I believe that means he wants all of us to be working just as hard as we can to make this world a better and more beautiful place, just like the Singaporeans, who have taken up the challenge: “Let’s make Singapore our garden.” I applaud the people of Singapore, but would also like to challenge the rest of us: “Let’s make this world our garden.” May God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven!
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away, and he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” (The Bible, Revelation 21:3-7)
(I took all these pictures in Singapore on the day of Lee Kuan Yew’s death, except the two portraits of Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong, which are from Wikipedia.)