By Veena Bharwani
THEY hang around outside secondary schools and approach students.
These men then give Bibles to the students and talk to them about God.
The men, usually in their 30s, then ask the students for their handphone numbers and urge them to attend cell group meetings in their church.
This is what some students from Greenview Secondary in Pasir Ris have encountered over the past few years. This is not the only school that has seen religious groups right outside their school gates.
Last month, The New Paper reported that two men were distributing religious materials to students from Shuqun Secondary just outside the school in Jurong.
The principal of Shuqun Secondary, Mr Adolphus Tan, put a stop to it immediately and asked the men to go away.
But in this recent case concerning Greenview Secondary, it was a parent who decided to act.
Mr Patrick Tay, 58, stepped in to protect his son, 13, who was approached by two men from a church outside Greenview Secondary in January.
Mr Tay, who runs a trading company, added: 'My son had just started secondary school this year so he is a bit 'blur'. They then asked for his handphone number and my unsuspecting son gave it to them not knowing what to do.'
Shortly after that, he claimed his son kept getting repeated SMSes and calls from these people asking him to attend their cell group meetings at Cornerstone Community Church in Katong.
Said Mr Tay: ' I felt they are targeting younger kids like my son who are timid and don't know much.
'I am a Roman Catholic myself and I still am offended as they are not respecting our different religious beliefs.'
Mr Tay said he went to the church shortly after the incident to tell the members who had sent SMSes to his son not to bother him anymore.
He also alerted the principal of Greenview Secondary about the matter.
Mr Tay didn't allow us to talk to his son.
The New Paper called the Cornerstone Community Church and e-mailed our questions about a month ago. But the youth leader did not get back to us.
We called the church again a week later, but still couldn't get a comment from them.
The New Paper spoke to five other Greenview Secondary school students who said that they, too, have been harassed on different occasions by men from various churches who were either distributing Bibles or asking for their handphone numbers.
Said a female student, 15: 'They have approached me twice in the past two years. The first time was two years ago. They asked for my handphone number but I declined to give it to them as they are strangers.'
She was approached again in March, this time by two men who were distributing Bibles.
'They would not let me pass them so I just took the Bible and quickly walked away so they would leave me alone. I informed my parents who got very angry and reminded me to be more careful next time.'
The principal of Greenview Secondary, Mr Koh Kok Khai, said he is aware of the situation.
He said: 'We have reminded our students to be mindful when approached by strangers outside of school. They have also been advised not to share personal information with these strangers.'
A vice-principal from a secondary school in the West said his students have also told him of similar incidents.
Another teacher said there is little schools that can say or do as it is a matter of personal religious beliefs - a sensitive issue for all.
Said the 29-year-old English teacher: 'We try not to tell kids what is right or wrong when it comes to religion as schools are a secular space. We would advise them immediately to tell their parents about the matter and let them handle it.'
Parent Pushpa Dhinakaran, 45, said that while such a trend is worrying, she understands that there is little schools that can do to prevent such things from happening.
'If it is happening inside the school premises, then it can be stopped, but this happened outside school.
'The best we parents can do is warn our kids to be careful when talking to strangers,' she added.
This article was first published in The New Paper.