“Enough. Come and follow Me”: He was deep into drugs when God gripped his life and turned it around

Via Salt&Light Malaysia Desk. TRIGGER WARNING: This story mentions suicidal ideation that some may find distressing.

Michelle Chun // January 11, 2024, 11:28 am

Saved from the brink of death, Ivan Ong’s life is a testament of God’s ability to rebuild a life from ground zero.

Saved from the brink of death, Ivan Ong’s life is a testament of God’s ability to rebuild a life from ground zero. All photos courtesy of Ivan Ong.

One day in 2012, Ivan Ong decided to end his life. 

At 24 years old, the drug user thought he had reached the end of the road. 

His parents, who were airport security officers with narcotics training, had discovered his drug secret after six years and placed him under “house arrest”. 

“I felt completely alone. That one year was the lowest point in my life.”

“For a whole year, all I did was go to college and come home. I was not allowed anywhere else. But I still managed to find ways to get money for drugs,” he said. 

Ivan stole from his family and borrowed from others to feed his habit. But he lost all of his friends. 

“I felt completely alone. That one year was the lowest point in my life,” he recalled.

He tried to take his own life by overdosing. God, however, had other plans. 

“After overdosing, I felt completely normal. It made me so angry. I started yelling and screaming, then fell to my knees in tears. I called out Jesus over and over; it was the only name I knew,” shared Ivan.

Then, the broken young man heard an audible voice say: “Enough. Come and follow Me.” 

On a quest for the high

Ivan, who is a Chinese-Iban from Sarawak, Malaysia, actually grew up in a Christian family. “My parents were trained security officers, very sharp and firm. I was disciplined often,” he remembers.

His parents had been youth leaders in Kuching when they were younger, but when the family moved to Miri for work, they stopped going to church regularly. “We became Easter and Christmas Christians,” said Ivan.

After finishing high school, he stepped into the clubbing scene. He saw people getting high and, intrigued, wanted to experience it for himself.

He started taking recreational drugs such as ketamine and marijuana. He didn’t get hooked until he began taking methamphetamine in 2006.

Looking for God in all the wrong places

Ivan chased after the high for six years. 

“I was really seeking a higher purpose, just trying to find God. I tried different religions and almost embraced another faith,” he said.

One night, the young man came home a wreck. With drugs in his system, his eyes were darting around frantically and unable to focus. He had also lost more than 30kg since he started using.

His father stopped him in his tracks and, after doing a thorough body check, discovered the drugs.

Desperate to save him, his parents placed him under “house arrest” for a year.

It was in that season of hopelessness that Ivan decided to end it all.

Little did he know that he was just about to discover the depth of God’s love for him.

A miraculous recovery

“The night I heard those words, ‘Enough. Come and follow Me’, I looked around, but no one was there. I felt peace, though,” Ivan recounted.

The next morning, he gathered all of his drug-related belongings and piled them on the living room table, before announcing to his parents that he was quitting drugs.

“Ivan, I need you to put down your pukat (fishing net).”

“My parents were very doubtful for the first three months, monitoring my every move, what I ate and drank,” he said with a grin. “But Jesus had saved me.”

Miraculously, Ivan experienced very few withdrawal symptoms and did not need to enter a rehabilitation centre. 

His family stayed by his side, and his sister Ivy encouraged him to return to church.

For the first time in his life, the Bible began to intrigue Ivan. 

When he read that Jesus’ disciples were willing to die for the truth, his curiosity was further piqued. Whenever he read the Word, he would find passages that were relevant and applicable to his own life.

“I would feel and sense Him always speaking and communicating with me. Every word in the Bible would be like a video or image, showing a new revelation and different angle of God’s heart,” he shared, adding that he also found a group of friends who encouraged him in the faith.

That same year in 2012, Ivan’s family also experienced restoration with God and each other. 

A family restored from drinking, gambling and nominal Christianity: Ivan, Ivy and their parents are now best friends, encouraging each other in their walk with Christ.

“My father quit gambling, my whole family stopped drinking. We had never been like this before; we became best friends,” he said. 

At a revival conference that year, Ivan rededicated his life to Jesus Christ. 

“Ivan Ong, do you really love Me?”

However, it was a struggle for him to go to church or serve regularly as his job as a sales executive took up most of his weekends.

“One day, I heard a clear voice say, ‘Ivan, I need you to put down your pukat (fishing net).’ I replied, ‘God, are You out of Your mind?’ I was earning good money and supporting my family,” he said. 

He had also never considered full-time ministry. In fact, his desire then was to be dance choreographer.

But he knew God had spoken. As he prayed, Ivan stumbled upon John 21:15-17.

“It’s about Peter being reinstated, but I read it as ‘Ivan Ong, do you really love Me? Then feed my sheep, feed my lambs, tend to my sheep.’ That was what stirred me,” he recalled.

Stepping into a new season

After speaking with his pastors, Ivan enrolled in a four-year Bachelor of Theology course at the Bible College of Malaysia. 

All through Bible school in Petaling Jaya, God provided. Ivan was given a scholarship and love gifts covered his daily needs.

After completing his Bachelor of Theology in 2017, Ivan was installed as a pastor with a local Miri church for four years.

After completing his studies in 2017 and serving as a pastor in a local Miri church for four years, Ivan took a break from full-time ministry to focus on his non-governmental organisation, Uplift Project, which helps underprivileged children through transport subsidies, sponsorship and mentoring.

Uplift Project’s first Christmas and birthday celebration for Miri’s underprivileged children and their families, 2019.

He also began attending Cornerstone Community Church Miri, a church started by his long-time friends, Pastors Sabrina Low and Rachel Bulan.

“It felt like coming home,” he said quietly, his eyes welling up. 

His spiritual family: Ivan with members of Cornerstone Community Church Borneo, including longtime friends Rachel Bulan (back row in cap), Sabrina Low (front right, seated) and Joshua Hajok (seated, in white).

“It was a return to the community, the spiritual family I loved so much – my friends who had walked with me out of addiction over a decade ago.”

In January 2023, Ivan joined Cornerstone Miri as a pastoral assistant. Uplift Project is also now part of Cornerstone’s social arm, which he oversees. 

Reinstated to his God-given identity 

When Ivan, now 35, looks back at his life, he sees God hand at each turn.

“When I was young, we lived in a squatter settlement. We were poor. But my parents had the gift of bringing people together and creating community. They taught me that something can come out of nothing,” he shared. 

“When Jesus asks, ‘Ivan Ong, do you really love Me?’, I will shout, ‘Yes!’ … This is the Scripture of my life.”

Indeed, his life is a testament of God’s ability to rebuild a life from ground zero.

Last year, Ivan experienced miraculous healing of severe sinusitis he suffered from for eight years due to prolonged drug abuse and smoking. 

He is now energised to reach out to the lost and has a heart for the Bahasa-speaking church. 

“I want to reach those who cannot experience church the way we know it. I want to bring church to them in a way they understand … It’s not about positive vibes, it’s about Jesus vibes,” he said thoughtfully. 

“I always go back to John 21:15-17. When Jesus asks, ‘Ivan Ong, do you really love Me?’, I will shout, ‘Yes!’ The Lord can ask me this question 10, 20 years from now and the answer will be the same. This is the Scripture of my life.”


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About the author

Michelle Chun

Michelle believes in the power of the pen (or keyboard) to inspire conversation, influence change and impact people. She believes that everyone has a story, and her prayer is for every heart to discover the joy of knowing God.