What possessed a murderer, a gang leader and a female offender to turn their lives around?
Alex Wenxuan // October 15, 2020, 1:11 pm
Isaiah Seah (centre) with brothers from New Charis Mission at a charity run. The former gang leader who spent 31 years in prison, now journeys with drug addicts. Photo courtesy of Isaiah Seah.
A murderer finds hope in prison.
A woman is sentenced to jail for employing an illegal worker. She starts a cell group behind bars.
A hardened gang leader begins a metamorphosis while serving time for drug trafficking. He would have faced the death penalty if he had been caught today.
They are among five individuals who used to tread a dark path but have since journeyed with others where they once walked.
369 gang leader finds meaning in life: Isaiah Seah
From age 14, “Ah Moy” was groomed to be a leader of the 369 secret society. He headed 50 men for about three decades in Yio Chu Kang.
In 2005, he was caught by the police for trafficking drugs, and was sentenced to prison for 13 years. He would have faced the death penalty if he had been caught today with the amount of drugs he had on him.
It was in prison that he started talking to a group of Christians.
In an earlier interview with Salt&Light, he said that one of them invited him to attend Chapel. There, he met a church volunteer who told him about Christ.
He was skeptical. He asked for a Bible to read up more about the Christian faith.
Soon, he was reading the Bible for two hours a day.
If he did not understand certain verses, he would copy them and ask the volunteer to explain it to him.
His behaviour started to change. He spoke humbly instead of peppering his words with profanity. He was willing to help others and submit to authority.
Two years after being a Christian, he chose to leave the gang. He explained to his gang members why.
“Changing is about believing in a hope and that can make your life totally different.”
“I have realised that the life we used to lead was wrong and that kind of life was meaningless. I hoped they would also turn away from it.”
Upon his release, he wanted to give back to the community and serve God by journeying alongside other drug addicts. He chose new Charis Mission, a halfway house for former drug addicts and offenders.
In 2020, he attended Tung Ling Bible School and later took on an online course in evangelism and discipleship.
There are days when he still has to battle temptations.
“It can be very hard but we need to know our purpose. Changing is not a feeling; feelings can make you waver or lead you astray,” he said.
“Changing is about believing in a hope and that can make your life totally different.”
Last time he killed, now he saves lives: Michael Teoh
Michael Teoh was 16 years old when he killed a man.
With his gang, he had intended to rob the man. But his would-be victim fought back. Enraged, Teoh struck him with a hammer until he was unconscious.
It wasn’t long before the police were knocking at his door. He was thrown into Queenstown Remand Prison.
The nights in his cell were agonising, Teoh told Salt&Light in an earlier interview. He was convinced that if he was hanged, he would go to hell. His fear grew so strong that he could not sleep or eat.
‘Someone had died for me, like in a gang where a brother dies for another brother.”
Out of desperation, he turned his face to the ceiling of his cell and cried: “If there is a true God, a real God, come and help me.”
Immediately he felt a sense of peace and calmness, ending his nights of terror.
The very next morning, the prison chaplain visited his ward. Teoh put his hand up for a Chinese New Testament Bible.
Even though he couldn’t read, “suddenly, I started to understand the words. I started to understand the story”.
“Slowly I realised that Someone had paid for my all my wrong deeds. Someone had died for me, like in a gang where a brother dies for another brother. But this fella come and set people free from sin! There is hope!”
“But this fella come and set people free from sin! There is hope!”
When Teoh’s case came to trial, his charge was reduced from first-degree murder to robbery causing grievous hurt. Instead of the death penalty, he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment and 12 strokes of the cane.
“God never fails to answer prayers,” Teoh said,.
For the past 16 years, he has been a volunteer counsellor and motivational speaker to convicts. He also gives workshops and talks to youth-at-risk.
“Last time I killed people, now I want to save lives,” he said.
The power of a cell group in prison: Letticia Chan
“You got power or not?” Letticia Chan was asked on her first day in prison.
Her cell mate was actually asking if Chan was affiliated to a gang in prison.
She had been sentenced to a year in Changi Prison for employing an illegal worker.
“I said, ‘Yes, my power is from God’,” Chan said in an earlier interview with Salt&Light. “So when I answered that way, thank God they decided to leave me alone.”
Before her prison sentence, she heard the Lord ask: “Why don’t you come home?”
She was driving then, and found herself driving into St Andrew’s Cathedral.
“I sat in the church and I just cried my heart out. I was so relieved that I had come back home.”
Chan had been raised in a Christian home, but for most of her life did not go regularly to church. At one point, she dabbled in a different religion.
She spent the year before her sentence serving in church full time and reading the Word actively.
“The delay gave me time to draw closer to God. He became my new source of strength. I didn’t realise then that I was being strengthened and equipped for my imprisonment.”
Her Christian lawyer told her before she went into prison: “God doesn’t put you anywhere without a reason.”
Prison life was hard, but God protected Chan. She witnessed many fights, including once when an inmate used a plastic mug and almost cut off another’s hand.
She was made the wardens’ chef and placed over 14 prison cooks. As a result she was treated well. She and those under her were never short of food.
