How a victim of childhood abuse found the healing to minister to others in Thailand
Trigger warning: This story contains mention of abuse and suicide ideation that some readers may find disturbing.
by Janice Tai // February 18, 2022, 2:46 am
Sharon and Joshua Khoo are currently serving as missionaries in Thailand. They are actively serving in a Thai Family Life Ministry that is run in partnership with the ACTS Church of Chiangmai.
Sharon Khoo was eight years old when she witnessed a side of her father she had never seen before.
Her workbook was open, and a math sum was in front of her, waiting to be solved.
Her dad hovered around her impatiently.
“I don’t know,” the little girl whimpered, sensing her father’s fury growing with each second.
“TELL ME WHAT IT IS!” he boomed. “How can you not know how to solve this problem? It’s so easy! Are you stupid?”
Sharon had never seen such wrath from her father, who used to be the one who played hide-and-seek with her and taught her how to swim and cycle.
When he took the cane out and whacked it violently on the table repeatedly to pressure her, the eight-year-old girl started to develop self-doubt and internalise fear.
It was an ominous sign of more to come.
The eight-year-old Sharon had never seen such wrath from her father, who used to be the one who played hide-and-seek with her.
Later on, he would enrol her in piano classes, wanting her to excel in playing a musical instrument, just like her cousins.
Sharon dreaded her upcoming piano exams, fearing what would happen to her if she did not do well in it.
On the day of the practical test, she realised she had not done her theory test papers. As she sensed his imminent implosion, she began to panic and scrambled hard to make up musical notes on the spot.
When she could not write the notes out of stress, she began to cry instead.
That was when her dad snapped. He grabbed the mechanical pencil she was holding in her right hand with such force that the pencil lead ripped through her flesh. Up till today, a little bit of the lead is still lodged in her palm.
“I ran out of the music school and wanted to get as far away from him as possible. My hand was bloodied and in pain and I don’t remember much of what happened after,” said Sharon, now 37.
The complicity of silence
Worse incidents of domestic violence were to continue, including those her father did against several of their domestic workers. One of them, who had injury marks on her arms and legs, eventually landed her father in court.
Her mother was not spared.
Since young, her parents had taken her and her younger sister to church, hiding the double life the troubled family was leading.
Once her father became frustrated with his wife’s inability to get the family out of the house in time to attend church on Sunday morning.
Sharon recalled that, when she was nine, her parents had another chaotic fight in which her father threatened to kill her mother.
That Sunday morning, he lost it. Their car was travelling in the middle lane of a highway, and their parents had been yelling back and forth at each other since they left home. Sharon’s father suddenly reached over to his wife’s passenger door and pushed it open with brute force, while still driving.
She screamed, horrified at his actions. The children at the back were stunned.
“Get out! You get out of the car now! I have had enough of you! Go and die!” he raged as he forcefully pushed her out of the car.
She stepped out of the car and crossed the other two lanes in tears. Thankfully, she made it safely to the barrier along the side of the highway.
Sharon recalled that, when she was nine years old, her parents had another chaotic fight in which her father threatened to kill her mother.
“I just remember the physical tightening in my chest, my mind tensing up (“Oh-no, oh-no”), and my entire body caving into a profound, inexplicable pressure and sense of anxiety,” said Sharon, who had been cowering in a corner of her room behind the cupboard.
When her mum was too worn out from fighting, she came into Sharon’s room.
With tears streaking down her face, she said bitterly: “Don’t you ever tell anyone outside about what happens in our family. Pray, you pray that God will change his heart and stop him …”
She burst into tears, unable to finish her sentence.
What she said that day profoundly affected her daughter, who began believing that to honour her mother was to never speak of her pain, no matter how much trauma she was experiencing.
“I just remember the physical tightening in my chest and my entire body caving into a profound pressure and sense of anxiety.”
Sharon continued growing up in fear and anxiety in the household.
Once, they were almost rescued.
When Sharon was around 10 or 11 years old, a female pastor whose late pastor husband had actually led Sharon’s father to Christ, told Sharon that she had planned to help her mother, her sister and her to leave the house.
She had come to the door of their home one evening, a few days after making arrangements with Sharon’s mum over the phone.
