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“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

by Denise Soon | 17 August 2017, 2:34 PM

I grew up in a family where I was always taught that “character is more important than how well you do in school”. My parents never pressured me to get straight As. They were okay with failure as long as I’d tried my best.

But I began to heap the expectations on myself when I was in Primary 6. I didn’t do very well for my PSLE and was placed in the Normal Academic stream.

I remember crying when I received my results. My parents couldn’t understand why I was so upset with myself when they were not.

I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.

When I was 13, I realised that I wanted to pursue Psychology. I had it all planned out in my head – I’d go to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, then NUS. But despite these goals, I allowed myself to be distracted from my studies in secondary school.

I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.

I was busy chasing relationships, and often got into disciplinary cases for bullying, truancy and disrespecting my teachers. I became this vulgar, hot-tempered, rebellious kid. I struggled academically.

There were times when I really wanted to change and get serious about my studies, but some of my teachers, peers and even my own family would say things like “You’re from Normal Academic, you’ll never get that far,” or “You’re not the studious type, don’t expect too much.”

I remember the worst insult I received from a teacher: “You’re Denise Soon, how can someone like you ever do well in school?”

Was being Denise Soon a bad thing? Was I hopeless?

I came to know God when I was 16 and I became determined to become a better student. But it was hard: I’d never learnt how to study. Only how to play.

So I didn’t do too well for my N-levels and O-levels, and I didn’t manage to get accepted to study Psychology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. But I was thankful that my O-level results enabled me pursue Psychology at the University at Buffalo under SIM Global.

That meant I would start university at 17. I felt inferior: Most of the students there either had an A-level certificate or a poly diploma, whereas the different path I’d taken meant I was in university straight after my O’s.

I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. Part of me blamed God.

Someone told me, “Even if the rest don’t do well, they have something to fall back on, but you only have your O-level cert. If you fail, what can you do? Who would want to hire you? Which other school will accept you?”

I was scared.

According to the requirements of my major, if I were to get anything below a GPA of 2.5 for my first year, I could very possibly be expelled.

I also started to get heavily involved in church at that time. I started to serve as a life group leader, an actor and creative scriptwriter in the kids’ ministry, and as a musician. I was busy juggling church commitments and school for the next 2 years. But my grades were getting worse with each passing semester.

Before my 3rd year of university, I received an email from the school telling me that I was being placed on Academic Probation.

I was scared because I was left with just one more year. I didn’t want to get expelled. I was averaging a D-grade, and my average GPA every semester had been dropping – my GPA at the end of Year 2 was 2.4.

I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. A part of me felt disappointed with myself for not managing my time better. Another part of me blamed God.

Where was Your grace when I needed it the most? I served You so hard – sometimes to a point where I didn’t have enough time for my studies – so how could You let this happen?

 

I had to take a long, hard look at the student that I had become. 

I realised that I put in less effort in modules I wasn’t interested in. In some semesters, it was easier to count the number of times I was present in class, instead of the number of times I was absent. I chose to scroll through Facebook, rather than my lecture slides. I’d fall asleep in class even if I wasn’t tired.

All this meant I wasn’t very good salt and light in school. How could I claim to live for Jesus if I couldn’t even show basic respect to my lecturer? How could I say that I’ve been transformed by Jesus, if the way I behave shows otherwise?

I struggled to serve in the kids ministry – I felt like a hypocrite teaching the children about Godly values if I wasn’t living them out at home or in school. I thought about stepping down.

Denise also serves as a cell group leader in the kids ministry.

I had to take a summer semester, but it came between my annual church conference and church camp. 

I had a to-do list that seemed endless. Mid-terms, final exams, term papers, a million readings – while preparing to serve on the worship team for church service and camp, and write sermons for the kids ministry.

There was one week when I had to practice 11 songs; some days I had church-related activities the day before an exam. Every week I’d question whether it was worth committing myself so much to church, at the cost of my grades.

I was afraid of prioritising God because I found it hard to trust that He would provide. I looked at my friends who weren’t in church, with more time to study, getting better grades.

I was angry and bitter. I was desperate. But I also knew that I could let the situation come between me and God – or I could let it draw me closer to Him.

So I bargained with God: If I give up my time to serve you, I expect you to help me with my grades.

I recently got back my results for my first summer semester and to my surprise, not only did I manage to pull up my GPA but I also aced my term paper and my exams with a score of 99.9%.

