healthserveIt was a dinner with a difference. The Minister shook hands with an ex-pimp. Bishops mingled with ex-offenders. Glitterati waited in line for their food next to migrant workers. The caterer was one of the best in the city. The dinner was held under tents that had previously housed APEC leaders. And all this happened in Geylang. As one pastor put it, this was a foretaste of heaven and he was right.

The event was the 50th birthday celebration of my friend Dr. Goh Wei Leong. A successful GP, he could have held his birthday dinner in any posh hotel in town. But he decided to hold it in Geylang instead, an area famous for its red light district. It is also an area that houses a large number of foreign workers. Why? Because HealthServe is there.

HealthServe is a non-profit community development organisation dedicated to serving the interests of the migrants, disadvantaged and poor in the local community, regardless of ethnicity, gender, language and religion.

Set up in October 2006, HealthServe, along with its Geylang clinic, is strategically sited within the compound of Highpoint Community Services. We aim to serve by offering medical, legal advice, counselling services and HIV screening tests through our community clinics. (

Wei Leong had been instrumental in starting up HealthServe. He decided to celebrate his birthday in a place that reflected his deepest values. He wanted his closest friends and family to know that he followed a Lord who reached out to all. Here is one account of Jesus reaching out through a meal:

Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.

Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”

Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Luke 5:37-42 NLT)

Darrell L. Bock comments on this passage:

Can those in need really come to Jesus? Or will they need to be cleansed first, as the Jewish leadership suggests?

In this event, Jesus showed that his mission is not accomplished by separatism. Jesus will not wait for sinners. He will seek them out. He will accept them as persons; but he will challenge sinners to meet the God who can bind up wounds and bring them back to health.

Some may be startled at the ministry’s openness. They may react that such associations taint the teacher’s credentials and raise questions about his spiritual integrity. But what Jesus’ actions show is the extent of his compassion and the depth of God’s grace.

The Physician seeks out the sick and calls them into the hospital room of God’s care. In the context of personal acceptance, they may begin to listen, open up to God, and find the way to spiritual health. (Luke 1:1-9:50, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004, 500.)

Make no mistake, Jesus calls people to repent. But His call comes in the context of personal acceptance. “In the context of personal acceptance, (it is hoped that) they may begin to listen, to open up to God, and find the way to spiritual health” (Bock).

I wonder, if you and I had been around during the events of Luke 5:37-42, would we have rejoiced with Jesus and the disciples, or would we have been scandalised like the Pharisees and voiced our disapproval? Take a few moments to think about your church community. How do you think they would react to Jesus’ reaching out to tax-collectors? Prostitutes? Migrant workers? Are our churches hospitals for the sick or are they country clubs for the “well?”

The irony is that we are all sick. “For all have sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23 NLT)” It’s just that some of us do not know that we are sick and so we do not seek the life-giving Lordship of the Master Physician. Many in Geylang are under no such illusion. And in offering a feast in Geylang, Wei Leong helps to proclaim the message of a generous God who reaches out to all.

I am deeply encouraged by ministries like HealthServe and friends like Wei Leong. If Jesus were around today, He would be in places like Geylang. He is.