Jimi's with Rt 3

In more than two decades of working at Peacehaven Nursing Home, Ps Jimi Tan has shared the Gospel with hundred of elderly sick, many of whom spend the rest of their lives at Peacehaven. All photos courtesy of Ps Jimi Tan.

He strides along the pristine corridors, stopping to visit each room in the Resident Living Area one at a time. As he enters, he greets the everyone by name, calling out cheerily: “Jiak ba buay (have you eaten)? Had your breakfast?”

Some acknowledge him with a smile, others with an almost imperceptible nod. One woman shares a little complaint: “This morning they fog outside. The smoke come in and I cough a lot.”

As most will never return home, Ps Jimi is their last and only hope of hearing the Gospel.

A good number are lost in their own world or asleep. In another living area, a woman opens her eyes at the sound of the familiar voice.

“This is very special,” Ps Jimi Tan, 64, tells Salt&Light of her response to him.

He proceeds to chat with her as she stares at him, seemingly blankly. But when he asks her a question, she blinks a reply.

“I taught her that,” he says, smiling. “She used to be a laundry supervisor. She’s like this now because of a stroke.”

Ps Jimi is the Chaplain of Peacehaven Nursing Home where the wards are called “living areas” and where more than 300 patients are “residents”.

As he shares with Salt&Light nuggets of information about the residents – *Madam G marks the day of the week by his visits, *Uncle Kenny used to be a Grab driver – it is clear that he not only knows them by name, he knows their stories as well.

Each resident was once able-bodied and productive. Now elderly (the median age of the residents is 79), more than half are either wheelchair users or bedridden. Illness has robbed them of their mobility and, in the case of the 36% with dementia, of their memories too.

As most will never leave Peacehaven to return home, Ps Jimi is their last and only hope of hearing the Gospel.

And he has been a faithful messenger.

More than 700 have become Christians because he shared God’s message of redemption and hope with them.

This is his story and their stories.

A heart for the elderly

Young Jimi was a mischievous child.

“I used to cut people’s kite strings when they flew their kites. When they played with spiders, I would smack their spiders. I would go to my neighbour’s house and steal the rambutans on their trees.”

Despite this playful streak, he took seriously the life lessons his parents taught him.

“My mum and my dad always said, ‘Treat people well. Respect them. See the good in people. Help whenever you can.’”

In his teens, he had the occasion to put the values into practice.

From a mischievous child, young Jimi would grow into a young adult with a heart for the elderly.

His neighbour lost all three of their children in succession – one drowned, one died in a car accident, one consumed poison by accident. Jimi was friends with two of the children.

“When they told me their story, love and compassion began to grow in me.”

“It was very, very sad, the look on their mother’s face. So much despair.”

Some time after, another neighbour’s son died in a freak accident while studying in the United Kingdom. The gas cylinder he had used to heat his home exploded and he was killed.

“I could see the grief in the elderly father. Because of these two encounters, I had a glimpse of their despair and loss. That moved me to visit them more often, have tea with them or a meal with them.

“When they told me their story, love and compassion began to grow in me.”

Over time, Ps Jimi and the families developed such a close bond that they “learnt to love me as their son”.

Those acts of kindness foreshadowed the work Ps Jimi would be involved in for over 20 years. But first, he had to go on a meandering faith journey.

Run, run, run away

When he was 20, an older colleague invited him to her church. His father’s lorry business was faltering and Jimi was feeling helpless and hopeless because there was nothing he could do.

“When I went to church, I kept crying and crying and crying. I don’t know why the message touched me. I just felt like Somebody was ministering to me, that Somebody knew what I was going through.

“That was the day I gave my life to God.”

Jimi (centre) with his parents. His father passed away in 2004 and his mother is now in her 90s.

He was baptised at 21 and, for a few years, was “on fire for the Lord”, sharing the Gospel on the streets and attending overnight prayer meetings.

“I told God, ‘You never let me go. You sent a man from so far away to tell me You love me.’”

But, by his own admission, he “did not want to let go of the world”. He worked part-time doing the lighting at a disco and he loved the night life. It did not take long for his side gig to consume his weekends. He stopped going to church.

For nine years, he had no time for God. Yet God pursued him.

A friend who was dying of cancer begged Jimi to take him to church. He did and his friend reconciled with his wife and returned to church. But Jimi did not.