Looking at the results, I can confidently say that #onlyJesus could help me pull through my academic struggle. I was never one who did extremely well in my subjects; to even ace a higher level module, I knew it had to be God.

Even when I failed to trust him, He never failed me.

At this year’s church camp, what my pastor said hit me hard.

“Have we become such busy people, with so much to accomplish every day, that we’ve forgotten about the brokenness in our lives and our desperate need for a Saviour?” he challenged us.

“When something you desire directly competes against God’s desires, you deny yourself of your desire to pursue God’s desire.”

Denise at church camp this year with her SIM campus group (top) and her cell group (bottom).

I’ve learnt to trust that God will provide everything I need – so that I’m not distracted to do the real work.

I’ve learnt that I should never feel guilty for serving too hard, while worrying that God will shortchange me.

I’ve learnt that God wants to see how I make my choices. Will I choose to pursue Him or pursue my grades?

There’s a cost to going all-out for Him, but there’s also a cost to not going all-out. When I stopped to count the cost, I realised that if my studies don’t revolve around God, then what’s the point?

Jesus went all out for me. Now I must learn to do the same – not just in church, but at home and at school as well. He deserves my all. 💯

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When dad cheated on mum

by Charlotte Sim | 17 August 2017, 1:36 PM

I first discovered my dad was cheating on my mum when I was 20.

It started off with fishy images I saw him receiving on his phone. Then, he started to make morning calls every day after my mom had left for work.

I was sure he was cheating on my mom but I didn’t dare to say anything. How was I supposed to talk to my dad about this?

I was also afraid of the repercussions if the truth came to light. Knowing how emotionally attached my mom was to my dad, I feared she would mentally collapse and plunge into suicidal thoughts if she knew the truth. I was worried about how my younger siblings would take the news too.

For many years, I kept silent. The secret weighed heavily in my heart but I had no one to turn to.

I was the only believer in my family when I first came to know God in 2005. I was 13 then.

Being a Christian in a non-Christian family wasn’t easy. My parents objected to my faith; I wasn’t allowed to go to church for a year, or even leave the house on Saturdays, during service timings. My relationship with my family was strained because of this tension.

Somehow, eventually, my parents softened their stance, and they began to allow me to attend church services. I wasn’t the perfect daughter, but I believe my parents could see the gradual transformation in me as I held fast to the Gospel and continued to walk with God. 

Then, one of my sisters came to know Christ. It didn’t happen overnight; it took time, over our day-to-day conversations, before she decided to put her faith in Jesus. This encouraged me to persevere with my parents’ salvation.

For many years, I kept silent about my dad’s adultery. The secret weighed heavily in my heart but I had no one to turn to.

In December 2014, my mom attended an outreach event at my church. This was unimaginable, to me – someone who had once banned me from going to church actually agreed to step into the House of God. She received Christ that very day.

I wept as she recited the Sinner’s Prayer. The wait for my mom to know Christ had been long and arduous.

But God was far from done.

He told me – convicted me in my heart – that I needed to do something about my father’s adultery, three years after I had first found out about it.

And so, I gathered up all my courage and confronted my dad. Either he tell my mum the truth – or I would.

The entire family was thrown into turmoil when my dad confessed. My mom was livid. She wanted a divorce.

My dad went on his knees, begging for forgiveness from each of us. There was lots of screaming and shouting. Unable to face my dad any longer, my mom walked out of the house.

Thousands of thoughts flittered through my mind. Where would my mom go? Would she do something silly? What about my siblings? How are they taking the news?

Being the eldest child in the family, I had to step right into the situation and take charge even though I was just as lost, and just as afraid.

I eventually managed to find my mom. Part of me was relieved that she was physically safe. Yet the other part of me was filled with trepidation of what the future holds of my family.

She refused to go home and insisted on checking into a hotel. I accompanied her. With every step I took toward the hotel, I made a little prayer to God.

Please God, please.

I spent that night with my mom. We cried. We prayed. We listened to worship songs. This went on all night; neither of us could sleep.

The next morning, I received a text from my dad. He told me he felt the need to go church that very day.

I was surprised. He had been adamant about avoiding anything related to God and Christianity. At the end of the service, he texted me that he accepted Jesus.

I couldn’t see how God was present in the situation; I couldn’t see how He could deliver my family. But God did it.

