“Truly a gem for those interested in the growth of the Church’s worker movement since 1954. In the early seventies, the Movement courageously took an option to reach out to the most exploited young workers. Jurong Industrial Estate was naturally the starting point for action—it had the highest concentration of factory workers—and the accompaniment of exploited workers in their daily life and struggles on the factory floor. For those with a heart for the well-being of workers, it’s a book not to be missed.”
- Fr Patrick Goh, YCW National Chaplain 1974-1987
Between modest covers, To Jurong with love includes the author’s insider account of the round-up and imprisoning by Singapore’s Internal Security Department in 1987 of the Catholic social justice network in the small emergent nation.
(In the interests of press transparency, this reviewer was named at the time, to his surprise, as a political activist by Singapore’s Straits Times for helping lead an advertising campaign to have those imprisoned freed).
That security clampdown on innocent church members, an alleged Marxist Conspiracy dragged out over three years, was universally condemned. It even led the International Commission of Jurists to intervene to get a halt to the proceedings in the name of law. The amazing energy and maturity caught in these pages of the island’s Catholic youth in those years goes some way to explaining why a government unaccustomed to challenge would try on harsh scare tactics.
The alleged Marxist Conspiracy comprises only a small section of the book. To Jurong with Love analyses a coherent story of young Singaporeans, Catholics and others, from 1960 to 2000, around a remarkable Workers Centre at Jurong, an industrial estate in Singapore.
The Review of Life (daily), the method of formation used by the Young Christian Workers Movement inspired hundreds of young men and women to take their painstaking part in building the new society. Several gave up well-paid jobs to serve the workers. I doubt there are many comparable pastoral analyses on this scale of church youth leadership in modern society. This record is rare in the way it pursues young people’s own initiatives and perspectives.
While numerous groups of young workers form the core of this story, the players include student groups and specialised chaplains. The approval of the island’s archbishops was constant.
How the aims of several generations of youth modulated with shifts of the economy, what succeeded and what failed, what depth was achieved, all make To Jurong with Love a page-turner. It all constitutes an inspiring work-book for those seriously committed to young people becoming active players in church and society.
The lives of laity, especially at work, may not get centre-stage until some future Vatican Council. This account shows that ‘fidelity’ is no longer a simple thing if it ever was, but requires endless study of interplaying faith and fact as church and society, workers, races, genders, social movements, and whole belief systems take fresh forms.
This book will command the respect of anyone even tempted to underestimate youth as agents of our complex new global order. Daily life as a vocation beyond church shines in these 300 pages. At work, at home and at leisure, in districts as in national and international society, nothing less than humanity itself gradually emerges as the universal subject and builder of God’s Kingdom on earth.
It is not surprising that our grasp of methods, of vision, of the concrete realities of this Kingdom always begin again every day.
Like some recent Acts of the Apostles, To Jurong with Love is a first-hand account of how extraordinary ordinary young Kingdom-builders can be.
- Bob Wilkinson
Former Australian YCW and YCS Chaplain at parish and national levels,
and former Pacific YCS Chaplain