Journey to Jesus

by Pastor Joey Asher Tan // February 16, 2018, 10:48 pm

Kneeling in prayer

Photo: Ben White/

I am the firstborn of my generation.

When my parents divorced each other in 1991, I stayed with my paternal grandmother and father (for he had the legals rights to my custody).

Our flat was a house temple and I vividly remember the day I counted with my index finger, statue by statue, the number of idols we worshipped – over 130. Yes, it’s a staggering number.

Every August, my family would organise a religious festival to celebrate the “birthday” of the main deity of our temple. Throngs of people would be in attendance and I was always actively involved. There were more people who came to my house to offer incense, ask for protection, consult mediums (yes, possessions and processions took place at my home regularly) than to visit my grandmother, who is the custodian of the temple.

Being the eldest grandchild, I was slated to take over the temple from my uncle, who played the role of a general manager of sorts.

I was exposed to a lot of the operations. I knew and could recognise all the deities by their dialect salutations, chanted during rituals, played the “worship” music (of drums and cymbals) and of course, mixed with tattoo-clad gangsters three times my age.

They said I had so much “spiritual potential” that I was made the godson of two prominent deities and I was the youngest “layman” to be involved in all the activities. I certainly enjoyed the attention and favour everyone showed me and I revelled in it.

John 3:16

Despite being in a missionary institution (Anglo-Chinese School), I only remembered hearing about Jesus Christ when I was in Primary 4, at an external Scripture Union Primary Age Camp. My science teacher, Miss Tiong Su Kwang, had invited me to go along with her.

I have stolen from my own grandmother, the neighbourhood convenience store and even a department store in a shopping centre.

It was then that my discovery of Christianity begun. I remember talking to my grandmother about the camp and how I may want to follow this Jesus person. Needless to say, I received a huge dressing-down from her.

A year later, after a school excursion to Haw Par Villa, where we took a boat into the “18 Levels of Hell”, I became tremendously afraid of dying, probably because I was frightened of the prospect of ending up in hell.

I remember that night, I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally disturbed by all the different punishments I had seen in “hell”: Liars had their tongues cut off, murderers were cruelly decapitated and thieves were violently amputated. I was guilty of some of these sins and I didn’t want to end up as a mere lump of flesh forever.

In tears, I walked out to the living room and had a Papa-I-don’t-want-to-die-and-go-to-hell conversation with my father.

Two years later, after the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), I attended a Christian Fellowship Camp organised by my school. I have no recollection how I even signed up for it. Nonetheless, it was at that camp that I gave my life to Jesus.

My motivation was simple: I didn’t want to go to hell and John 3:16 was the deciding factor for my conversion.

I’m being honest here. I didn’t really embrace the idea of suffering something worse than death itself for all of eternity.

The person who led me in the sinner’s prayer was this brother called Alan Lim. Here’s the excerpt of what I remember about my conversion conversation:

I had “Boys’ Home”,“juvenile delinquent” and “no future” written on my forehead.

Alan Lim“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Me: You mean, I just need to believe?
AL: Yes, it’s as simple as that.
Me: You mean, I won’t go to hell and be tortured after I die?
AL: You will have eternal life with Jesus.
Me: You mean, it’s free?
AL: Yes, it is free.
Me: Okay then, I want to be a Christian.
AL: All right, I will lead you in a Sinner’s Prayer, but do you know that once you say this, there’s no turning back?
Me: Yes, I know.
AL: Good, let’s pray then. Repeat after me, “Dear Jesus …”

That was it — I didn’t want to go to hell and this “Jesus” person offered me a way out of it. It was free and I didn’t need to do anything except to confess with my mouth and believe in my heart. I mean for me, it was a no-brainer deal; who wouldn’t accept this offer?

I certainly wanted this “eternal life” and as a simple-minded Primary 6 boy, I was completely convinced by this salvation idea.

Ah Ma, I have changed

I had to keep this conversion a secret for a good four years before I finally decided to declare it to my grandmother.

It was a Sunday morning and I remember telling it to her while we were in a taxi together. Strangely enough, I can’t remember how I started the conversation. But she was aware that I had missed the August religious festival for four years running now.

Me: Ah Ma,你知道我现在是信耶稣了,每个星期天都会去教堂的。(Grandma, do you know that I believe in Jesus now and attend church every Sunday?)
Grandma: 我当然知道啦,我不管你要信什么,你变乖就好。(Of course I know. But I don’t care what you believe in, so long as you become obedient.)

You see, when I stayed with Ah Ma for those four years in that four-room Jalan Besar flat, I was a terrible and horrible grandkid to look after.

I have stolen from my own grandmother, the neighbourhood convenience store and even the department store in a shopping centre.

I was no longer that repulsive primary school boy that my grandmother used to look after and my significant turnaround was certainly obvious to her.

Everyday, I hung out with hooligans until midnight, gambled, accompanied them to extort money, threatened people and participated in activities that caused trouble in the neighbourhood.

Many times my grandmother had to personally search for me at 11pm. I spewed vulgarities (in dialect) like it was second-nature to me. I’ve changed tuition teachers 11 times in three years, constantly escaped from tuition and even made a couple of tutors cry. I basically had no regard for authority.

Mind you, I had “achieved” all these as a primary school kid. I had “Boys’ Home”, “juvenile delinquent” and “no future” written on my forehead.

I wasn’t an unintelligent boy, but my ill-discipline nearly caused me to be thrown to EM3 (the weakest academic band) during the Primary 4 streaming examinations.

My close shave with EM3 was the last straw for my mother. She acted quickly, taking this opportunity to gain complete custody of me, and my sister and I were reunited after being separated from one another for a few years.

What is your story?

Thereafter I moved from turbulent Jalan Besar to peaceful Ghim Moh. It has been the three of us ever since 1995.

By God’s grace, I made it through PSLE with 4 As and I remember doing it without any additional tuition, as my mother could not afford it, now that she had to look after both children.

Now that I think about it, it was a miracle.

I am certain that God was massively involved in redeeming me and I am certain that there must have been people who were interceding for me.

I was the first amongst my immediate family to be saved, then my sister (although she attended church before me), then my mother.

Again, by God’s grace, the five eldest grandchildren of my paternal family are all Christians now and they serve God in their respective churches.

I was no longer that repulsive primary school boy that my grandmother used to look after and my significant turnaround was certainly obvious to her.

No wonder she said it didn’t matter what or who I believed in, so long as I became obedient.

I may have a captivating story to tell of God’s grace, redemption and goodness in my life. But that’s just me!

The key here isn’t to compare your story with mine but to tell you my story, and for you to tell me yours so that, at the end of the day, God gets all the glory.

May I urge you to always testify, no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you do, for you never know how God will use your testimony to display His awesome glory and amazing redemption. Let’s save some, by all means possible!

Yes, Jesus loves you

This article was first published on updated with permission.

About the author

by Pastor Joey Asher Tan

Pastor Joey is the pastor-in-charge of the youth and children’s ministry, and the assistant head of the next-generation ministry in Grace Assembly of God. He is married to his soulmate Huiyi and is the proud papa of Eden and Judah. He is a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God Council in Singapore and has been in full-time ministry since 2009, after being in the marketplace for five years.