“I used to avoid church because I felt so unworthy in front of God knowing how sinful my life was and yet not wanting to change,” he said. “But I’m now truly convinced of my sins. I’ve repented.”

My dad humbled himself and showed signs of remorse. He stopped contacting his mistress and became more involved with my family.

It wasn’t easy for my mom but she found it in her to not only forgive my dad, but also reconcile with him. They are now faithfully serving in the same church and cell group together.

I remember the years I interceded for my parents’ salvation. Many nights I fought on my knees, praying for them despite knowing the circumstances.

I only kept going because someone had once persistently done the same for me. Sometimes the harvest comes quick and easy, like with my sister; other times, so much patience is required as the fruit slowly ripens. There are even times when it feels like the tree has withered and there can be no fruit.

But we have to persevere and believe that God can do the impossible.

It took 9 years before my mom crossed the line of faith, and another 2 more before my dad received Christ. The events leading up to their conversion wasn’t easy – I couldn’t see how God was present in the situation; I couldn’t see how He could deliver my family.

But God did it. He did it. Out of adultery, and into a relationship with Him.


*The author’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

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Everyone deserves a moment with God: Special needs and the Church

by | 27 July 2017, 12:07 PM

Several years ago, a life group in Hope Church Singapore found itself with four unique cell members – each of whom had special needs. With no experience in caring for people with special needs, a few leaders in Hope Church decided to meet and pray over this life group’s new situation.

They then set out to serve and disciple their Friends – this is how members with special needs are addressed – through informal meetings. 

Thus was birthed SHINE, a ministry that now conducts a church service for almost 20 people, which includes both Friends and their family members.

“God goes before us – we just follow,” says Edison, one of SHINE’s founders. It’s a bold and radically different sentiment from what he once thought in private: “Can’t ‘they’ just go somewhere else?”

Edison setting up tables and chairs for the service.

Edison is the first person I meet early the morning I visit the church. He’s a large, cheerful man in his 30s, preoccupied with moving dozens of chairs and tables around the auditorium we were in.

As he offers me a firm and sweaty handshake, I notice Yingqi and Tivona – SHINE’s co-leaders – also working hard alongside him.

I realise they aren’t even setting up for their Friends yet — service would not begin until much later. SHINE’s volunteers are setting up for a session they call Heart Prep — a short thematic study of the Bible and a time of prayer for the service ahead.

There’s an air of excitement and anticipation in the air.

After Heart Prep, we proceed to the ground floor, by the busy main road. Eventually an old battered bus pulls in, filled with Friends who disembark to ebullient high-fives by Aaron, an experienced volunteer who had been waiting with a well-worn wheelchair.

The wheelchair is for Ah Wen — one of the more challenging Friends who SHINE serves. Ah Wen is in his late 20s, severely autistic and non-verbal. Ah Wen isn’t physically disabled, but he needs to be strapped to his wheelchair because he hits people when he’s moody.

Ah Wen has to be strapped to his wheelchair to prevent himself from hitting others or himself.

He also has to wear a helmet because when he can’t reach other people, he hits himself on the head, either with his hands or whatever he’s holding. Ah Wen is a very large man – he’s taller than everybody in SHINE – and he’s very strong.

That morning, Ah Wen refuses to get out of the bus. His mother looks on for a minute, before trying to pull him onto the wheelchair. But when she attempts to do so, Ah Wen resists, tugging at her blouse with surprising force.

After they finally manage to move him off the bus, Ah Wen has to be held by male volunteers as they strap him into the wheelchair, tying his hands to its armrests as gently as they can. Such physical restraint is practised with love in SHINE, with the consent of Ah Wen’s mother. It’s for his safety — as well as the volunteers’.

Once he is fully secured, we head up to the service upstairs.

With Ah Wen safely taken care of by SHINE volunteers, his mother collapses into a chair, relieved to finally have some time to herself.

As we wheel Ah Wen to the lift, we pass by a group of youths who glance over furtively. They can tell that Ah Wen has special needs, and are visibly uncomfortable with his grunting and involuntary shaking. None of them will look him in the eye.

Ah Wen is the biggest and loudest person in the church’s hallway – yet he is invisible. That breaks my heart.

As we enter the doors, Ah Wen’s mother sighs, “这两天我真的受不了了.” The last two days have been unbearable.

I can’t even begin to imagine her daily routine with Ah Wen — even just getting from the bus to the lift was an ordeal. For such caregivers, coming to Hope’s SHINE ministry must be an indescribable relief, like stepping indoors during a storm.