But when the moment came, Sharon’s mother had apparently said: “No, I can’t leave. I just can’t do it. I can’t leave the house or my husband.”
The counsellor whom Sharon later saw explained that her mother was co-dependently attached to her father and thus, she did not know who she would be without him. Sharon’s psychiatrist added that her father seemed to display traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, both of which are mental conditions severe enough to interfere with social and occupational functioning.
Personal Protection Order at 14
Witnessing the verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis, the young Sharon inevitably suffered its damaging effects. She tried to cope with the pain of psychological and emotional trauma by running away from home, cutting her wrists and attempting suicide.
She was 14 when she first attempted to jump off the top floor of her block. There was a voice in her head screaming: “Die! I want to die!” as she cried her way up to the 25th floor. Yet when she stuck her head over the wall and looked down at the concrete ground, a wave of fear and nausea washed over her.
“I realised I was too scared to actually jump and so I didn’t do it. But the shame of not being able to even kill myself when I was in such pain was also unbearable,” said Sharon.
She was also 14 years old when she plucked up the courage to report her father to the police. It happened after another fight they had at home where her father had slapped her hard after she called him “dumb” for not loving and caring for his family.
On the way to the police station, her mother had warned her that if she were to report her father to the police, he might have to go to jail and the family would not have enough money to send her and her sister to school.
Nonetheless, Sharon went ahead and secured for herself a Personal Protection Order (PPO) from the police. It gave her some respite as her father was careful not to disturb her much thereafter.
When she was 22, she got married and left her parents’ house. She thought having her own family would allow her to escape the trauma of her past.
But beneath the honeymoon sheen of being newly married, she was actually clinically depressed and suffering from Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder (CTSD).
At that time, both of them were working in their church. Joshua, her husband, was the youth pastor at Church of Our Saviour. Sharon was its media communications coordinator.
The transition from singlehood to married life, coupled with the pressures of work, got to Sharon and she defaulted to her old coping mechanism.
“I don’t know if You even care.”
At about 10pm one night after dinner, Sharon placed a dining chair next to her open kitchen window.
“Death to my pain!” she thought once again. It was such an alluring idea.
As she stepped up onto the chair, she noticed the moon, big, full and bright in the black sky, staring back at me. Just like old times. “Why must this always happen to me?” she asked it.
“Die!” screamed one angry, pushy, demanding voice in her head. “No!” screamed another small, breathless, but significant part of her, grasping for any semblance of control over the madness.
She wanted to stop but did not know how. How could she escape 23 years’ worth of pain?
As she sorrowfully gazed up at the moon, she cried: “I don’t want to have this life anymore, God. I don’t want it. I really want to die if there’s no more meaning.”
She looked down, preparing to leap out, adding the final words: “I don’t know if You even care.”
Only One needs to die
As her body swayed towards the window, like a wind out of nowhere, she heard an inner voice saying: “No, Sharon. You don’t have to die. Not tonight, not this way. Only one person needs to die and He’s already done it for you. It’s not you, it’s …”
“… Your son, Jesus Christ,” she answered.
“Don’t end your life like this, my dear,” the voice continued. Ashamed and overcome by the internal voice of God within her spirit, she hung her head, crying hard.
“Only one person needs to die and He’s already done it for you.”
“I knew it could not be me talking to myself, but God. And that’s when I started to believe that He is able to relate with me. He is very real,” said Sharon.
That was also the moment when she felt her husband’s arms physically wrapping around her and hauling her to safety onto the kitchen floor. He had just returned home from work to see her standing at the kitchen window.
That incident marked the very last time she tried to take her life; it was also a major turning point in her faith.
Yet the chronicity of mental health conditions meant that its shadow continued to cast a pall on her life.
After she quit her church job from burnout, she would wake up every morning crying, incapable of getting out of bed.
For months, she could only do two things: Eat and sleep. She was not open to seeking counselling help at that time, as she was under the mistaken impression that only weak and insane people resort to that.
Long road to recovery
When her first child turned one, the family of three moved to Thailand to be missionaries. Thailand was where Joshua had been born and had grown up, and the couple had dreamt of serving there together long before they even got married.
