In prison for the fourth time, Bruce met an old friend who was transformed almost beyond recognition. Astonished, Bruce thought: "This guy was more jialat than me and he could change. I want to know this God.” Bruce is now on staff at Holland Village Methodist Church. All photos courtesy of Bruce Lim.

No one thought Bruce Lim would ever get out of his life of drugs. Not even Bruce himself.

Each time he tried to do it on his own, he failed. Even stints at drug rehabilitation centres could not help him kick the habit.

“In prison, the more punishment, the more daring the crime, the more respect you get.”

“Addiction is not just a physical thing, it is also mental.

“You have a tendency to be dependent on drugs because it becomes a coping mechanism to fill in the blanks to make things better.

“I was really broken. I even thought of ending my life,” Bruce, 51, told Salt&Light candidly.   

Being imprisoned four times and caned 15 times were not deterrents enough either. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

“In prison, they have a different culture. Negative success. The more punishment, the more daring the crime, the more respect you get.”

Bruce preaching during the time he was a youth pastor at an independent church.

Yet he would go on to become a youth pastor in an independent church and staff member at Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS) before becoming a full-time worker at Holland Village Methodist Church.

“God removed my hardened heart.”

Brotherhood, love and acceptance

His is a story that is not unusual – lonely boy in search of love finds a gang who seems to give him the validation that he needs.

By 13, curiosity got the better of him and he accepted his first puff of cigarette from his gang. Marijuana was next.

Bruce was the youngest of three children. His older sisters were 12 years and four years his senior.

The wide age gap meant that he was largely left to his own devices. That he was raised by a nanny while his parents were at work and only returned home on weekends did not help matters.

When he was in upper primary, his grades started to slide. When he failed a few subjects, his parents scolded him and caned him, but his friends supported him.

“My group of friends in school said to me, ‘Don’t worry, we have more red marks than you.’

“I felt comforted. So I began to hang out with them. At the time, I thought to myself: Since I can’t do well academically, I can succeed elsewhere. I began to head in another direction.”

Bruce was cared for by a nanny when he was young and went home to his parents only on weekends.

That direction was to join his friends’ gang.

By 13, curiosity got the better of him and he accepted his first puff of cigarette from his gang. Marijuana was next.

“To me, it wasn’t wrong. I just found it was cool. My identity and belonging were in the brotherhood.”

Bruce, as a young boy, with his parents and older sisters.

In Primary 6, Bruce dropped out of school.

“I thought to myself: Since I can’t do well academically, I can succeed elsewhere.”

He eventually did two years in a vocational institute. When that was done, so was his education.

By 15, he was partying at night spots and getting involved in gang fights. He would stay out late, often not even bothering to return home.  

“I was rebellious. My parents were upset and they tried to talk to me. But the influence of my brotherhood and my friends was stronger than my parents.

“My gang provided me with the acceptance and purpose that I needed but could not find at home, because my parents were working most of time to support the family.

“My friends didn’t judge me. They encouraged me. When we had fights, they would say, ‘I like the way you fought.’ They validated me. In a way, I was creating my own success but it was a negative success.”

Arrest after arrest

At 16, Bruce was arrested for the first time. He had stolen a motorbike for a joy ride and had gotten into an accident. He was sent to The Hiding Place to serve his probation. 

“When I was there, I got to hear about Jesus for the first time. Before that, I thought He was somebody Western.

“I also saw gang members transformed.”

One of them invited Bruce to accept Jesus and say the Sinner’s Prayer.

“I was asked, ‘Want to accept Jesus? Don’t accept Jesus, you will go to hell.’ So I said the Sinner’s Prayer. No harm. Bad people also want to go to heaven, right?

“I got to hear about Jesus for the first time. Before that, I thought He was somebody Western.”

“But I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus.”

After he completed the programme and was released, Bruce returned to his gang.

“My relationship with my friends was closer than my relationship with Jesus.”

Bruce remained in the hold of his gang, gripped by his addiction throughout his teen and young adulthood years. By then, he had moved on to heroin, a more addictive drug.

While serving National Service (NS), he continued to take drugs and even went AWOL (absent without leave). His behaviour landed him in Detention Barracks, the equivalent of army prison. 

When he came out, he went back to his gang. More arrests would follow. With each arrest, the sentence got heavier and heavier. Yet every time he tried to change by sheer will power, he failed.

By the time he was arrested for the fourth time in 1999, the sentence was seven years’ imprisonment and three strokes of the cane.