With Ah Wen safely taken care of by SHINE volunteers, his mother collapses into a chair, relieved to finally have some time to herself. Every morning the struggle begins anew, but for these 3 hours in SHINE — it’s like there’s a divine ceasefire. 

I’d never seen it this way till now. A mere 3-hour “sacrifice” for some of us might well be the most treasured and anticipated block of time in the lives of these Friends and their loved ones.

Edison and Yingqi with Ah Wen.

Worship begins, and strangely enough I can no longer hear Ah Wen acting up. He isn’t grunting anymore, the way he had been on the ground floor. I glance over to see Yingqi and Edison kneeling by his wheelchair.

They stay with him the whole service, praying over him, just being with him. Not once do they leave his side.

Whenever Ah Wen grows restless and starts to shake, Yingqi holds his hand and reassures him gently. She is a petite young woman, and it’s a beautiful display of kindness and boldness.

Ah Wen stomps his feet, and Edison intuitively knows that he wants a leg massage. He crouches in front of his wheelchair to ease his discomfort.

Witnessing such acts of love, I realise I’m seeing the people I first met earlier in the morning in a new light. To my mind, they’ve transformed into superheroes of the faith, all in the span of a few hours.

If God won’t turn His face from any of us, why should we look away from others in His church? How could we?

After worship, I ask Tivona if there are cases of Friends they are unable to take on. “There are no rules and no exclusions,” she says, although SHINE volunteers must exercise wisdom in the way they minister to various individuals.

Despite the caveat, I see unconditional love in her answer. 

My mind is filled with thoughts as the service ends and I head home on the train.

When we walk into a room before our Father God as His children, does He love one more than the other? Does He look at an athlete admiringly but pretend a person like Ah Wen isn’t there? 

If the answer is no – and surely it’s a resounding no – then we, too, must love all our brothers and sisters equally.

If God won’t turn His face from any of us, why should we look away from others in His church? How could we? 

Edison and the SHINE ministry volunteers.

I think back to something Edison shared during our conversation. It was about a dream he had about Ah Wen.

“It was me and Ah Wen in heaven. And Ah Wen looked at me and said, ‘Edison, thank you. Thank you for all your help to me when we were on Earth.’

“And I just cried and cried. I woke up crying.”

I see now that the need is so great. The harvest really is plentiful (Luke 10:2).

Some of us still perceive our Friends as people with broken minds, broken bodies. But we are all broken vessels – and in the spiritual realm I don’t believe they’re any more broken than we are.

So it makes perfect sense that we worship one God, under one roof, as one Church.


SHINE is a Special Needs Ministry from Hope Church Singapore. It aims to embrace people with special needs in God’s love, empowering every individual to be whom God has created them to be. It runs services every fortnight, on Saturday mornings. For more information, contact shinehopesg@gmail.com.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Out of the depths of despair, a song of hope

by Sam Chua | 26 July 2017, 10:45 AM

In 2015, I heard the amazing testimony of Ivan and Rachel Tan.

Their baby, Johanna, had been diagnosed with a series of congenital heart defects that were diagnosed as life-threatening if left untreated. Treatment would involve multiple surgeries throughout the baby’s lifetime – and even then nothing was guaranteed.

It was a difficult season for the family, but as the church grieved together, I also witnessed a contagious perseverance to overcome the situation through prayer.

Families gathered, various cell groups prayed, and they were covered in prayer at prayer meetings. None of this was planned.

I wrote a song describing what I saw: How brave the family was, and how united the church grew as it came together.

Heart Warrior is a song about receiving comfort in our moment of need. While we may not have physical heart defects like Johanna, the human heart is frail.

Fear consistently seeps into our hearts. We bite our nails over the what-ifs, the uncertain future, and unbearable tragedies.

At such difficult times, we often comfort ourselves with sayings such as “shalom” or “God is with us”. But what exactly would help you to hear in such a low moment?

This song speaks of His hope, His love and His peace. We’ve all have been through times when we are at our lowest, when we are on our knees, alone in our room, crying. This song comes from a place of personal worship.

While we may not have physical heart defects like Johanna, the human heart is frail.

As I wrote the song, I imagined a scene of the Father’s arms around us when we’re all alone. He’s wiping our tears and comforting us.

