Raymond TNCM

During his army days, the rebellious Raymond (left, with his army mate) was sent to the detention barracks five times for insubordination and other disciplinary issues. All photos courtesy of Raymond Tan.

My name is Raymond and I am currently a full-time staff at The New Charis Mission. I am a prison counsellor and I am also a certified trainer/speaker and mentor for schools where I minister to youth-at-risk.

I am blissfully married to the woman I love who is also my best friend and a wonderful helper whom God has provided.

Every day, I thank God for all that He has blessed me with and I am eternally grateful for this new lease on life that He has given me.

“My spiritual father, mentor and now boss, Pastor Don Wong (left), has been so instrumental in my transformative journey,” says Raymond. “The hallmark of his mentoring is: You’ll never walk alone.

Who I am today is a far cry from who I was 11 years ago, when I walked into The New Charis Mission broken, wretched, with nothing to my name.

By the grace and mercy of God, I am truly grateful and thankful for my transformed life ever since then.

The wrong crowd

I came from a broken family. My mum divorced my biological father who was an alcoholic and gambler, when I was five years old.

I still remember vividly the night my mum left our home holding both our hands (my two-year-old kid sister’s and mine), while my father lay on the floor in a stupor.

I got even more deeply involved in drugs, so much so that for ‘O’ levels, I was marked absent for all my subjects.

I grew up with my grandmother; since young I have always yearned for belonging and acceptance.

So, when I was 12, I started mixing with the wrong crowd in my neighbourhood and picked up smoking.

Nevertheless, I still managed to score decent grades for my PSLE and got into a good boy’s school in Potong Pasir. It was during chapel services in my secondary school that I was introduced to Jesus and I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour at age 13.

But, even though I had accepted Christ, I still chose to live life by the ways of the world.

At age 15, I started partying with drugs and things became so bad that I was asked to transfer out of school and I went to a neighbourhood school.

Young Raymond at 16 in Hong Kong – he was already going to parties where all sorts of substances were ingested.

I had no problem adapting and, in no time, I found myself belonging to a new group of friends … and got even more deeply involved in drugs. So much so that for ‘O’ levels, I was marked absent for all my subjects.

From then on, life just spiralled down even further.

Double life

When I entered the Army, I thought the discipline and regimental lifestyle would reform me. But it didn’t.

I even signed on as a regular and served for five years, but I kept a double life.

When I returned to civilian life, I continued to keep up a double life.

Many of my army mates advised me to give up my life of vice, but it was in vain. I ended up being charged and sent to the detention barracks for a total of five times during my service, for insubordination and other disciplinary issues – I did not change.

When I returned to civilian life, I continued to keep up a double life.

Yes, I was going to church faithfully on Sundays and attending cell group meetings but I also led another dark secret life, hidden from everyone else – a life of smoking, drinking, doing drugs, gambling, and more.

In 2005, I was sentenced to imprisonment for fraud. What happened then left a memory that has stayed with me until this very day and it changed my mindset completely.

On my very first Visitors’ Day during my incarceration, my aunt, mum and grandmother visited me. But it was via tele screening, meaning I had to look at a monitor screen in one room while my visitors saw me through another monitor screen from a different location.

Raymond (far right) with his wife, Samantha (second from right), at his nephew’s birthday party with the rest of his family.

The first person to enter my screen was my aunt, then my mum, then my grandmother. All of them started crying when they saw me.

Money became my prime motivation and drive. To me, money was security.

This is the memory that has stayed with me until now. And I promised myself there and then that I never wanted to see my loved ones go through that ever again.

But did my life change after my release? Sadly, no.

That memory merely changed my mindset about committing crime, but not my lifestyle.

All I had resolved was that, so long as I did not commit any crime that would land me in prison, I was ok.

Money became my prime motivation and drive.

To me, money was security. I joined the booming property industry and made good money. But needless to say, money became more of a curse than a blessing.

“I got ready to jump”

And it all came crashing down in 2009 when, one day, I looked back at my life and saw how meaningless it was. What was the significance of it all? What was the purpose of my life, I started asking myself.

I prayed: “God if You are real, give me the courage to jump … or You show me a way out.”

I fell into depression.

These questions kept weighing on me so heavily that, for six months, I couldn’t function. Until one night … I finally decided that enough was enough.

I decided to end it all.

But first I had to work up the courage. So, I drank, and drank, and drank … and stuffed myself full of drugs … just to pluck up the courage. And then I went to the parapet on the roof top of my block.

And I got ready to jump.

But, strangely, fear seeped in. And as a result, despite all the alcohol and drugs that I had taken, I was not high.

Instead, I was literally super conscious and alert. I became so clear-minded that I heard myself telling myself … to pray. At least for the last time.

I had allowed the thief to steal my joy, kill my hopes and destroy my life.

And I did. I prayed this: “God if You are real, give me the courage to jump … or You show me a way out”

And God answered me in my desperate pit of despair and showed me: “The New Charis Mission.”

I asked God: “Why there?”

At this point, I only knew The New Charis Mission as a place for ex-convicts and drug addicts to help them change their lives and, even then, I only found out because a friend had once taken me there for a visit.

So, I said to God: “God, that is a place for ex-convicts and drug addicts. People with messed up lives. Why there?”

And God answered with this that pierced my heart: “Are you any better than them?”

Raymond and his wife, Samantha Ernest, on holiday. Raymond says that encountering God through his time in the 12-month The New Charis Mission residential program set him on the right track and brought restoration to his family.

At this point, I could so relate to John 10:10, because I had allowed the thief to steal, kill and destroy … to steal my joy, kill my hopes and destroy my life.

I called my friend right away to ask about admission to The New Charis Mission.

A family made whole

On March 20, 2010, I admitted myself into The New Charis Mission for a 12-month residential program.

There, I was given the opportunity to be trained and equipped. Pastor Don and the leaders there believed in me and provided me with many platforms to learn and to serve the community.

Raymond went on several mission trips with The New Charis Mission. Here he is with Uncle Jack, Deputy Director of TNCM, and Seno, an Indonesian brother, during a trip to the Riau Islands in 2010.

It was there that I found the passion to work with young people.

We are all trophies of His grace and for me, this has become truly so.

It was also the beginning of a new relationship with God. It was there that God healed the hurts from my childhood, and I truly experienced the grace and love of Father God as I witnessed restoration and reconciliation in my family.

I am grateful that God has never given up on me. Not only did He save me from taking my own life, He gave me a new lease on life in every sense, a life that can glorify His name.

God has resurrected the areas of my life which were dead. Relationships, meaningless and hopeless life, debt and failures … God turned all these around.

In 2016, I was sent to and graduated from City Harvest School of Theology. This opened doors for me to share the word of God on mission trips and elsewhere. I also attained my double diploma in Criminology and Counselling Psychology.

Most importantly, my family was made whole.

Truly, when God is at the centre of it all, I had come to experience what Jesus says is true: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Over at The New Charis Mission, we received this from the Lord: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.” (Isaiah 61:3)

Meaning we are all trophies of His grace. For me, this has become truly so. All glory to God.

May He continue to use each one of us for His kingdom work, and may we all respond: “We have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.”


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About the author

Raymond Tan

Raymond is currently working full-time at The New Charis Mission, ministering to both young and old males as a prison counsellor and youth mentor. The anthem song of his favourite football Club, Liverpool FC, is also the hallmark of his mentoring: You’ll Never Walk Alone.