If Jesus was living in Singapore today, where would He spend most of His time?
That was a question my pastor asked us during a youth breakthrough camp five years ago. It’s a question that continues to echo in my mind today.
- Where would Jesus be looking?
- Which streets would He be walking down?
- Who would He be spending time with and talking to?
There’s one conclusion I keep coming to — Geylang. Infamous for its red-light district activities, vices and gang fights, we’re often told to avoid this notorious part of Singapore.
But that is exactly what one group of individuals is not doing.
I had to find out why, so I met with Melody Lim who’s facilitating a Christmas initiative to engage with Geylang’s various communities.
She tells me all about the history and heartbeat behind Light Up Geylang, which is a project of Youth With A Mission Singapore (YWAM).
HOW THE JOURNEY BEGAN
It all started back in February 2020.
During worship on the last day of a staff conference, YWAM Singapore’s National Director Joseph Chean was led by the Holy Spirit to lead the team to take a pause and seek God’s heart.
“Father, what else do you have to say to us?” he asked. In those quiet moments of waiting on God’s voice, God began giving them visions.
Staff members began seeing pictures of Christmas lights in Geylang; others began sensing that the people of Geylang needed to experience the joy of Christmas.
God was revealing His vision to YWAM.
“God’s word for us as a YWAM base in this period is to focus on the people groups in Geylang,” shared Melody.
“And especially for the churches — to take that light of Jesus out into the streets.”
As the YWAM team continued seeking God’s heart on Light Up Geylang, God focused their attention on the coffee shops in Geylang and placed two words on their hearts from Matthew 1:22-23 and Mark 10:45.
From the first passage, they were reminded of Jesus’ desire to be with His people — Emmanuel. And from the second, of their role as Jesus’ representative to seek and save the lost.
Reflecting on how God became flesh in Christ, dwelling and sharing life with us, the YWAM team felt convicted to do likewise — to step into Geylang’s communities to share life and God’s love with them.
Ever since these revelations, in obedience and faith, YWAM and volunteers have been going out weekly to pray over the streets and distribute food packets to coffee store owners.
LOVING THE PEOPLE
Last Christmas, YWAM also rallied churches and volunteers to decorate coffee shops with Christmas streamers and prepare care packages as gifts.
For five days each week in December, they went out to the coffee shops. As they patronised the stores, they intentionally befriended coffee store owners.
“We talked to them, learned about their families, offered them the Christmas gifts and asked to pray for them,” recounted Melody.
Over these visits, the YWAM team have found that coffee shops are great locations to bless others and have conversations since they are where individuals from all walks of life come together for meals.
Melody also debunked a common misconception people have about Geylang’s community: “They aren’t your stereotypical dangerous gangsters or street ladies. They are day-to-day Singaporeans as well as friends from other nations.”
Reaching out in simple sincerity, Melody and her team have made many new friends in Geylang. “What I treasured the most was how easily friendships are made in Geylang,” she reflected.
As they met with stall owners, many opened up to the volunteers over time, exchanging phone numbers and inviting them to come visit them.
Some of the aunties even told the team: “We feel the love you have given to us.”
“Even the young children would pray for the streets of Geylang.”
The YWAMers also experienced God leading them to meet people in Geylang who are single parents raising young children.
Melody shared how they met a little girl and her father who ran a Western store at a coffee shop. The nature of the father’s job meant that his daughter would idle around the coffee shop until late at night.
Greatly concerned for the young girl, different members from the team would take time in the afternoons and on weekends to hang out with the little girl, chatting and colouring books with her.
Over time, she developed such a strong bond with some of the aunties that they began to go on outings together, such as taking her to Orchard Road to see the Christmas lights.
YWAM had set out to bless certain groups of people, but were privileged to see how God was also bringing unexpected individuals into their lives as well.
Another burden on the team’s heart was to see families go out and pray for Geylang. As such, it was a great encouragement and reminder of God’s faithfulness when they saw families beginning to do so.
“Even the young children would pray for the streets of Geylang,” shared Melody. “We heard the cry of their hearts and saw how they were very earnest in seeking God.”
In an area where often relationships are twisted, families are broken and love is warped, seeing families pray together was a refreshing change.
Melody and the team also saw it as a prophetic act concerning Geylang, that it would someday be transformed into a place where families and loving relationships thrive.
To that end, Melody and the team have been keeping up efforts to connect with their friends over texts, phone calls and spending time with them at the stalls.
They are also seeing fruit in how people begin to trust the team with their challenges and struggles.
Melody shared: “They would share their personal struggles, prayer requests and sometimes say: ‘Eh, you teach the Bible ah? Why don’t you teach me?’”