God, if You are real

Just as he was sick of his lifestyle but powerless to change, Bruce met an old friend from his days of drugs and crime while he was in prison.

“He called to me and tapped me on the shoulder. I couldn’t recognise him. He told me his Christian name but I had no friend by that name. Then I realised he was my childhood friend. He was so scrawny before.”

When the pastor invited the people to receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, he felt his heart beat very fast.

The man was no fellow inmate though. He was a PFS volunteer who had come to conduct Chapel in prison. 

“He was serving God and married with two daughters. I couldn’t join the dots.

“That afternoon, I went back and thought: This guy was more jialat (hopeless) than me and he could change. I want to know this God.”

Broken and desperate, Bruce prayed to God: “If You’re real, come and help me. I need You.”

That was just the start. Much later, during one of the Chapel sessions, an altar call was given. Bruce had gone to “meet friends, chit-chat and jalan jalan (have a walk)”. But when the pastor invited the people to receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, he felt his heart beat very fast.

“The Holy Spirit was prompting me. As the pastor said, ‘Jesus loves you. Jesus wants you to come back to Him’, I was struggling. One part said my friends would laugh at me. One part wanted to respond.”

As the volunteers prayed for him, tears flowed freely, though “even when I was caned, I didn’t shed a tear”.

In the end, Bruce stepped forward. As the volunteers prayed for him, tears flowed freely.

“Even when I was caned, I didn’t shed a tear. But when I was there, the tears never stopped.

“Later when I learnt about Ezekiel 36:26, I realised that God had removed my heart of stone and given me a heart of flesh.

“God changed my life. From that day onward, I just wanted to learn more and more about Him.”

The emptiness Bruce had felt all his life and had failed to fill with his gang was finally filled by God.

“He filled my heart. Even though I was in prison and my whole body full of tattoos, yet I was a new creation because whoever is in Christ is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“I truly believed that. That’s when the paradigm shift in thinking happened. I didn’t need drugs or my gang anymore to give me a purpose in life, an identity.”

Free the captives 

While still serving his seven-year sentence, Bruce signed up for a course at Tung Ling Bible School.

“God removed my hardened heart.”

“I read every single word in the Bible, I read commentaries and I learnt the Word of God. Slowly, the Word of God sanctified me and I detached myself from all my gang friends in prison.”

Along the way, God also gave Bruce a verse – Isaiah 42:6-7:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

Bruce said: “I didn’t really understand it. I asked around and one of the volunteers told me to keep it in my heart.”

Near the time of his release, worried that he might fall back into old habits when he got out, Bruce asked Ps Don Wong for a place in his halfway house, Highpoint Halfway House.

Ps Don Wong (left), who founded The New Charis Mission and co-founded Highpoint Halfway House in 1996, with Bruce (right) graduating from Bible school together.

Bruce (second, right) as a staff at Highpoint Halfway House.

On the day of his release in 2003, Ps Don sent staff from the halfway house to pick Bruce up. After Bruce completed the programme at the halfway house, Ps Don employed him as a staff member.

When he was 32, Bruce joined YWAM to train to be a missionary. There, he met his future wife, Yit Leng, who had enrolled for the same reason. Three years later in 2007, Bruce and Yit Leng got married. They now have two children aged 13 and nine.

Bruce (right) and his wife Yit Leng were married by Ps Don.

Bruce and his family celebrating his 50th birthday last year.

In the years that have followed, the word given to Bruce – Isaiah 42:6-7 – has indeed come to pass.

He started The New Charis Mission with Ps Don. Then he became a youth pastor before joining PFS as a staff. He was their Through Care Lead for six years. Now he serves in Holland Village Methodist Church, overseeing its Outreach and Social Concerns as well as Witness and Evangelism ministries. 

Bruce when he was on staff at The New Charis Mission reaching out to students in one of the local secondary schools.

Bruce now works at Holland Village Methodist Church and has a heart for the underserved.

Having witnessed how God transformed Bruce, his parents also became Christians.

Former gang friends have sought his help as well to overcome their addiction. Some have since become Christians.

“Instead of trying to preach to them, we show them living testimonies. Many of them are so encouraged. They see me, a condemned case. Prison couldn’t cure me but Jesus did.

“I tell them, ‘Jesus is real.’ It really is by the grace of God. When we cry out to Him, He actually hears us.”


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“No one wakes up and plans to go to Changi prison”: 800 inmates being cared for by prison ministry because they are forgiven, not forsaken

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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.