Christmas

He plunged six storeys, but God picked him up

This Christmas, Salt&Light brings you stories from people who discovered that, even in the depths of despair, God Is With Us.

by Christine Leow // December 18, 2020, 7:03 pm

Christmas ham feature NEW

Since leaving his drug-addled days behind, Benjamin Tan's Christmasses have been busy with fulfilling orders for Christmas hams at Breakthrough Missions. Proceeds from the hams help fund the drug rehabilitation programmes at the halfway house. All photos courtesy of Benjamin Tan.

Christmas used to be a time of panic buying for Benjamin Tan, 47.

He was not buying gifts for family and friends. He was not taking advantage of year-end sales for himself. He was hoarding drugs.

“During the holidays – Christmas, Chinese New Year – the price of drugs would always go up,” he told Salt&Light in Mandarin.

“If you don’t buy and keep the drugs before Christmas, when the urge to take drugs hits you during the festive season, you would have to pay a lot to satisfy your habit.”

That was Tan’s earliest memory of Christmas.

Christmas like no other

These days, Christmas is still a busy season for Tan. But, instead of buying drugs, he is busy baking and selling honey-baked hams. Since halfway house Breakthrough Missions started its sale of Christmas hams in 2007, he has been the man in charge.

Breakthrough Missions is a drug rehabilitation half-way house for men who want to be free from addiction. The Gospel-based ministry offers a free three-year stay-in programme and can accommodate up to 70 residents.

On ordinary days, Tan runs Breakthrough Missions’ kitchen, shopping for and preparing meals for up to 80 people each day, twice a day.

“It’s good for the men to have meaningful work.”

Come Christmas, he has the added responsibility of baking up to 200 hams for sale and delivering them with his team of six.

“Before Covid, there would be many orders leading up to Christmas because churches order from us to celebrate. This year, it’s quieter because churches can’t have large gatherings anymore.”

The seasonal service is among other regular services provided by Breakthrough Missions including car washing, book binding and embossing, framing, landscaping and foot reflexology. The ministry also runs a café, gift store, furniture shop and nursery.

“Because we provide our rehabilitation programme for free and we are a non-profit organisation, we offer different services to make money to finance our operations.

“It’s also good for the men to have meaningful work. They get to acquire skills, be responsible and learn to have positive work ethics,” explained Tan.

Lessons from ham

The Christmas ham idea began nearly 15 years ago when a former hotel chef brought a honey-baked ham to Breakthrough Missions as a treat.

“I had never had Christmas ham before. I asked him, ‘What is this?’ He told me this is what people eat at Christmas.”

The man then taught Tan how to bake the ham so he could prepare it for the residents. The idea to bake hams for sale during Christmas followed quickly.

Looking mouth-wateringly delicious now, Tan's earliest attempts at baking hams for Christmas drew complaints.

The Christmas ham idea began nearly 15 years ago when a former hotel chef brought a honey-baked ham to Breakthrough Missions as a treat for the residents. Now the hams help fund the rehabilitation programme in the halfway house.

But their first Christmas sale was slow-going and not entirely a success. “We only had three to four orders. And people took pictures of our ham to complain about it.”

According to the recipe, the ham had to be marinated and baked. The juices from the bake are then collected to make an accompanying sauce.

“I had never had Christmas ham before.”

“We took the marinade instead and served it as a sauce. So, it wasn’t cooked enough! But we accepted their complaints and learnt from it.”

There were also complaints about how the hams were packaged.

“We knew people wanted their hams hot. So, we placed them into boxes directly out of the oven. That’s wrong because then condensation forms on the inside of the box.

“When our customers opened the box, the moisture had made the crisp outer skin of the ham fall off. Our hams looked awful! So, we had to learn from that as well.”

Gradually, the team perfected their skill and the orders started flowing. “It’s all by word-of-mouth.”

Terrifying fall

Tan knows something about learning from mistakes and changing for the better. Before he started working for Breakthrough Missions, he was one of their residents.

“I was in the grip of drugs for 16 years,” Tan told Salt&Light.

His was a happy childhood until his father passed away from lung cancer when he was 12. His mother had to work to care for seven children. The family moved out of the cosy kampung home Tan had grown up in and into an HDB flat.

Tan had a happy childhood, living in the kampung,

Tan had a happy childhood growing up in a kampung. He is six in this photo.

“I ended up mixing with the wrong company. I joined a gang. I was looking for a place to belong, to feel accepted.”

“I did regret it. But it wasn’t enough to get me to give up drugs.”

He began smoking, got into fights frequently and eventually dropped out of school. At 16, he was offered a pill by a friend. He took it without thinking, not knowing that it was LSD, a potent hallucinogen.

That single pill would lead to experiments with other drugs and then to years of addiction to heroin.

“Heroin is not easy to shake off. You keep going back to it. A lot of the brothers who were addicted to heroin have the same experience.”