“I didn’t realise then that I was being strengthened and equipped for my imprisonment.”
Chan’s position helped her form friendships with fellow inmates. Some asked her to share the Gospel with them. Eventually, she started a cell group.
“We always laughed about it because it was literally in a cell!”
Chan’s sentence was halved for good behaviour. When she was released, she served the Cathedral’s prison ministry full time.
She conducted chapel every Saturday with the inmates. She also counselled them one on one, helping them to reintegrate back into society.
She had a desire to share God’s love and grace just as she had received it (1 Peter 4:8).
“When I got into in all this (trouble), I didn’t understand why. But when I went back to teach in prisons, then I realised. Because of my own experience, I could understand the people I was talking to.”
Falling from 15 floors into counselling: Lim Sing Sing
On a high from a concoction of drugs, glue and alcohol, Lim Sing Sing, then 27, climbed through the window of his 15-storey flat and jumped.
A car broke his fall.
His head was uninjured. But his body sustained seven major bone fractures and he was paralysed from the waist down.
He had no family. The friends from his life of vice also never visited, he told Salt&Light in an earlier interview.
Alone and dejected, he asked his attending doctor: “Why didn’t you let me die?”
A Christian doctor got wind of Lim’s case and started visiting him daily. Besides bringing him food and books, the doctor also shared that Jesus loves him and wants to help him.
The doctor’s actions moved him: “He showed me that someone did care for this helpless being, and that God valued me.”
He also realised that it was God’s grace that he miraculously survived the 15-floor plunge.
But Lim’s dejection returned when he was about to be discharged from the hospital. He was crippled, had no family and had nowhere to go.
God stepped in again. Another Christian doctor found out about his plight and introduced him to Breakthrough Missions, a Gospel-based drug rehabilitation centre.
There, Lim received free board and lodging. The people in his centre were former drug addicts and understood his struggles. His faith deepened as he spent more time in prayer and studying the Word.
“Although I am not able to walk, I can work with my hands and testify with my mouth the mercy, love and grace of God for as long as I shall live.”
Lim soon accepted Jesus Christ into his life. His heart began to feel the peace and joy he had never experienced before, and he had a new hope.
He was baptised in 1993 and eventually became a pastor.
Now Pastor Lim is a full-time staff at Breakthrough Missions, managing its finances, he continues to counsel the men who come through the halfway home. He has a loving wife and son.
“I also travel to different countries to encourage others with my life story. I’ve also received blessings beyond measure from the Lord,” he says
“Falling 15 floors to the ground would have meant certain death or a vegetative state of existence for the survivor. But praise the Lord! I am still alive today and although I am not able to walk, I can work with my hands and testify with my mouth the mercy, love and grace of God for as long as I shall live.”
From heroin addict to Papa of a halfway house: Ps Philip Chan
“My life without the Lord would have seen me still kicking around in the prisons,” joked Pastor Philip Chan in one of a few earlier interviews with Salt&Light.
The former heroin addict’s life was turned around in 1976 when he encountered God in the House of Grace, the halfway house started by the woman who would become his wife. He kicked the drug habit. He and Christina renamed it The Hiding Place (THP) in 1978.
The halfway house – known for its strict regime – has helped some 1,000 troubled men get back on the straight and narrow. These include drug addicts, alcoholics, gambling addicts and wayward youths.
Strict as THP’s rules were, they were always tempered with love and acceptance.
“Just love them like they are family,” Ps Philip had said.
One of the lives he touched was Tan Hock Seng’s. He was taken there when he was 23.
Little did he know that he would go on to stay at THP for the next 39 years and counting. All because of an exchange he had overheard.
“I will never forget the way Ps Chan loved us and taught us to love others.”
“Eh, how is Hock Seng?” he overheard his elder brother asking Ps Philip during a family visit.
By Tan’s own admission, he was a drug addict and no angel.
“Don’t worry, he’s a blessing!” came Ps Philip’s swift reply.
“I was thinking in my heart, ‘I’m not a blessing lah … why he say like that?’
“I realised Ps Philip was saying that by faith. So that really stuck in my mind – to be a blessing,” said Hock Seng, who became a pastor. He is now 62 and oversees the halfway house.
Another resident-turned-staff is Sart S, who was at THP before leaving for an overseas music stint. While overseas, he started taking drugs again. “If there is one place that can help me turn my life around, it is The Hiding Place. So I called Ps Philip and he told me to come back immediately.
“I thank God for Ps Philip. The burden that God placed on his heart to love all of us has changed and touched so many lives, including mine and my family’s. I will never forget the way he loved us and taught us to love others.”
Read the full stories of these lives changed below:
Faced with the gallows after killing a man, I found my greatest treasure
“One word from God and your life will never be the same”: 369 ex-gang leader and drug trafficker
“I should be ashamed of going to prison, but I’m not. It changed me”
High on drugs, he fell 15 storeys and not only lived to tell the tale but to transform his life
“Just love them”: How the late Pastor Philip Chan became “Papa” to scores of troubled youths and their families
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