I wrote Heart Warrior in the hope of comforting an individual, just like in Psalm 23:4-6. I pray that the song lifts the hearts of the people back to the heart of God, comforting and lifting their spirits in a new and fresh manner.

Jesus is here and always for us. No matter what we are going through, He will always be with us. We pray that you will hear the song and be blessed!

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I dream of a HungerFree world. Do you?

by Shermaine Tan | 8 July 2017, 1:24 AM

Having studied Communications in college, I desired to find a job where I could strengthen my skills and use them to serve God.

So when I came across a job listing for Resource Development and Communications at World Vision Singapore, I decided to give it a try. As I had no prior experience, I didn’t really know what to expect out of working in an NGO. I was afraid of the challenges that this job would entail, a big part of it being fundraising, and I did not know if I had what it took to do it well.

However, I kept praying and asking God to show me if this was the place He wanted me to be in. Through my devotions, I could sense that He was assuring me, reminding me that He would be the One to equip and empower me for the role if I were to take it up.

But by my second interview with the CEO of World Vision Singapore, something incredible happened. On my way to the office, I had watched a video about the parable of the talents and how God desires faithfulness from those who serve Him. During the interview, my CEO started talking about the parable of the talents as she explained the work World Vision is involved in.

That was when I knew that He was calling me to be a part of it.

It wasn’t until I personally met the faces behind these projects that these stories became real to me.

Just as I had wanted to use my Communications training meaningfully, my job at World Vision entails learning about our work in other nations and the needs of the beneficiaries we support so as to share this information with the people here in Singapore.

Last December, I visited World Vision’s Street Children Transformation Project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Street children are children without homes. They live on the streets, beg for money and sell recycled trash for a living. Many of them live from hand to mouth and are vulnerable to trafficking, drug abuse and exploitation.

I knew that World Vision had been providing these street children with food, education, health and shelter. I’d read the reports and learnt that a certain number of children were able to return to school through our interventions. Some were even taught vocational skills and able to find jobs.

But it wasn’t until I personally met the faces behind these projects that these stories became real to me.

During the trip, I met someone truly unforgettable – her name is Sreypich and she is a 17 year old girl who was a former street child and beneficiary of our Street Children project. I’d wanted to understand the Street Children project better and how it’s tangibly benefited lives, so our World Vision Cambodian staff arranged for us to meet.

No one had ever taught her the importance of going to school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate.

I remembered her being very shy when we were first introduced. As she only spoke Khmer, the national language, our World Vision Cambodian staff had to be our translator. But as the conversation went on, she began to share her story in greater detail.

Sreypich and her siblings were abandoned by their father at birth and their mother is unable to work. As the eldest child, the responsibility to take care of the family rested upon her. Before she was taken to the World Vision shelter, she had lived on the streets with her siblings.

She told me about how she had struggled to feed her family, with the police chasing children away and preventing them from begging in the streets. Sleeping on the streets exposed them to the elements and other dangers, but they had nowhere else to go. No one had ever taught her the importance of going to school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate.

Then she sang us a song from her childhood that brought me to tears. These are the lyrics to her song: “Tears, please don’t fall, because your family is suffering enough. Tears, please don’t fall, your family is hungry enough.” This was the song she’d sing to herself whenever she found it hard to stay strong for her family.

I also saw that she was just like me. She had hopes and dreams. She needed to be encouraged, cared for and protected.

When she was brought to World Vision’s shelter, the first thing they did was to officially register her birth so that she would be recognised as a citizen of the country. Our team eventually reintegrated her back to the village where she came from, taught her some basic farming and provided her with tools so that she could farm, earn an income for her family and even go to school.

More than just meeting her physical needs, Sreypich shared that World Vision helped her to recognise that her life had value. When she was at the shelter, she met other street children who had become peer educators. When she asked the teacher if she too could be a peer educator, this was her advice, “If you want to be a peer educator, you will have to be a role model and study hard”. And so she did.

Sreypich’s story really stayed with me, not just for the fact that she learnt to value her own life, but the selfless desire in her to help others in similar situations. Although she did not have much, she was motivated to change her own life and serve the people around her.

In changing mindsets from “I can’t” to “I can” and above all, “I’m worth it”, we show them what it means to have a hope and a future.

I also saw that she was just like me. She had hopes and dreams. She needed to be encouraged, cared for and protected. In meeting her, I was able to understand how important our work is and how the little things we take for granted as Singaporeans can mean so much to an individual.

