14. Tobin n SM

Tobin prayed and asked God for a wife who could help him in his ministry. Today, Siew May helps him write proposals and presentations because she is better in English than he is. All photos courtesy of Pastor Tobin Toh.

Tobin Toh was a gangster, gambler and an ex-offender who had gone to prison for being involved in shady businesses.

In Part 1 of his story, while in prison on suicide watch, he had a vision of a white light and a voice beckoning him to “follow Me”. He obeyed.

(Read Part I below)

“Follow me”: In solitary confinement and on suicide watch, this hardened criminal heard a voice that would change his life

But every time he read the Bible, he found himself drifting off to sleep. Sometimes he understood what he read; sometimes he did not.

After a chapel session during which founder and executive director of The New Charis Mission Ps Don Wong preached, Tobin decided to say the Sinner’s Prayer with him.

That night, Tobin had a miraculous encounter which set him free from the spiritual bondage of his past. The next morning, when he read the Bible, he could understand everything. 

We continue with Part 2 of Tobin’s journey from being an ex-offender to sheltering ex-offenders.

A divine obstacle  

When he completed his three-and-a-half-year prison sentence, Tobin found himself homeless once more. The last time he was without a roof over his head, he was 14 and had walked out of his uncle’s home to be with his gang.

His parents divorced when he was nine. By the time he got out of prison, his father had a new woman in his life and a child with her. His siblings had their own families. In the end, it was his mother who invited him to live with her. Mother and son had not lived together since the divorce.

“I used to be so daring. I had the attitude Die, die lor.”

“It was awkward. I slept in the living room.”

Keen to get back on his feet, Tobin decided to buy over a place in Geylang to lease to sex workers there so they could ply their trade.

“I was a Christian but I was not living any differently from before. I still wanted to do bad things. But when I wanted to do them, I felt bad. No peace,” Tobin admitted to Salt&Light in Mandarin.

“I used to be so daring. I had the attitude Die, die lor. But now, I want to but dare not. I don’t know where my courage went.”

Within a month, his plans fell through.

“I wanted to hire a stand-in to use his name to buy the place. Before I could do it, he got arrested. So I couldn’t start my business.”

So Tobin accepted his sister’s offer to work in the family business making kueh (traditional Chinese cakes). He moved out of his mother’s house and slept in the factory.

From gambling addict to Pastor Tobin  

Meanwhile, Tobin tried settling in a church. Nothing seemed to fit till a cousin brought him to Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC).

He felt a voice speak to his heart: “Look! Pay attention.”

“I met an old friend who used to fight alongside me. We had the same background. So I felt comfortable.”

Tobin stayed on and got baptised there at the end of November 2004, less than a year after attending the church.

It was in that church that he met his wife, Siew May. They were both in the ushering ministry. Though he had seen her around, he had never spoken to her.

One day while waiting to pick his church friends up from an MRT station to attend a fellowship event for ushers, he felt a voice speak to his heart: “Look! Pay attention.”

When Tobin looked up, he caught sight of Siew May’s back as she walked away. 

“He said that God wanted a brother there to study at a Bible college.” 

At the gathering, he finally had the chance to get to know her. Three years later, they got married.

Said Tobin: “I believed it was God who told me to look. When I hear God’s voice, I will obey.”

It was also in FCBC that Tobin started serving in the prison ministry. His time behind bars had given him a burden for those incarcerated. But it would take three years before he earned a pass that allowed him to enter the prison to minister to the inmates.

“I shared my testimony – how last time I was bad, and then I became good. But I wanted to do more. I wanted to share the Gospel as well.”

The desire to go to Bible college grew within him. Then one day God confirmed his calling.

Tobin (left) in 2013 when he graduated with a Diploma.

Tobin graduating with a degree in 2017.

“I was at a halfway house and a pastor gave a word. He said that God wanted a brother there to study at a Bible college. I didn’t dare answer the altar call.

“But after that, I went to him and he told me about a Bible college run by the Assemblies of God.”

For the next seven years, Tobin worked as a taxi driver while studying at ACTS College.

He spent another two years at TCA College, a Christian college by Trinity Christian Centre. He would emerge with a degree in Theology.

God provides

While serving in the prison ministry, Tobin heard about a halfway house that had been put up for sale. The idea of buying the place struck him. His heart was burdened for the ex-addicts who were struggling, just as he used to when he was trying to transition to a new and different life.  

“But I had no money for the deposit. So I told God, ‘If You want me to do it, give me the money.’”