Wanting to see the world, he took up a job on a cargo ship where he met a missionary who told him: “Jesus loves you.”

Said Jimi: “That touched my heart. I told God, ‘You never let me go. You sent a man from so far away to tell me You love me.’”

Still, he did not return to God. He got married, had children and carried on with his life. Remarkably, it was his wife, a non-believer then, who told him to go back to church. She knew he used to go regularly.

Jimi with his wife, Rose.

“That was the point when I finally said, ‘Yes.’”

By then, he was in his 30s.

Step by step

Back in church, the older colleague who had taken him to church in the first place told him: “I have been praying for you for nine years. Today, God answered my prayers.”

Said Jimi of that revelation: “It touched me that someone was praying for me.”

That was another turning point.

Within a few years, his wife, Rose, joined him in church and was baptised as well. Then came the call to theological studies. He opted for a three-month course at the School of Ministry at Tung Ling Bible School.

At Tung Ling Bible College for three months.

When that was done, he thought he had fulfilled God’s call, but there was more.

“I felt like God was telling me to go to the Theological Centre For Asia (TCA).”

“I said, ‘Okay, God. You want me to study. I will do it.’”

But he was not quite sure he had heard correctly. That afternoon as he contemplated this, a pastor came to his church to pray for the people. 

“I told God, ‘If it is You, I don’t have to tell him what I am praying about. He will tell me. So I told the pastor, ‘I am waiting for something.’  

“The pastor prayed and then he said, ‘God will open the door for you to study.’

“When I called TCA, without interviewing me or seeing me, the dean said, ‘You are on. You start on this date.’

“I said, ‘Okay, God. You want me to study. I will do it.’”

Jimi studied at the Theological Centre For Asia from 1999 to 2001 and graduated with a Bachelor of Ministry, minoring in Pastoral Ministry. In 2016, he did his Master of Social Science as a Professional in Counselling.

The path ahead was cleared in other ways. His wife told him not to worry about their finances. His older child, a daughter who was then only in Primary Three, told him: “Go where the Lord leads you.”

He would emerge with a Bachelor degree in Pastoral Ministry. That was the first step towards the work that he would eventually do – be the chaplain of a nursing home.

“You can call anyone to be here but You have called me. I will serve You.”

While studying, Jimi volunteered at St Andrew’s Community Hospital because he “wanted to look after the elderly and the sick”. His heart ached for the elderly who had no visitors. His love for the elderly sick deepened into a burden for their salvation.

“That inspired me to work in a hospital setting.”

He also worked part-time at a senior activity centre at Touch Community in Geylang Bahru.

“It was God’s hand moving me. I wasn’t good in Cantonese. But there, I learnt Hokkien and Cantonese from the people.”

A good grasp of dialects is essential when working with the older generation in Singapore who tend only to speak dialects.

Three months after graduating from TCA, Jimi secured a job at Peacehaven Nursing Home to be pastor to the residents. He remembers his first day of work – October 4, 2002.

Ps Jimi (far end in blue) with the nurses, staff nurses, social workers, dietitian, doctor, Executive Director, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, community relations teams and pastoral staff of Peacehaven Nursing Home.

“The friend who handed me the brochure about the job gave me a prophetic word. He said I would bring a ministry of reconciliation to the elderly.

“The first day when I came in here, I broke down. I told the Lord, ‘You can call anyone to be here but You have called me. I will serve You. Thank You for Your partnership and Your grace and mercy.’”

Bringing the church home

In these 22 years, Ps Jimi has been spiritual father to the residents of Peacehaven Nursing Home. He does pastoral work, counselling and daily devotions.  

The residents who could move on their own or be wheeled to The Salvation Army church next door used to worship there every Sunday. Over the years, as the residents became less mobile, taking them there every week became more of a challenge and fewer could participate.

That was when Ps Jimi decided to do something different.

“We each have choices to make and our choices have consequences.”

“Instead of taking them to church, we decided to bring the church to them. This way we could reach out to more people.”

That was the start of his morning visits to the Residential Living Areas where he shares God’s Word with the residents. In addition to the 12 living areas spread across three floors, Ps Jimi also preaches at the day centre and visits those who have been hospitalised. It takes him the whole week to cover it all.

“At the living areas, I bring a trolley with a sound system, a microphone and I play the guitar and share with them.

