The New Charis Mission

“To be frank, growing up among 'brothers' in the halfway house is something that we are proud of rather than ashamed of," says Daryl, the son of Ps Don Wong. From left: Jeremy (son-in-law), Vivienne, Don, Vanessa and Daryl at a New Charis Mission anniversary. All photos courtesy of the Wong family.

From convicted drug addict to convicted disciple of God, Rev Don Wong is one who would readily declare: “God has blessed me beyond what I can imagine. I have all things. I even have (an) award by the two most powerful people in Singapore!”

Referencing the President and the Prime Minister of Singapore, he testified before the Paya Lebar Methodist Church congregation earlier this year: “But all these things can’t do anything for me. Except God.

“In March 1993, 30 years ago, I came out from prison. I have nothing. I tell God, ‘God, I don’t have education. I don’t have skill. But this new life, it can glorify Your name. God, I surrender it to you.”

The anvil on which his faith has since been forged has been nothing less than incandescent. His children, Vivienne and Daryl, tell Salt&Light how growing up as the children of Ps Don, the founder and Executive Director of halfway house The New Charis Mission, has taught them to face trials with faith.

Ps Don prayed: “God, I don’t have education. I don’t have skill. But this new life, it can glorify Your Name.” Screengrab from PLMC sermon library.

The lesson of second chances

Having spent more time at the halfway house than their own home, the siblings speak of the “brothers” there as their community and are mindful of their shared future.

Recounting their childhood years, Daryl shares: “We understood that if they are in our home, they are here to change.”

Their parents’ first explanation to them as kindergarteners was that “a halfway house is a place where people who have made mistakes in the past have a second chance to learn and start anew”, Vivienne shares.

“A halfway house is a place where people who have made mistakes in the past have a second chance to learn and start anew.”

“Along with the different jobs like firemen, policemen, there was ‘pastor works in church’, but at the same time we understood that my dad runs this place and ‘Mama does the paperwork and manages the office people’.

“When we were able to qualify ‘bad’, they told us, ‘The brothers took things that were not healthy for them and became addicted.’”

As they became older they recognised that “the ex-offenders that come in are not ‘bad people’ in the sense that the world thinks”, Daryl adds. “They were surrounded by bad company, they made bad choices.

“But they know how to love kids and that’s how exactly they loved us. When our mum and dad were busy, they would be the ones taking care of us.”

When he and Vivienne returned from school at around 2pm, the “brothers” in-house would be doing their scheduled quiet time. “We would shower and eat and maybe join them in the recreational area at 4pm after we finish our homework,” Vivienne elaborates.

The “brothers” would play with them, whether table soccer or pool, and even give up their choice programmes during their allocated TV time so Vivienne and Daryl could watch cartoons.

“They would even prepare special food for us when we were younger,” she grins. “If they had spicy fish, they would set aside a non-spicy portion for us. 

“We would only leave at about 7:30 to 8 o’clock. We just go home to sleep.”

Surrounded by the love of “brothers”

The siblings tell of happy occasions during primary school when it would be the “brothers” who came to pick them up. On the way, they’d buy them treats like chocolate or French fries from McDonald’s.

Once, two of the “brothers” came in the TNCM van, “very gangster-looking with tattoos and a man-bun. One opened the van door outside the school and went, ‘Daryl! Come!’” Vivienne mimics a summoning motion with her finger.

“It was as though we were being kidnapped! My mum received a concerned call from the teacher!”

Daryl laughs. “I used to be bullied in school,” he recalls. “So sometimes I just told everyone, ‘Hey, don’t bully me. I got 50 gangsters there.’ That was one of my defences!

“Looking back, I always tell people that I thank God for a different childhood. We were surrounded by a lot of love.”

Joy unspeakable: Ps Don and Vanessa became parents-in-law when Vivienne and Jeremy married in November 2022.

They didn’t know theirs was a unique situation until they were in their upper primary years and a Mandarin TV documentary entitled 新加坡妈妈 (Singapore Mother) featured an interview with Ps Don’s mother.

“It also appeared in the newspaper,” Vivienne recalls. “It was such a good thing, right? Because it was about my grandma and how she continued to love my dad despite his past and their restored relationship.

“I thank God for a different childhood. We were surrounded by a lot of love.”

“The only thing that (my peers) took away from that episode was, ‘Oh my gosh, Vivienne’s dad went to jail before.’”

Daryl offers: “To be frank, it’s something that we are proud of rather than ashamed of.”

He recounts them as children tracing with their fingers the tattoos covering their dad’s body and asking: “Why is there this on your back? Why is there this on your arms?”