In 1994, while under the influence of drugs, Tan went into a frenzy and attacked his family with a knife. His sister-in-law was hurt. The police were called.

While serving his National Service, Tan, (stnading, third from right) was never caught for drug consumption. But when he got out of the army, he returned to his old habit.

Tan (standing, third from right) during National Service days. After NS, he returned to his old drug habit.

“In my drug-fuelled haze, I tried to run away and jumped six floors down.”

Miraculously, Tan survived.

But he broke both legs and was in a coma for four days. He was just 21. Because of that fall, his right leg was badly damaged. Tan would forever walk with a limp.

Tan, at 21, jumped six floors down in an attempt to escape from the police.

Tan, at 21, jumped six floors down in an attempt to escape from the police.

“I did regret it. But it wasn’t enough to get me to give up drugs.”

Neither was his mother’s disappointment enough to make him kick the habit, nor the fact that his siblings wanted nothing to do with him.

His drug habit would also land him in prison four times. The last time, he was also sentenced to three years for selling fake goods.

Awakening in a jail cell

It was during that last prison term that Tan “woke up”.

God had rescued his body once. God was about to rescue his soul.

“I thought to myself, ‘Will this be how my life would be, always ending up in prison?’ But I didn’t know how to get out of it.”

Then, he recalled what a nurse once told him. He had met her during his hospital stay after his six-storey fall.

“She shared the Gospel with me and kept saying that Jesus loves me. But I didn’t know who this Jesus was then and I didn’t listen to her.

“The Holy Spirit was the One who brought her words to my mind again.”

God had rescued his body once. God was about to rescue his soul.

Moved by the thought that God loved him and was waiting for him to respond, Tan prayed that very night and asked for God to forgive him.

The next day, he started reading the Bible.

“In prison, I became known as the one who carried a Bible and a dictionary.”

“I couldn’t read very well but I kept reading the Bible anyway. At first, I didn’t understand what I was reading. I would look up the meaning of the words in the dictionary.

“In prison, I became known as the one who carried a Bible and a dictionary.”

In time, Tan understood more of what he read and the verse that encouraged him the most was John 8:12.

“The verse says that if I follow God, I wouldn’t have to walk in darkness. I realised why I kept going back to drugs. It wasn’t just that the habit was hard to shake, although it is.

“But actually, every time you go to prison, there is no access to drugs. So, technically, you are considered clean of drugs.

“The problem is that once you get out, you will go back to drugs because there is a hole in your life and you are using drugs to fill it.

“That hole can only be filled by God. Only God can change you.”

Healing at last

While in search of a way to change his life outside of the prison walls, Tan found out about Breakthrough Missions.

“It was their 20th anniversary and I saw their magazine while in prison. I told my older sister, ‘When I get out, I want to go there.’”

“That first time out of prison, I was at Breakthrough Missions and they were playing a Christian song. It moved me so much, I cried.”

The day of his release in October 2004, someone from Breakthrough Missions came to pick him up to begin his three-year rehabilitation programme.

“That first time out of prison, I was at Breakthrough Missions and they were playing a Christian song. I don’t know why but it moved me so much, I cried. My tears just flowed.”

Two months later, Tan celebrated his first Christmas as a free man – free from prison, free from drugs, free from sin.

“It was very different from my days in drugs. That Christmas, all I felt was peace in my heart.”

He was finally experiencing what it meant to have God with him. Two years in, Tan got baptised at Kam Yan Methodist Church. His older sister attended his baptism.

When Tan got baptised in 2006, his older sister came to watch. God uased Tan transformation to bring healing to his relationship with his family.

When Tan got baptised in 2006, his older sister was present. God used Tan’s transformation to bring healing to his relationship with his family.

When he graduated from the rehabilitation programme, he found a job with Breakthrough Missions and it was through that that he met his wife, Carol. She was a medical social worker who worked with the ex-offenders living there.

Daneil, Carol, Benjamin and Anna Tan enjoying family time. Tan met his wife while working with Breakthrough Missions.

Daniel, Carol, Benjamin and Anna Tan enjoying family time. Tan met his wife while working with Breakthrough Missions.

The couple now has two children, a five-year-old daughter who “can recite Psalms 23 word for word” and a two-year-old son.

“I paid a great price because of drugs. But God redeemed me. He restored my life and my relationship with my family.”


This is the second story in our Christmas series: God with Us. READ THE “GOD WITH US” STORIES BELOW and check back for more stories every day till Christmas!

Her young life stalled after a horrific accident, yet “God made sure I lacked no good thing”

“Go to those who can only be reached by water!” God’s “impossible” call to sail into a closed country

The Breakthrough Missions ham

Click here or call 6479-7734.

A) 3kg Honey Baked Ham @ $90
B) 3kg Bone in Ham @ $150
C) 5kg Bone in Ham @ $200

Photo from Breakthrough Missions Facebook.

Photo from Breakthrough Missions Facebook.

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.

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