At the age of 16, Nathanael Chong Yi started clubbing, drinking and smoking to cope with stress and anger. He also suffered panic attacks during his NS days. Would he be able to find the true love he craved? Nathanael is now 24. Photos courtesy of Nathanael Chong Yi and Tung Ling Bible School.

To an outsider, I led an enviable life that was smooth-sailing.

When I was growing up, my parents took my younger brother and me to church every Sunday. They told me that God is good and He provides for the family. We prayed together every night.

However, I didn’t have a good relationship with my family. While I admit I was a naughty and rebellious kid, I felt I was often harshly punished.

I avoided my family by spending as little time as possible at home.

Nathanael Chong Yi

With my younger brother (left).

I didn’t feel that my parents loved me and felt detached from them. That propelled me to look for love and acceptance in the wrong places during my adolescent years. 

Nathanael Chong Yi

Around the age of nine.

Spiralling downwards

Like many second generation Christians, I spent my growing-up years trying to understand this “Jesus” that my parents always talked about. 

But when I was 16 years old, I started a lifestyle of excessive clubbing, drinking and smoking.

Around that time, I left church due to some internal conflict. 

I also entered into a series of romantic relationships with non-Christians. 

Being emotionally immature and unable to handle arguments, I turned to substances to cope with the anger and stress.

I grappled with the principle of why we should not date someone of a different faith.

I knew what the Bible has to say on this: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

However, I felt sure that I could convert them one day by showing them the love of Christ.

Little did I know that being in these relationships pulled me further and further away from church and my faith. 

For instance, we did many things to hurt one another. Being emotionally immature and unable to handle arguments, I turned to substances to cope with my anger and stress.

Together with friends, I frequented bars and smoked two to three boxes of cigarettes a night, all along the streets of Geylang.

I was so devoid of love, my spirit was crying out for something more. Something to satisfy my soul.

The end of one relationship hit me hard. I had big plans with my then-girlfriend, including buying a home through the Build-To-Order scheme. But when these plans fell apart, my life spiralled out of control.

Panic attacks in NS

I experienced many panic attacks while serving my National Service (NS) in late 2021.

Once, in front of my platoon, I broke down in tears and gasped for air as we were moving to the cookhouse for breakfast.

Life just seemed so dark. 

In front of my platoon, I broke down in tears and gasped for air as we were moving to the cookhouse for breakfast.

However, during one of my quiet times with God, I heard Him say audibly: “If you call Me your first love, why haven’t you been treating Me like one?”

I started sobbing uncontrollably. It finally dawned on me that I had been searching for love in all the wrong places, and human love just could not satisfy me.

My Maker was waiting for me to come back into His arms.

That shift made me realise that God is sweeter and better than anyone or anything the world has to offer me. From then, I began making decisions and life choices that were God-centred.

The first step towards rebuilding my relationship with God was going back to church regularly and taking my walk with Him seriously.

I also started going for counselling to address the root of my panic attacks. After about eight sessions, the attacks did not return.

I have not experienced one since.

“I am home”

One of the most life-transforming decisions I made was to enrol in a three-month course at Tung Ling Bible School in early 2023.

I was taking a gap year and wanted to focus on God and learn more about Him. I also wanted to seek His direction for my life, which I believe is to serve in church or society full-time.

Nathanael Chong Yi

Bonding with classmates from Bible school over lunch. It was encouraging to see how so many people my age are passionate and zealous about the things of God.

I particularly benefitted from the Father Heart of God session led by the late Joseph Chean. (He passed away in a traffic accident in Turkey later that year). The session aimed to surface and deal with wrong beliefs we had of God the Father that stemmed from the relationship we have with our earthly parents. 

Because of the way I had been harshly punished whenever I did anything wrong, I viewed God as one who dispenses love conditionally. I believed that when I sinned, I would be punished.

It resulted in me feeling shameful whenever I approached God. I felt unworthy of His love.

Nathanael Chong Yi

We each prayed for and wrote a message to encourage a fellow classmate at Bible school. During the Father Heart of God module, each of us also had to write a letter of forgiveness to either of our parents or to God.

Through the session, however, it became clear that God was proud of me despite my shortcomings.

I heard God say to me: “My beloved son, I am proud of you.”

His words touched me deeply. In that awesome moment, God changed my perspective of Him.

This was critical as I used to feel guilty and extremely filthy about my past transgressions.

I heard God say to me: “My beloved son, I am proud of you.”

It was a wonder to be freed from this guilt and to know that God loves me and is proud of me.

I felt that I had come home.

My time at Bible school also put me on the journey of healing the rifts in my family.

The Father Heart of God module helped me to realise that the hurts I was carrying were like the layers of an onion. As I saw God’s hand peeling those layers away, I was convinced that He was doing something in my life that I should not shy away from.

I needed to forgive my parents and treat them in a more honouring manner.

Does it still hurt? Yes.

Is it going to be a difficult journey toward healing and complete forgiveness? Yes.

Yet I know God is changing my heart to love and forgive them, just like how He loves me and has forgiven me.

I know one day, my relationship with my parents will be restored fully and joyfully. I continue to trust in God for this miracle.

Nothing goes to waste

I am currently studying Social Work at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), and am a cell-leader in the youth ministry at my church. 

My goal is to help give a voice to the voiceless, especially among the youth-at-risk in Singapore.

Nathanael Chong Yi

I am currently studying social work and my goal is to help give a voice to the voiceless in Singapore.

Having once leaned on unhealthy coping mechanisms, I empathise with the struggles of youth and want to champion their cause, bring understanding, and help them find their way to a better life.

I do not want to be a social justice warrior of my generation who does not walk the talk.

Nathanael Chong Yi

Befriending a brother (face obscured) during my internship with an organisation that seeks to bring hope, help and healing to a particular community.

I want to be part of a generation of people that ignites a spark and brings hope and positive transformation to many.

Whatever my future holds, I know my Heavenly Father’s love is everlasting. 

I want to be totally obedient to Him. When He confirms how He wants me to serve Him, my response to Him will be nothing less than: “Here I am, send me.”

Part of this story first appeared in Polished Shaft, a publication of Tung Ling Bible School. It has been adapted with permission.


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About the author

Nathanael Chong Yi

My favourite type of day is having a cold latte in one hand and my Kindle in another. I'm always ready and willing to chat about all things to do with film photography, coffee or running.