Though they were both drawn towards missionary work in Thailand, moving to a new country was difficult for the young family.
Sharon was away from home and a young mother. Often, she parented through a fog of depression. It became so bad that eventually she went back to Singapore alone to seek treatment.
It was then that the 26-year-old young mother was diagnosed with clinical depression.
Her psychiatrist, a senior consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist, tried to explain to her about her mental state: “As a child and teen, you’ve lived in an environment that has been very negative and unhealthy, you were raised in years of violence – witnessing it and being a part of it.
“So your brain has been conditioned to secrete too much cortisol, or stress hormones, from being constantly on alert, in fight or flight mode, to cope with your father’s violence. And because you had so many years of it, the part of your brain that secretes hormones became conditioned to only secrete cortisol, rather than releasing other hormones like serotonin or oxytocin, to balance out how you feel and function.”
“Sharon, when your dad slapped you, he didn’t just slap you. He slapped Jesus.”
She was put on anti-depressants for two years before her condition alleviated.
Apart from battling clinical depression, Sharon was diagnosed with complex trauma by a psychologist.
She would find herself reliving traumatic events through flashbacks or nightmares. The slightest memory of her father’s terrorising behaviour would cause her to freeze up. It was almost as though she was right there in her bedroom, hearing him banging at her locked bedroom door, demanding that she open up.
Her psychologist used a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Eye Desensitization Movement and Reprocessing (EMDR) and other trauma care therapy designed to enable the brain to change its connections following unpleasant experiences or injuries.
Jesus, the game changer
But a key part of her healing came from God.
She went to a six-day trauma recovery retreat to receive more thorough therapy for her trauma.
Participants were instructed to connect with, and think about, one of their traumatic memories. She recalled her dad slapping her, and started shaking violently.
Her counsellor took her to a private room where she used EMDR, asking Sharon to see herself watching the memory replay from a safe distance, like an observer looking in.
“Seeing Jesus in my mind taking that undeserved slap from my father, with me and for me, was a game changer.”
As Sharon detached herself from the scene, she saw herself being abused by her dad, while her mum tried unsuccessfully to stop him. She braced herself for the slap, feeling the familiar crush in her chest as her dad’s hand came flying towards her. Then, she heard her counsellor say: “Sharon, when your dad slapped you, he didn’t just slap you. He slapped Jesus.”
“What? He slapped Jesus, the son of God? God Himself?” she thought. The broken record of a scene, which she had seen replay a thousand times in her mind, came to a halt. At that moment, something changed. A switch flicked in her mind.
“Seeing Jesus in my mind taking that undeserved slap from my father, with me and for me, was a game changer. I saw a God who is more powerful than my father, being sinned against by him. He took that abuse on my behalf, so that I would not be left helpless, trapped and alone. Jesus had taken that slap. He is the One whom my father owes now, and God would judge him for his abuse.”
In that instance, she felt sincerely sorrowful for her father and his inability to better control his anger. “Don’t harm or kill my dad, God. Have mercy on him,” she prayed silently.
From then on, her heart towards her father changed.
She found it within herself to forgive him.
The healing Word
But the anger still reared its head occasionally.
“For a brief moment, I saw my father’s reflection in the glass door. I had become the monster that I once dreaded.”
“I had certain days where I would be in tears, telling God I forgave my father. Then the next minute, I would be back to square one, furious at him for everything he’d done,” said Sharon.
There were also days when she turned into a monster herself, a shadow of what her father had been to her.
Once Sharon got so angry with her two daughters that she kicked and broke a glass door at home. Her husband had to lock himself with the kids in a room to ensure their safety.
“For a brief moment, I saw my father’s reflection in the glass door. I had become the monster that I once dreaded,” she admitted tearfully.
It was in her various counselling sessions that she learnt to diffuse anger in healthy and safe ways with the use of various techniques and by meditating on the Word of God.
“The true therapy that set me completely free was Jesus Christ and God’s Word, the Bible. As I took comfort in various verses, I sensed a spiritual presence inside me pouring in love, favour and comfort for my soul,” she said.
As part of her healing, her counsellor helped her establish boundaries with her father. If they arranged to meet, she was to meet him only in a public space, with other people and her husband around.
