Kampong Kids in Redhill
On 27th July 1958, a young man, Robert Ong, gathered some children together in an HDB flat at 220-B Redhill Close and taught them a Bible lesson. For more than two years all by himself, he continued this class every Sunday afternoon in his home. The attendance fluctuated between six and twelve. With much optimism, he called it the 220-B Redhill Close Sunday School. The name was changed to Mt Carmel Sunday School on 4th December 1960.
The name was given by Rev Timothy Tow (founding pastor of Life Bible-Presbyterian Church) because the Chinese temple on the hill opposite the premise reminded him of Elijah’s confrontation with the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18). Soon, the sitting-room in the flat could not contain them all. An empty wooden hut with a zinc roof in nearby Henderson Kampong was made available. So on 22nd July 1961, the Sunday School moved down there.
Sunday School By The Pigsty
The Sunday School stayed here for about two years. It is now fondly referred to by our Sunday School as the “pigsty”. Besides having pigs wandering around, the children had to contend with mud and flooding whenever it rained.
The Sunday School shifted back to 220-B Redhill Close on 12 May 1963 when it became possible to utilise another room beside the hall. The Sunday School grew slowly but steadily. A class was even held in the common corridor of the block of flats.
Teenage Service Started
A teenage service was started on 1st Nov 1963. The neighbours complained of the noise to HDB. The Sunday School was ordered to quit operating from 220-B Redhill Close.
That was a crisis. But the Lord had prepared a way out. Robert Ong had in the meantime moved to another flat in nearby Jalan Rumah Tinggi. With much sacrifice, he warmly invited Mt Carmel to move there. So on 31st Oct 1965, we moved to Rumah Tinggi for space and growth.
In Rumah Tinggi
In a matter of two years, every nook and corner of his house was filled every Sunday with children and youths. Sunday School classes were held in his bedrooms and kitchen too. Teenagers filled the hall and overflowed at services. The next stage of development had arrived.
As early as July 1966, the leaders realised that operating in flats would only be temporary. The group had to remain small and a great sacrifice of privacy was demanded of the hosts. From their limited resources, they started a building fund.
To Lengkok Bahru
The final move took place on 26th April 1967. Robert Ong came across a shophouse in Lengkok Bahru which had been empty for several months. It was at the end of a block of flats and shophouses on the edge of the housing estate. A small field stood next to it. It was within easy reach of the residents of Redhill Estate and yet quite secluded.
At Lengkok Bahru, Mt Carmel Gospel Mission was officially inaugurated in May 1967. It is from then that Mt Carmel today dates her birth.
In 1971, when Carmel was barely 125-strong, the young people were offered the use of a home at Margaret Drive in Queenstown. A new outreach called Mount Hebron (now known as Hebron B-P Church) was born. Then four years later, another group went out to start Mount Hermon at Telok Blangah when a shophouse was made available. Hebron itself started the Clementi outreach in 1978 and a few Carmel members living in the area joined the group.
Carmel worship service hovered for several years at 130 –140 but after starting a second service in 1979 to overcome the congestion problem, it rose steadily to the 180 – 200 mark by 1981.
The Road To West Coast
This was the time when the church leadership was convinced that the pattern of growth for Mt Carmel was the house-church model and their vision was extension growth through shophouses. However, government policies and social changes later forced a reversal in thinking. The church painfully changed track and embarked on the costly path of searching for land after two years of thoughtful deliberation from 1978 to 1980.
After many unsuccessful bids and negotiations to find our “permanent base”, the West Coast land fell on the laps of The Bible Church and Mt Carmel in 1982. The leadership then went through another painstaking round of vigorous discussion on its new growth pattern. Strong views were expressed, and finally, the watershed decision was that Mt Carmel “would not amalgamate all the three groups into one big church”. The individual group would “retain its own separate identity and conduct its own worship service, prayer meeting etc.” while the new building would be considered a fresh outreach.
The plan was to retain Carmel, Hebron and Hermon as distinct congregations, each growing towards a full-fledged church. It was a bold step especially as the Session leaders anticipated that “when all the congregations are made fully aware of the implications, the contributions toward the Building Fund may decline”. As it turned out, the spirit of magnanimity and sacrifice negated such fears as Carmelites from all three congregations gave selflessly to the building project.
Mt Carmel was practically overwhelmed by the influx of newcomers at West Coast. The core-group comprised 75 communicant members and 9 regular friends from the 3 original congregations but at the first Worship Service on 17th March 1985, an astounding 221 adults and 69 children streamed into the sanctuary. By December, the Sunday congregation swelled to 423.
In Oct 1988, 38 new-generation Carmelites launched the Mount Horeb outreach.