Meeting Sreypich made me realise that humanitarian work is more than just occasionally providing assistance or meeting felt needs. It is about journeying with another human being to help them see that they too have purpose, destiny, significance, strength and value. In changing mindsets from “I can’t” to “I can” and above all, “I’m worth it”, we show them what it means to have a hope and a future.

Through the work that I do and the people I meet through World Vision, God has both deepened my compassion for those in need and motivated me to work harder to invite others to join our cause. Although I sometimes face challenges at work and still feel inadequate to carry out the tasks given to me, knowing that I am partnering God to change the lives of those He loves keeps me going.

He is behind me and will always enable me to do the work.

Join Project HungerFree

If the Lord has laid a burden on your heart for those suffering from poverty or a calling to serve the nations, World Vision is holding Project HungerFree, a humanitarian festival for youth and young adults who desire to effectively help impoverished communities worldwide.

Through Project HungerFree, World Vision hopes to help interested individuals gain insight into international humanitarian developments and tangible actions they can take to be an agent of change for those in need.

The half-day event will feature dialogue sessions with international field practitioners and elements of experiential learning.

We hope that through this initiative, God will work mightily to equip and raise up more young people who are passionate about working to address material and spiritual brokenness in His world.


World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation that aims to help vulnerable communities all over the world overcome poverty and injustice. Project HungerFree is taking place on July 15, 2017, Saturday. For more details or to register now, please visit their website.

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Scarred by the hand of man, saved by the Hand of God: A pastor’s journey of grace

by | 24 June 2017, 10:02 AM

He was only five when it happened.

In those days, young Ian loved watching his father play Chinese Chess with the neighbourhood’s older residents. In fact, he looked solely to his father for pretty much everything: Providence, counsel, instruction and protection. After all, this man had taught him to ride a bike, play chess and everything else that fathers taught their sons in 1980s Singapore. On his father’s strong shoulders, he soared without care in the world.

But that day, everything changed. While his father was preoccupied with his game of chess, another man sat down by Ian’s side. Ian recognised the man – his mere presence unsettled him.

“He slipped his hands down my pants. I didn’t understand what was happening. I knew I was being violated. And yet, I could never bring myself to tell anyone.”

The man’s next deed would haunt Ian for the next 30 years.

“He slipped his hands down my pants and stimulated me. I didn’t understand what was happening. It was all very confusing because physically it was pleasurable, but I knew I was being violated. And yet, I could never bring myself to tell anyone.”

Sexually awakened at five, boyish curiosity drove him to chronic masturbation.

And this landed him on the receiving end of his father’s discipline. One occasion was extremely bad, he remembers. His father came home to find him touching himself in the presence of his mother and grandmother. “It was the beating of my life,” he sighs.

In typical Singapore Chinese authoritarianism fashion, Ian was no stranger to physical discipline. But this time, the sting of physical blows was overshadowed by the shame of being chastised by the man he adored and wanted to become. In that moment, father and son were estranged, and Ian blamed himself entirely for the rift.

Biologically, his body was responding to his habits. His parents brought him to baffled doctors, where he underwent invasive examinations of his intimate parts. “Those experiences were far worse than the time I got molested,” he says, laughing at the thought.

Convinced he wasn’t normal, Ian drifted into reclusion, often going fishing by himself late into the night. He relegated his father to merely a chauffeur, otherwise giving him the silent treatment. Maybe it’s just a phase, his father recalled thinking then. The storm will pass.

But the wind and waves were only just beginning.

Come Out. Come Home.

I believe shame dies when stories are told in safe places. When I shared my story to my church and Dad, I found myself freed from the bondage and repercussions of being sexually abused when I was 5 years old. Today I choose to share my story with you. My hope is that it will help many others to experience the freedom and love as I did. I believe every story counts. It counts to know that you are not alone. If you are a victim of sexual abuse. If you are wounded and silenced, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to share your story with someone you trust and let them journey with you.Shame has no place in our purpose, plan and destiny. Be unashamed to speak.– Pastor Ian#IAmUnashamed

Posted by 3:16 Church on Friday, 23 June 2017

In his teens, Ian was exposed to pornography through polytechnic classmates. Given his troubled past, he quickly slipped into addiction. It was both a crutch and a poison, comforting and destroying him all at once.