Three years ago, Sharon also decided to break her silence on the taboo topic of family abuse by writing a memoir of her journey of overcoming abuse, trauma and depression.
“As I took comfort in Bible verses, I sensed a spiritual presence inside me pouring in love, favour and comfort for my soul.”
She wanted to speak up to show those who were born into an abusive home that they are not alone, and to show that healing and restoration – through medical treatment and the power and love of God – can happen even amidst such brokenness.
“Of course, I knew I needed to tell my parents that I was writing the book. Mum said it is a great testimony of God healing me from depression. I did not name them as the point was not to shame or condemn them because I love them, but to advocate for greater understanding and healing from such experiences,” said Sharon.
Reverend Canon Daniel Wee, Senior Pastor at Church of Our Saviour, said of the book: “There is a lot in her story that will resonate with those with Asian upbringing, and her path to freedom may give some hope and ideas to others who may find themselves still dealing with the ghosts of childhood trauma.
“For those who are giving care to others, this book may provide a behind-the-scenes understanding of why seemingly ordinary people struggle tremendously with life.”
Mrs Lai-Kheng Pousson, Special Assistant with the LoveSingapore movement, noted: “I was aware of Sharon’s battle with depression and how it related to childhood trauma. But I wasn’t privy to the horrifying details until now. Reading her narrative shook me up. Somewhere out there, is some little one suffering abuse right now? Every case is one too many.”
A new narrative of grace
For Sharon, abuse and trauma do not have the final say.
As she and her husband continue to serve as missionaries in Thailand, she notices that the suicide and depression rates are sky high.
“When I read such news in the papers every other day, I know I cannot just take care of myself. I can’t just walk away,” she said.
During the last two years, she started training and getting an international certification under Living Wholeness Institute to become a pastoral counsellor. Since then, she has been counselling Thai and non-Thai young adult ladies who have been emotionally, psychologically and spiritually hurt or wounded by negative life experiences in the past or present. Some of them have depression, mental illnesses or mood disorders like she once did.
“I help them to heal, find freedom and grow out of their inner wounds and issues holistically through a Christian Wholeness Framework. I get to give back to others who want help, which is what I wanted to do when I was finally healed myself,” said Sharon.
Both she and her husband are founders of Forerunners Ministry, which encapsulates the various forms of ministry work that they do, including a Thai Family Life Ministry that is run in partnership with the ACTS Church of Chiangmai.
Some Thai communities around the world, such as those in the United States, Germany and Korea, have also been tuning in to their online programmes.
Joshua is the head of the Thai Family Life ministry, and both of them do training and teaching for Thai families. Her husband mentors and trains Thai full time workers and leaders in the local church as well as preaches and teaches throughout Thailand. They are also leaders in the young adult ministry of their Chiangmai church, where Sharon does pastoral care and counselling as well as mentors women.
Said Sharon: “God is the one who saved me from the spirit of death, and gave me the grace to move forward into wholeness and healing. If He can do it for me, He can do it for you, too. God loves us and is offering to give us abundant life and a way out of the hell of any of our present realities.”
The launch of Sharon’s book, Hope in Despair, will be held online on March 1, at 7.30pm. To get more information, click this link. Look out for an excerpt from the book in the coming week on Salt&Light.
Hope in Despair is also available for purchase at the Forerunners Ministry website, Lazada or Shopee.
Where to get help for abuse or trauma
Call 999 if there is an immediate threat to life or if there is a risk of bodily harm (relatives and friends of victims can call as well).
- SOS 24-hour hotline: 1-800-221-444
- Care Corner Counselling Centre: 6353-1180
- Care Corner Parenting Support: 6235-4705
- IMH Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24-hours)
- Care & Counselling Centre
- Email: [email protected]
- Focus on the Family Singapore
- Grace Counselling Centre
- Wesley Counselling
Call Caroline Ong for an appointment: 6837-9214. (Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm)
- Haven Counselling Centre: 6559-1528 or email: [email protected]
- Bethel Family Life & Counselling: 6741-2741 (Ps Jean Ong)
Mental Health Directory
Whispering Hope: WhatsApp 8668-0043
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