Serving on the streets of Geylang also gives the team precious opportunities to take the light of Christ out with them.
Always aware of their identities as Christians, Melody and the team intentionally seek to reflect a “kingdom lifestyle”.
For instance, when they dine in coffee shops, they model godly conversations by sharing testimonies and struggles and spurring each other on.
These are not lost on some families in the community, who have started to reconsider the way they lived their lives.
For example, a small business owner and single mother from Thailand whom the team had met was moved by how they had prepared care packages for her children as she hadn’t even thought of doing that.
As such, these acts of love inspired her to be more intentional in loving her children, beginning with small steps like closing her store for half the day to take her children out for a meal.
PRAYING FOR THE LAND
Through 2021, the more time the team spent serving on the streets, the more they felt God’s burden to love and pastor Geylang.
“In 2021, there was a bigger emphasis on prayer; to sow and plough the ground, to really see God working in the lives of people,” reflected Melody, who shared that the team has been focused on intercession and worship in the last year.
Melody revealed that the team has also completed mapping out Geylang, finding out how the land had been distributed for religious sites, housing buildings, hotels, motels, brothels, coffee shops and so on.
“When we step out onto the streets, we’re asking God, ‘How do You see Geylang? What are You speaking over Geylang?'”
They noticed seven big communities: families, red-light districts, churches, schools, migrant workers’ living quarters, businesses and lorongs (alleys or lanes). These findings led YWAM to initiate the Jericho Prayer March: seven weeks, seven topics of prayer, seven different communities.
Having had the opportunity to take part in these prayer walks, one thing I’ve realised is that when we pray on-site, we realise that God is moving.
By praying, we are aligning our hearts to His and posturing ourselves so that we’re ready to engage as God leads. Prayer makes us yearn to be a part of God’s work.
Melody put it this way: “It’s like what Jesus says in John 5: I see what my Father is doing and I do what my Father is doing.”
She explained that the Jericho Prayer March is about asking God to create in us a heart of love for Geylang: “When we step out onto the streets, we’re asking God, ‘How do You see Geylang? What are You speaking over Geylang? Would You cause us to love Your people?’”
And consistency counts. As people living in Geylang see the team pray weekly, they begin to recognise the team. The team, too, grows familiar with the area and begins to befriend the people through opportunities that surface.
Just a few weeks ago, one of these friends shared how he had been struggling with a serious medical illness. The team spent time listening to him and praying with him.
She made sure to emphasise that YWAM and her team do not see Light Up Geylang as a one-time thing, but a “launchpad” for what God is doing.
Ultimately, the Jericho Prayer March is a proclamation over Geylang, to usher in God’s kingdom.
“We aren’t just praying because it’s the Christmas season,” affirmed Melody. “We’re praying for long-term change and discipleship in Geylang. We’re praying for the generations!”
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
This year, during the Week of Blessing — 20-26 December, 8-9.30 pm — YWAM will focus on blessing Geylang’s seven communities in different ways.
These include giving out care packages to school staff, engaging with residents in apartment complexes, befriending people in coffee shops and giving Geylang’s churches cards of blessing.
As we wrapped up our interview, Melody offered me some food for thought: “When Jesus was on earth, how did He live His life?”
She shared that we know from the gospels that He often spent time with people who were forsaken in society like tax collectors and prostitutes. These were the people Jesus chose to eat with.
“If we call ourselves Jesus followers, then we should also model what Jesus spent His time doing,” concluded Melody.
“Jesus spent a lot of time being present with different ones, loving people in different ways.”
Even if you are unable to make it this Christmas, you can still partner with YWAM in loving and pastoring Geylang in the new year.
“You can join us in January 2022 too! This isn’t just a Christmas thing,” Melody emphasised.
Personally, I’m inspired to make a difference in Geylang this December and beyond.
I know that God is moving mightily in the lorongs — He’s calling us to be a part of His work over this land.
If you’re interested in taking the light of Jesus Christ out onto the streets of Geylang, you can still join the YWAM team to do so.
The next two Jericho Prayer March sessions will be held on Wednesdays, 15 and 26 December, from 8–9.30pm. More information can be found here.
The Week of Blessing takes place Monday–Sunday, 20–26 December, from 8-9.30 pm (except the 22–23 December sessions which will be held at 11am). Click here for details.
If you’d like to find out more about YWAM’s long-term efforts to love and pastor Geylang, please drop them an email!
- This Christmas, as we remember how God became flesh in Christ, how is this significant for you?
- Are you bringing the light of Christ to the people around you?
- Who can you bring the joy of Christmas to?