“I’d lock myself in my room and watch videos late into the night. Before long I was missing lessons and skipping school entirely just to get my fix. Didn’t help that I was in IT and knew my way around.”

He describes the vicious cycle: Frustration over bad grades would land him deeper into throes of vicarious sexual fantasy, which would in turn undermine his academic goals. “My father wasn’t rich. But he still bought me a $4,000 computer for school – which was really a lot in those days. I just had to use it to watch all that filth.”

He allows himself a wry laugh through tears and trembling fists.

“Back then I had no idea, but God was already doing His healing and liberating work in me.”

Something had to give – and school was the first thing to go. But dropping out of school only brought Ian more shame, isolation and anger. He applied for enlistment as early as possible to avoid having to deal with his family, with whom the pent-up tension was overbearing, he said.

All he wanted to do was get away. On enlistment day, he trudged into camp alone and almost signed-on because he desperately wanted a new life – any life other than the one he had.

But little did he know, a very different kind of awakening lay just around the corner. And while its effect on his life was to be equally dramatic, it was going to pull him in an entirely different direction.

His girlfriend had been bringing him to church on the weekends. After a gracious officer granted him five days’ leave to attend a church camp, he personally encountered God.

“For the first time I felt this great, great love wrap around me. I knew I was a sinner, but there was no guilt, no shame, no anger – only love. Down on my knees, I wept uncontrollably. I think that was the first step towards healing for me.”

Of course, coming to faith didn’t solve everything immediately. But it was a step in the right direction, a recalibration of his inner compass. For the first time in his life, there was clarity, purpose and joy.

His response was dramatic: At the post-camp thanksgiving session, he decided and declared in front of the congregation that he wanted to serve God full-time in church!

Credit: 3:16 Church / Austen Chua

And so, once he was done with Full-Time National Service, he started work in church as a ministry staff. Still struggling with the darkness of his private life, an inner tension pulled within him as he served. Most of his mentors didn’t know about his secret.

But with the few he confided in, grace always abounded, Ian recounts. He never felt judged, only loved and encouraged to press on in the good fight of faith. “Back then I had no idea, but God was already doing His healing and liberating work in me.”

After 10 years of serving the youths, he was ordained as a pastor and his ministry was remarkably fruitful. But God was just about to shake him up again for a new season.

On a mission trip to the Philippines, he witnessed a young boy crossdressing and speaking with a high-pitched voice. The kid was about the same age as Ian was when he had been molested. Immediately, God spoke to Ian’s spirit, giving him a glimpse of His love for the boy.

“I knew right there that God was calling me to reach out in unconditional love to the broken: Those on the fringes of society, who struggle hard and often alone. God wanted me to love them.”

It was the piece of the puzzle that gave Ian a glimpse of the big picture. His journey of sexual brokenness equipped him specially for the task of restoring the brokenness of others. As he found grace to overcome, God now challenged him to show grace to others.

Leaving his old church, he teamed up with a group of friends with the same vision and started what he calls the 3:16 movement – after perhaps the Bible’s most iconic verse in the book of John, where Jesus describes His Father’s unending, transcendent, unconditional, transformational love.

Credit 3:16 Church / RY

Today 3:16 Church is a vibrant, growing community grounded on that same love – where every member is empowered to love everyone in society, so all may experience it for themselves.

Recently, God challenged him to a deeper level of vulnerability as an example to his congregation. Hoping other church leaders would follow suit, he shared his past on the pulpit. His dad, who sat in the crowd walked up to him after the message and confessed the guilt he carried from 30 years before, when he beat his son badly. Though the emotional scars remain, God gave Ian the strength to forgive his father.

As the Tohs shared a tearful embrace that day, father and son experienced complete reconciliation.

They now make up for the lost years by building the Kingdom of their Heavenly Father together.

About his sexual struggles, Ian confesses that his temptations remain strong as ever. The difference now is they no longer have power over him. “Now I have a choice, and that choice can only reflect the incredible love that I have experienced in Jesus. I never want to go back there again.”

With eyes fixed on his Lord and Saviour, Ian continues to walk out his faith as a loving son, husband, father to his family; pastor to his church; and neighbour to every lonely soul spiritually left for dead from the Detention Barracks in Yew Tee to the streets of Geylang.

Today, he’s visibly tired, but a deep sense of purpose and joy drives him to the second mile. “If I could put a smile on their faces, that would be one life changed for the better.”

/ kenneth@thir.st

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.

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