When Tobin went around borrowing money from Christians he knew, the money came in more quickly than he had expected. First S$10,000, then another S$10,000 and then another, till he had the S$140,000 he needed. He bought over Watchman’s Home and became its Executive Director.

Now Tobin the gambling addict was Pastor Tobin.

Tobin speaking to the men at Watchman’s Home.

The Christian halfway house that sought to rehabilitate ex-drug addicts also ran a moving company to provide their residents with jobs.

Tobin had promised his benefactors that he would return them their money from what the moving company earned. In the first year that Tobin took over the place, the business lost money. In the second year, it continued to lose money.

“I had promised to return the money from the moving business, but there was no business.”

Then an unexpected door opened.

At a talk that Siew May attended, the couple learnt that they could apply for government funding.

“People said we wouldn’t be able to get it. But we just tried,” said Tobin.

Siew May drew up a proposal and, to their surprise, they were called up for an interview. Tobin had the vision and the passion but, because of his poor command of English, did not have the words. So Siew May delivered the presentation.

“But it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to say,” recalled Tobin.

“So I told them, ‘Sorry, my English not good. If I spoke in English, I would hurt your ears.’ So I asked the panel if I could speak in Mandarin.

“Among them was one person who did not understand Mandarin. Instead of rejecting me, the others on the panel offered to interpret.”

Tobin (left) baptising a resident of Watchman’s Home.

Tobin was eventually given a grant of over S$200,000, much more than what they had asked for. He was also given the funds to buy a new lorry for the moving business.

“It was as if God gave us the money. I had promised to return the money from the moving business, but there was no business. Instead God used His ways to help me return the money I had borrowed.”

After two years in the red, the moving business picked up. They did so well that Tobin considered expanding the business.

But God had other plans.

“You have no heart”

In 2022, Tobin had a stroke, and caught Covid as well as tuberculosis all at once.

Out of commission for six months, he had to shelf his expansion plans.

After a few years running Watchman’s Home as a halfway house, God convicted Ps Tobin Toh to turn it into a shelter to integrate ex-offenders into society.

In November that year, he was well enough to preach at the halfway house again. As he spoke, he had a strong feeling that God was telling him: “You have no heart.”

Said Tobin: “I wondered if it was a word for the brothers. I prayed for a long time and felt that it was actually for me.”

He realised that he had become too caught up in the moving business and had lost sight of the mission of the halfway house – to provide a place for ex-addicts. He had lost his “heart for the people”.

“God said I had no heart. So we turned it around.”

Convicted, he sold his lorries and, by March the next year, closed the moving business. With the money from the sale, he turned Watchman’s Home into a charity he renamed Watchman’s Home Community Services.

No longer a halfway house, Watchman’s Home Community Services is instead a shelter for ex-addicts. Tobin calls it a “three-quarter-way house”.

“A halfway house helps them stop their addiction. But it doesn’t integrate them into society. When they are no longer part of the strict routine, they go out and they fall again.

“I feel that between the halfway house and the community, there is a gap. The shelter plugs this gap. It gives them a place to stay, helps them find jobs outside, offers counselling, support groups and helps to restore their confidence.

“God said I had no heart. So we turned it around.”

All for His people  

Tobin began seeing God work in the shelter.

Two residents did well enough to move out and get a place together. Another went back to studying to earn a diploma in Sports Science.

“Now I don’t think of money. I think of how to help the sheep.”

“I told him, ‘It’s tough but it can be done. I did it for nine years.’ I encouraged him. 

“I can see what God wants to do with Watchman’s Home Community Services. This is to fill the gap, be a bridge to society.”

In time, Tobin hopes to expand the shelter to include youths-at-risk.

God has shown up in other ways. The money from the sale of the lorries was only enough to last the shelter a year. As the year came to a close, donations came in and they were able to secure funding from Yellow Ribbon Singapore as well.

Step by step, the Lord paved the way for Pastor Tobin to sustain not just Watchman’s Home but each ex-addict in his transformation journey.

Against all odds, Watchman’s Home is set to celebrate its 25th anniversary this May.

Tobin speaking at a Watchman’s Home anniversary.

God’s provision continues to astonish and encourage Pastor Tobin. When he needed sponsors for the anniversary celebration, “I asked and one sponsor just sponsored everything. We told them we needed 30 tables and they said, ‘Okay.’

“I’ve always been like this – I do what I can but what I can’t, I tell God, ‘You have to do. I can’t.’

“In the past, I felt like it wasn’t about God’s work. It was more like running a moving service. All about money. If I serve God and think only about money, I will surely go back into the world.

“Now I don’t think of money. I think of how to help the sheep.”


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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.