“He would tell us, ‘These are tattoos. Actually last time your dad’s not a good man.’ He said when he was young he took stuff that’s not good for your body. He hurt people, fought people, got caught by police, went to prison.

“But he also said, ‘Now I know God.’”

Spiritual KPI

Uncannily, the words “success” and “failure” are notably missing throughout Vivienne and Daryl’s conversation with Salt&Light. Such a metric is not used for Ps Don’s variety of medical issues that have required invasive procedures. Neither is it associated with his life since Christ, let alone any of the businesses he has spearheaded since TNCM’s inception.

Among other ventures, these have included forays into the food and beverage (F&B) arena with New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh and a variety of franchises.

“There must be a ‘social’ part to the enterprise, where you see lives impacted’, no matter the state of the balance sheet.”

The aim to provide employment and a viable career path for ex-convicts shunned by the corporate world has always been noble, but setbacks have hit the bottom line hard.

Still, the closing of each of these F&B chapters has never been chalked up to “failure”. The experiences have been instructive, even when the vision no longer aligned, and TNCM has pressed on with other explorations.

Vivienne reflects: “Starting a business always has that risk of losses. But along the way, while waiting for things to pick up, you still enable your beneficiaries, whoever you are trying to help.

“There must be a ‘social’ part to the enterprise, where you see lives impacted and accorded dignity, no matter the state of the balance sheet.”

It’s an ethos that’s been etched into their core since they were children. For as long as they can remember, she and Daryl have internalised second chances as a life principle.

Their The Last Scoop, as well as TNCM’s Charis Cuisines, have arisen out of the sense of these being God-ordained, as well as “the deeper goal to see lives changed and transformed”, Daryl affirms.

Heaven’s blessing: Friends and fellow-workers make light work at The Last Scoop. Photo by Adam Choo.

From the heart: All the ice cream available at The Last Scoop is made by Daryl, including his own creation, Pei Pa Gao. Photo by Adam Choo.

Vivienne adds: “Do we talk about how we can do better to keep the business sustainable? Yes, because if the business is not sustainable, you will not be able to accomplish the deeper goal of helping people.

“Do we see money as an agent to effect change and empower people, or only for you to better your own life?”

“We come back to the God aspect of it: God brings people to us who give new ideas on how to counter issues that we might be facing.

“God brings good part-timers to help us.

“When we see God’s hand in it and we’re like, ‘Okay, we might not see the numbers yet, but we can see God moving, we can trust that we will get there.’

“It comes down to: Do we see money as an agent to effect change and empower people, or as something only for you to better your own life?

“My dad gives us small reminders like that, and then we just hold them.”

Joys and trials

Once a school dropout, Ps Don enrolled in the School of Theology (SOT) of his home church, City Harvest Church, in 2007 and received an Advanced Certificate of Theology jointly awarded by Oral Roberts University. He subsequently went on to get a diploma in counselling psychology as well.

His life’s turnaround is nothing short of miraculous. But amidst the miracles, there have also been trials.

Aside from his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, in 2011 Ps Don was discovered to have a hefty thymoma tumour on his aorta which pressed onto his windpipes. Separately, their mother, Vanessa, had two abnormal nodules sitting under her thyroid and required surgery.

What did Vivienne and Daryl, as onlookers, take away from these health issues?

“Firstly, God always provided,” Vivienne states.

“Secondly, there’s always peace, because my dad will tell us he knows the doctors and everyone are provided by God. Their wisdom, expertise, all the medical advances are by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, because this is the body (of Christ) that God has created.

“Dad believes that how this whole thing now with his cancer goes down, whether by miraculous healing or by medicine, it’s already a testimony.

“With that, we never felt like there was fear. Yes, there was anxiety because there’s uncertainty, but we know God is moving.”

Read part 1 of Vivienne and Daryl’s account of their lives with their dad below:

“God, if I don’t change, I just want to die”: Rev Don Wong’s children recall a childhood fathered by the “ang moh pai kia” turned pastor


The Last Scoop features artisanal ice cream flavours mixed by Daryl himself. Bestsellers include pei pa gao and blue vanilla. Open Tuesday to Friday from 4pm, weekends from 2pm. Closes 1am.

Charis Cuisines is open daily for lunch and dinner. Closes 9pm. Signature dishes include Hainanese porridge and green chilli chicken rice.


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About the author

Emilyn Tan

After years of spending morning, noon and night in newsrooms, Emilyn gave it up to spend morning, noon and night at home, in the hope that someday she’d have an epiphany of God with His hands in the suds, washing the dishes too.