Chew Chor Meng and Deon Tan

When actor Chew Chor Meng was diagnosed with Kennedy's Disease in 2008, his children were only 4 and 6 years old. "It has been a tough road. But God has never left us throughout this 11-year journey," said his wife Deon in a previous interview with Salt&Light. Photo courtesy of Deon Tan.

She was a fresh-faced 20-year-old, with a forthright gaze and a generous smile.

He was a seasoned actor, already a recognised face on TV.

The epitome of the girl-next-door, she was a full-time student and part-time model, here at MediaCorp studios to earn some pocket money from a bit part in a local variety show.

He was the compere of the variety show, charming and comfortable in the spotlight.

Sounds like the beginnings of an 8 Days drama serial synopsis?

Married for 19 years now, Chor Meng and Deon first met at MediaCorp studios when he was a compere for a variety show that Deon had a small part in.

Deon Tan and Chew Chor Meng’s love story couldn’t have sprouted in a more appropriate place – at MediaCorp TV studios, launcher of a thousand stories.

“I found him to be caring, humble and genuine, someone who was easy to talk to.”

“I was in poly then and having my exams. So while the other models were talking and chit-chatting with the actors, I was this funny girl, sitting in a corner studying,” says Deon.

“Out of curiosity, he came over and asked, ‘Eh what are you doing?’ And that’s how our friendship started!

“Over the next three days together, I found him to be caring, humble and genuine, someone who was easy to talk to.”

But not everyone approved of the budding romance.

Deon was a Christian. Chor Meng was a staunch devotee of another religion.

It was going to be a tough road ahead, warned friends and family.

Too late, the two were already in love.

Deon and Chor Meng married after 5 years of dating.

“I had a simple faith,” Deon says. “From the time I became a believer at age 10, I loved the Lord and served in church as a youth – my God journey was pretty plain-sailing.”

That simple faith was soon to be dramatically tested.

Growing up fatherless

Neither Deon, 44, nor Chor Meng, 51, had an easy childhood.

Chor Meng’s father was an abusive alcoholic. When Chor Meng was in primary school, his father committed suicide.

“I grew up in the church. Many of the youth in the church came from single-parent families.” 

Deon’s father was a drug abuser, in and out of prison. He was constantly in debt to support his addictions. Her parents divorced early.

As a result her single mother had three young daughters to raise. The family was struggling so much that a loan shark who came knocking at their door took pity on them and gave them money instead.

“My mother had to put food on the table and had no time to nurture us, or teach us right from wrong,” Deon says.

Things might have gone badly.

But at the age of 10, her 17-year-old sister took her to Hinghwa Methodist Church

“I grew up in the church,” she says. “There was free food, games, friends, I loved to sing and I joined the choir. After school every day, the children would hang out in the church, playing hide-and-seek. We had a youth mentor who kept an eye on us.

“Many of the youth in the church came from single-parent families. The senior pastor, Reverend Ding Bing Hoe ( 陈平和牧师), was like a father figure to us, making sure we had food and applying for bursaries for us so that we could stay in school.”

The angels

Even in her youth, God was preparing her for tougher times ahead.

At a combined camp in Sentosa for 100 youths across the Methodist churches, Deon’s eyes were opened to the spiritual realm. (Ephesians 6:12)

“From a young age, God exposed me to signs and wonders. Step by step, God was preparing me for more to come.”

“On the last night, the pastors and counsellors were at a debrief, leaving the youth to ourselves. We were relaxed and chatting, when a boy whom I didn’t know started playing disturbing music.

“The next thing we knew, another boy started behaving oddly. He was clearly not himself. He ran to the next dorm and pointed to an empty bed, snarling, ‘I want to get to know this boy.’ The bed belonged to the boy who had played the disturbing music. He was very frightened. We all were – we were just 13- or 14-year-olds.

“The youths quickly sent for the pastors, then we gathered around the two boys and started praying. After awhile the boy who was behaving oddly pointed a finger at all of us and said, ‘You are all very lucky, I tell you. I can see angels around, protecting you.’

“I was frightened. But I thank God for the angels that kept us safe.

“So from a young age, God exposed me to signs and wonders. Looking back, I believe that, step by step, God was preparing me for more to come.

“If I had been thrown into Chor Meng’s life without that spiritual preparation, I would not have been ready and equipped for the journey.”

Praying for 13 years

Chor Meng, who was raised in another religion, was deadset against Christianity for many years.

For 13 years, Deon prayed for her husband with no result.

And then the unexpected happened.

“I was working in a bank then and had to go to UK for a business trip,” says Deon. “Chor Meng was left with our two young daughters. The first night I was away, my older daughter started getting a pain in her jaw. Then my younger daughter started throwing up continuously. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with them.

Deon Tan and Chew Chor Meng

Daughters Chloe and Cheyenne have never played sports with their father or asked him to carry their schoolbags. They are his “angels”, says Deon, always going ahead to recce the road or shortest route for their daddy.

“Chor Meng was helpless and desperate. He threw open the window in our house and shook a finger at the sky, saying, ‘If you are really God, heal my daughters.’”

And as an afterthought, he added: “If you do, maybe I will go to church.”

His daughters were healed.

“Thirteen years of unceasing prayer is no joke! But there is power when a wife prays for her husband and children.”

The next day, Chor Meng’s close friend and fellow actor, Rayson Tan, dropped by for a visit.

