Isaac Ong: I had a dream, then God gave me a voice
Isaac Ong // November 26, 2018, 1:52 am
I find it very hard to answer when people ask me, “What’s your job?” I’ve been part of the chaplaincy team at St. Hilda’s Secondary School, part of the FOPx network, part of singing competitions … Anywhere we can bring God’s glory and hope – which is any place – I’m there.
So I find it tough to describe, “Oh, I’m a singer … I’m a youth worker … I’m a whatever.” Because for me, whatever I can glorify God in, whatever I can find my hands to do for God, I will go and do it. If God presents an opportunity, I’ll do it.
Although most people will know me more as a singer now, I didn’t start out singing. I’ve always loved music, but I actually started off as a drummer. I was playing drums for church when I was 14 years old – and I was a terrible drummer. It was only when I was around 20 that I started to pick up singing.
Even now, I don’t really identify myself as a singer. I simply love God and want to express Him through whatever medium that I can. And at this moment, for the last few years, that medium has been music, so I’ve dived into it.
Still, I don’t see myself as a person who’s pursuing a music career; I just do whatever the Lord impresses upon me or leads me to do. So that’s my answer when people ask me how my music career is going.
So when I was 14 years old, I remember having a dream in which I saw myself playing Christian music on the radio. And in it I could feel God telling me to bring love, hope, joy and truth to the media.
So from the age of 14 onwards, I went for many auditions. But I always got rejected. They would say, “Aiyah you’re too short lah … The girl is taller than you … You would look very weird lah … You’re too dark-skinned, you don’t look Chinese … You’re Chinese but you cannot speak …” There were all these comments and years and years of rejection.
And in the 15 years since that dream, I’ve really only done five jobs. One was for Point of Entry, and I was mentioned in a newspaper for my terrible acting. Another was a theatre production, but after one year of practice, I had to leave for National Service. I was even in a URA game where a digital version of me would pop up on the screen and say, “Ah! Time’s up!”
So it was really humbling, when you’ve received this huge call that God’s going to use you in the media and all you do is really minimal work. I questioned the Lord, but every year, the He would remind me, “I’m calling you for this.” And some prophet, some missionary would come up to me and tell me, “God’s calling you for this.”
So about three years ago, there was this opportunity on a local show called The Final 1, and I just thought, “I gotta try again.” I made it to the Top 4, and long story short, there was an opportunity that landed me on 987FM singing “How He Loves Us” on radio.
And God reminded me then, “You know, Isaac, I gave you this vision of you playing Christian music on the radio 13 years ago.”
Also, because of The Final 1, I had to learn one Mandarin song, and soon after that The Voice Singapore/Malaysia (SG/MY) started its very first auditions.
But when I found out that The Voice SG/MY was going to be a Chinese show, I thought, “Aiyah, there’s no way I can do this.” Because this is me: I’m half-Chinese and I failed Chinese Language (B). There’s no way.
Again, God spoke to me, “Isaac, if I gave Moses the words to speak, I will give you the words to speak. Will you trust Me?”
So I said, “Okay, what do I have to lose? My face? Sure, let’s do it.” So I went, and by God’s glory, I made it all the way to the Grand Finals. And there were so many signs and wonders that God did on the show.
It was actually very scary, being on The Voice. When I lead people in worship, even if there’s like 100 or 200 people, I’m completely okay because you know you are singing it for God and everybody’s fixing their eyes on God. But when you’re on a competition, people are judging you – and that’s when your nerve kick in so much.
With English songs, I’m already forgetting my lyrics. I’ve probably sung “Oceans” over 20 times but I still can’t sing the full verse. So when I go on stage to sing a song in Mandarin, there are moments before I start singing where I suddenly forget my lyrics.
And I’ll be praying so hard for God to help me. Please Lord, not today. And thankfully I will remember the words when it’s time to sing.
The editing on the show is also done very well, so I look as though I understand what the judges are saying all the time. It seems like everything flows nicely when you watch the show on TV, that when the judges speak, I reply and respond accordingly, but honestly, I rarely understand what they’re saying to me.
There was once Ding Dang (Della Wu) asked me a question, and because I didn’t understand what she was saying – and I had to say something for the camera – I just said in Mandarin, “Hi, my name is Weng Yi Jie, I am 30 years old this year.” And her real-time reaction was, “Huh? What are you saying?”
Those moments are funny but you can edit everything! I also think it was so divine that God prompted me to pick the third chair, which was Gary Chaw, because Gary speaks English. So every time he said something to me onstage, he’d grab hold of me after the filming and ask if I understood his comments. And then explain what he was saying.
So God really provided, and being on The Voice was great fun. Very, very, very scary, but if God sends us, He will always equip us. That is what we take comfort and joy in.
I understand that the walk I am taking is not conventional. There are many days, many times I wonder: Am I doing it right? Should I be doing this? Should I be building my own kingdom? Should I be building my own life? What about me? But I find that as I pursue God, there’s a strange peace.
My life is a sum of the people God has put in my path: Godly parents who are not perfect but who prayed for me and taught me. Children’s church teachers who dressed up in clown suits and taught me about God’s love.
It’s a collection of leaders who came into my life when I was a teenager, when I was breakdancing a little bit, trying to find my identity. The people who taught me how to worship. The friend in cell group who told me, “Isaac, I think you are very rude.” I have learnt something from all these different experiences.
All these people and experiences are a collection of God’s love upon me: Through the Word, through community, through family, through friendships, through good times, through bad times.
The road up ahead, only God knows, and I trust Him completely. I just go season by season, whatever He calls me to do. The beautiful thing is that He knows it all – He even knows my future. In fact, He knows my past and my present and still He says, “I want you.”
I want to walk with you, and I’m going to guide you through.
For the next few months, I know God is calling me to serve local churches, youth ministries, and to lead and help young people. There will be many battles but we don’t have to be afraid. The victory is won because Christ has already paid the price on the Cross for us.
If God is with us, if God is for us, who can be against us? This is why I do what I do. And it’s been an absolute privilege to partner with the Father who loves us the most, my absolute joy that He has chosen us and picked us.
We have nothing to ever be afraid of.
Isaac serves the community with his social company Colours Global, is the youth director of Emmanuel AOG, and was a finalist on both Channel 5‘s The Final 1 and The Voice (SG/MY). He often speaks in various church circles and leads the FOPx worship team. The annual FOPx Youth Conference will take place on November 29-December 1, 2018. Register here.