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Charis Ong with her mother, Teo Siew Noi, who became a Christian after she was miraculously healed when Charis prayed for her. All photos courtesy of Charis Ong.

When Charis Ong’s mother, Teo Siew Noi, was pregnant with her, she prayed to a deity that the baby would be a girl because there were already seven boys in the family but only two girls.

Charis was born, and Mdm Teo was so thankful that she dedicated her to the deity.

“I used to wonder to myself: If this statue is a true god, why can’t he save himself?”

Charis, now 66 and the founding pastor of Fruitful Vine Church, tells this story to underscore how devoted her family was to another faith.

Their home used to have an altar, on which was a statue of a deity. Whenever her father came home after drinking too much, he would throw the statue to the ground. The first few times, her mother would quietly piece the statue back together.

After this happened one too many times, Mdm Teo gave up. She got someone to write the word “God” on a piece of paper and placed that on the altar instead.

Charis (front left, waving) celebrating her mother’s (centre) birthday with her siblings, siblings-in-law, children, nephews and nieces.

Charis said: “I used to wonder to myself: If this statue is a true god, why can’t he save himself? I didn’t get an answer.”

Chapel’s impact 

Though the family was not Christian, they sent Charis to a mission school where there was a weekly Chapel service at which a sermon would be preached.

“Even though I wasn’t a Christian and I had an altar at home, I went for Chapel.”

Charis was a teenager when she became a Christian.

When she was in Secondary 3, the pastor who was preaching at one of the Chapel services asked if anyone wanted to receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

“Even though I wasn’t a Christian and I had an altar at home, I went for Chapel.”

“I raised my hand,” said Charis, harbouring the hope that Christianity would provide some solace in the midst of her troubles.

Life at home was challenging. Her father often drank and, when he did, would quarrel with her brothers.

Charis was the youngest in the family, born when her mother was in her 50s. Her nine siblings were all much older than she, the eldest by some 30 years. So, she was not close to any of them: “They always looked at me with very serious faces”.

Charis’ mother was a gentle woman who, though not a believer, did not stop Charis from becoming one.

Charis did not tell her parents about her conversion. Only when she was baptised did she inform Mdm Teo. “My mother was a gentle woman. She didn’t scold me.”

This, despite the fact that her Hokkien and Teochew-speaking mother who came from Shantou, China after World War I had been raised in a different faith. She married at 16, when her husband was 23, and became a stay-home mum who minded the children and also helped tend to their family farm.

Miracle healing

As an adult, Charis would go on to get married, have children, experience a personal revival and serve actively in church. Then, God called her to attend Bible school and start her own church.

Charis (centre, back) with her husband George Tan (left, front) and their children.

Through it all, her parents remained resistant to any attempts on her part to share the Gospel with them. After her father passed away, Charis persisted with her mother. There were many opportunities, because her mother used to be at her house often.

“Every night, I would help massage her and help paste Tiger Balm plasters on her back. She had body aches because of her rheumatism.

“One day, when she was 85, I told my mum, ‘I pray for you.’ ” Mdm Teo refused the suggestion and subsequent offers, not once or twice but every time.

Given how devoted she was to another religion, Charis never thought it would be possible for her to ever become a Christian.

Mdm Teo (left) with Charis (right) and two of Charis’ four children.

But, undeterred, Charis tried again after a few months. “I told her, ‘Why don’t you try Jesus? No harm trying.’ ”

“Many people thought that my mum followed me, but it’s not true. She had her own encounter with God.”

To her surprise, her mother agreed to let Charis pray for her. That very night, she experienced complete healing.

“No more pain,” said Charis, amazed. “I knew this was the first step to her conversion.”

After that, Mdm Teo could not stop testifying about the goodness of God.

“Whenever she went to my brother’s house, she would tell them, ‘Jesus is very ling (‘powerful’). She even asked me to go to their house to pray for my sister-in-law.

“She really witnessed for God. Everywhere she went, she would tell people about Jesus.”

Personal encounter

However, Mdm Teo had still not made a personal decision to become a Christian.

Charis doubled her efforts to share her faith. “I told her, ‘Jesus loves you.’ And she would say, ‘I pai pai (‘pray to other gods’). I cannot follow Jesus.”

But one day, out of the blue, when Charis shared again about Jesus, Mdm Teo told her: “Okay, I want to receive Jesus.”

She was 86.

Mdm Teo was 86 when she prayed to receive Jesus as her Lord and Saviour.

“It was God’s timing. I led her to say the sinner’s prayer. At the time, she was a little senile already but when she followed after me in prayer, she was so clear.

“Many people thought that my mum followed me. But it’s not true. She had her own encounter with God.”

Another 10 years  

After Mdm Teo became a Christian, she renounced the practices of the other faith. She had always worn a pendant of another god but readily agreed when Charis asked her to remove it.

That very night, something happened.

“She came to me and said, ‘Give me back the pendant. Without it I cannot survive.’

Mdm Teo lived to a ripe old age of 97 and passed away in October 2010.

“Her eyes were very fierce. I knew it was a manifestation of an evil spirit. So I told her, ‘You are Jesus’ daughter. Jesus is your Lord.’

“She wasn’t one to worry but I saw that she became more at peace.” 

“I repeated it to her a few times. After that she calmed down.”

Mdm Teo experienced insomnia for the next 10 days. Charis prayed for her throughout that period.

The oppressive spirit never returned.

A year after that, Charis baptised her own mother. By then, Mdm Teo was 87.

Mdm Teo (centre, front) with Charis (right, front), her husband George (left, standing) and their four children.

For the next 10 years, Mdm Teo lived to be a testimony of God’s goodness and power, attending a church with a Hokkien service. 

“She wasn’t one to worry but I saw that she became more at peace.” 

When she passed away, Mdm Teo was given a Christian funeral. “I tell everyone, ‘God caused all this to happen.’”


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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.