“Rayson said to Chor Meng, ‘Brother, I’m going to tell you something. Don’t flip out, okay? … I am now a Christian.’ He knew that Chor Meng was against Christianity, so he was a little apprehensive,” says Deon. “But, after what happened to our daughters, Chor Meng was calm.”

In fact, Chor Meng called Deon with a surprise. He wanted to go to church with her.

“I couldn’t believe it!” Deon says. “After 13 years of praying and inviting him to church, there was no result.

“And when he accepted Christ, I wasn’t even there,” she chuckles. “Thirteen years of unceasing prayer is no joke! But there is power when a wife prays for her husband and children. And He was equipping me to handle what was to come.”

“The doctor wept”

The day Chor Meng stepped into church was the day that he received Christ.

But it was also the day that he found out about his illness.

He had been suffering from back pain and had trouble standing for long periods. But test after test revealed nothing.

“No MRI, no ECG, could tell us what was happening,” recalls Deon. “We prayed about it and a pain care specialist in our church approached us and said, ‘Why don’t you let me take a look at Chor Meng?’”

After the examination, he was grave.

“He wept in front of us,” says Deon. “He told us it could be some muscular degeneration and, to be safe, he recommended us to another neurologist.

“We asked God, ‘Why, after 40 years, the day that Chor Meng knows you, is the day that you want to call him back?’”

“This second doctor also wept – he gave Chor Meng 18 months to live.”

Chor Meng was diagnosed with a motor neuron condition called Kennedy’s Disease, a rare form of spinal muscular atrophy which affects one in about 40,000.  

The news hit the couple hard. It was 2008. Their daughters, Chloe and Cheyenne, were only six and four at the time.

“I was thankful that there was finally a diagnosis. But I wanted to rebuke the 18 months,” says Deon. “He was 40 years old; he had been like the Israelites, wandering for 40 years in the wilderness. We asked God, ‘Why, after 40 years, the day that Chor Meng knows you, is the day that you want to call him back?’ We couldn’t understand it.”

The couple decided to see a third neurologist.

“Before this final-final consultation, Chor Meng excused himself and went to the bathroom. It was very tough on him. At that moment, he had a personal encounter with God,” says Deon. “He said, ‘God, I want to trust in You. If it is your will that You want to take me home, just let it be. Just take care of my family.”

Later that day, while the doctor was conducting tests on Chor Meng, Deon was on the other side of the curtain, praying.

“I tell you, God is the best director-producer because things happened so dramatically – like a movie. While praying, I heard a voice that said three times, ‘Trust in me. Trust in me. Trust in me.’ At the final ‘trust in me’, the curtain opened. And the doctor said, ‘I have good news and bad news.’

“The bad news was that it was indeed muscular atrophy. The good news was that degeneration would be progressive. He had more than 18 months to live. We thank God there was good news in the bad news!”

It has since been 11 years.

God’s battle

But it was a journey that would take courage.

As Chor Meng had dabbled in spirituality before accepting Christ, he would not be himself whenever Christian worship music was played.

“During those times, his eyes changed, his manner changed, it was clearly not my husband,” says Deon, who sought help from a pastor to pray over and heal Chor Meng.

Once at bedtime, she played worship music and his demeanour changed. The bed started shaking.

Praying for angels to protect her young daughters, who were asleep, she went to check in on them. To her amazement, she saw a towering angel solemnly watching over her daughters.

“My most important role at home is to pray for my family,” says Deon. “There is power when a wife prays for her husband and children.”

“It was not the small, cute angels you see in gift shops. This was a huge guardian angel, strong and stern, just watching over my girls. You would not dare approach. But at the same time I felt peace knowing my girls were taken care of.

“I returned to my room, locked the door, and said under my breath, ‘Okay, do your thing’ and I prayed. I felt a very dark thing approaching me. Of course I was fearful. On my bookshelf was a book by a Christian author which I had not read. For some reason I picked it up and opened the page where there was a bookmark.

“And this was the verse I saw: ‘You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’ (2 Chronicles 20:17, NIV)

“People use the name of God so flippantly. But I have seen for myself the power of the name of Jesus. Don’t take it for granted.”

“How could it be so timely?” Deon says, still in wonder after all these years.

“I was praying and asking God what to do, and He was telling me: You don’t have to do anything. It is my war. Step aside and I will take care of this.

“I printed out the verse and pasted it all over my room!

“So you see, God has guided and encouraged me step by step. That’s why I never doubt God. When it is the right time, He always shows me what to do and say and pray. Always.”

She also experienced firsthand the power of the name of Jesus Christ when she saw her pastor heal Chor Meng over 25 times.

“The pastor was an old man who walked slowly. But when he uttered the name of Jesus, his voice was strong and any ungodly spirits fell back and could not touch him. I just stood in awe.

“People use the name of God so flippantly. But I have seen for myself the power of the name of Jesus. Don’t take it for granted.”

This is the first part of a 2-part story on Chor Meng and Deon’s journey towards hope. You can click below for Part 2, or find the second story here.

“Hope is a choice and our hope is in the Lord”: Chew Chor Meng and wife Deon

About the author

Juleen Shaw

Salt&Light Managing Editor Juleen hails from the newsrooms of Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp Publishing. She has had two encounters with baptismal pools. The first was at age four when her mother, who was holding her hand, tripped and fell into the church baptismal pool, taking Juleen with her. The second was when she actually chose to get baptised.