“Most of them say there is no meaning or purpose in life. They are just staying here waiting to die. They have physical illness, mobility issues, dementia. Some feel abandoned and they say, ‘The children don’t visit me.’

“So I bring in a story. I tell them about a 16-year-old boy who started to get into drugs. Then I ask them, ‘Do you think it is the right age?’ I get them to participate. I ask, ‘Who is wrong? Mother is wrong? Father is wrong?’

“Then I say, ‘We each have choices to make and our choices have consequences.’ Then I insert the Word of God – God’s love and God’s purposes – where they can find hope in Jesus.

“Through that, they slowly come to know the Lord.”

On the morning that Salt&Light visits, Ps Jimi makes an appearance at the day centre where the elderly are readying themselves for a ukulele class. He is there to do a closure session. One of the regulars, Uncle D*, had passed away a few days ago. Knowing his friends would be affected, Ps Jimi wanted to take the opportunity to bring them words of comfort.

Every day, Ps Jimi shares God’s Word with the residents of the nursing home.

“Uncle D displayed the character of God when he was here. When Uncle J* got angry, he asked to pray for him.

“Uncle D believed in God. Where is he now? He is in the home of God. Jesus said, ‘If you believe in Me, you will come to My home. (John 14:2)’

“There will be no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, no more suffering. The old has gone, the new has come. (Revelation 21:4)

“We all have to go some day. What is the good thing we can learn from the person who has gone? We learn the good and let go of the bad,” Ps Jimi tells the seniors in Hokkien and in English at the closure session.

Pitstop to heaven

In Ps Jimi’s job, death is a given. He has conducted some 400 wakes services. But salvation is the hope.

Over 22 years, 737 residents and some of their families have become Christians because he shared the Gospel with them, ward by ward, person by person, at their bedside and often at their deathbed.

Apart from preaching at the living areas, Ps Jimi also shares God’s Word at the day care centre.

“Nothing can compare to what God has opened my eyes to see, what He has done for the residents in terms of His love, His touch, His grace and mercy.”

Because many of them are ill and dying, and because most will never get to leave the nursing home, Ps Jimi feels a greater urgency to share the Good News of salvation with them.

“In life, they have gone through a lot. Isn’t it sad if they cannot be with God in death?”

“In life, they have gone through a lot. Isn’t it very sad if they cannot go to another place to be with God in death?

“For those who do not know the Lord, I feel very sad. It also inspires me to spend more time with them so that they can know that God loves them and they will know the Lord.”

The ministry of reconciliation prophesied over him has come to pass as well. There have been many instances. One of the most recent was a resident who came to the nursing home last year bitter and broken. His wife had left him for his friend.

“When he went for weekly kidney dialysis sessions, he would be so frustrated that he would punch the wall till he bled.

“When he sang Chinese songs to get himself through the day, I felt so much for him.

“I told him, ‘Despite all these things, Jesus loves you.’ When he told me he wished he was a butterfly or a bird, I told him, ‘Jesus loves you very much. He doesn’t want you to be an animal. He wants you to be His child.’”

One day, he asked to see Ps Jimi and told him: “I listen to you. I think I want to be God’s child.”

Ps Jimi led him through the Sinner’s Pray. When Ps Jimi found out that the man had only months to live, he decided to help him work through his unforgiveness.

“I told him, ‘Jesus has forgiven all our sins and I think you need to forgive your ex-wife and friend.’

“Each day when I leave, I leave with new compassion.”

“Then I told him the story of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:21-35).”

They were in a room at Peacehaven with virtual reality lanterns. Each lantern lit up and flew away when touched. Ps Jimi left the man in the virtual reality room for a few minutes.

“I watched him from a far corner and I saw him touch the lanterns and push them away. As he pushed each lantern, he said, ‘Jesus, I forgive so and so.’” I was very touched. From non-believer to Christian, to forgiving.”

At his wake, his elder sister pulled Ps Jimi aside and told him: “I am so happy. I prayed for my brother for so many, many years and God answered my prayers.’

“To God be the glory,” replied Ps Jimi.

Asked what it is like to see sickness and death daily, he said: “Each day when I leave, I leave with new compassion.

“I depend on God for new compassion and love, and to see each person as God sees them – vulnerable and in need of someone to bring them hope and Jesus.”

* Names have been changed to protect their privacy.


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.