News // Faith

Raised by Christians, he became an atheist until a Voice said “I will teach you how to love Me”

TRIGGER WARNING: There is mention of suicide ideation in the story.

by Christine Leow // July 3, 2024, 5:15 pm

NUS grad 1986

Paul Wong with his parents at his graduation from the National University of Singapore in 1986. All photos courtesy of Ps Paul Wong.

He was living a life in pursuit of pleasure.

“I was a chain smoker, 60 sticks a day. I was drinking and doing all kinds of stupid stuff.”

Then he “came out of a very bad relationship” and became so depressed that he could not get out of bed.

Paul Wong was 27 years old then.

“After she prayed for me, my life got worse.”

“I didn’t want to come out of the room. I was incapacitated. Every time I lay in bed, it was like a weight pressed upon me. Every other day I thought of how to kill myself.”

His condition was so bad that his father dragged him to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with clinical depression. He was prescribed medication.

“In the morning, I had to take a set of drugs to keep me up. In the afternoon, I had to take drugs to make sure I don’t go too high. Come evening, I had drugs to help me sleep.

“I thought: This is not a life,” said Paul.

Then an old classmate invited him to a birthday party and, for want of anything else better to do, he went. There, he got to talking to a woman, Barbara Tjoa, with whom he shared about his situation. She was so moved that, after the party, she and her prayer buddy started praying for him.

“After she prayed for me, my life got worse.”

Becoming an atheist  

Paul, now 62, comes from generations of Christians on both his father’s and mother’s sides of the family. His parents brought him to worship service regularly and sent him to Sunday School when he was old enough.

Paul as a four-year-old (centre) with his parents and siblings. Both his father’s and his mother’s families were Christians for many generations.

“I went dutifully and listened to the Bible stories. I was also from a mission school. But just because you go to a Christian school or go to church doesn’t make you a Christian.”

By the time he was in his teens, Paul started to “do my own stuff”. That led him to “a lot of trouble”. At 16, he was caught for fighting.

Paul, then 16, at an Anglo-Chinese School track and field meet in 1978.

“We were hauled to the principal’s office. We found ourselves in a room with three police officers.”

He was let off with a warning.

By the time he was serving National Service, Paul no longer went to church.

“I don’t think I was ever a Christian.”

In university, disappointed by the inability of Christians to answer his questions and propelled by influence from modules in the Philosophy course that he took, Paul became an atheist.

Paul at age 20. By then, he had become an atheist.

“How do you know the resurrection of Christ is real? How do you know it isn’t a hoax? Was Jesus a mad man, liar or really who He says He is?

“I don’t think I was ever a Christian.”

“The thing that upset me about Christians then was when you asked them the really tough questions, they cannot answer. You can’t even answer these questions and you want to talk to me about salvation?

“Religion didn’t make sense at all to me. I felt this thing called God was more a figment of our imagination. If you want to believe, you believe. I believed in myself. I was, in essence, a humanist.”

That worldview influenced his lifestyle.

“I was doing everything a young guy would do. You would see me in a bar every day. My house was a hotel. I think I disappointed my parents tremendously during that period.”

A smoker no more

In 1991, Paul fell into depression because of a breakup. Shortly after that, he met Barbara at a party.

She became both his confidante and prayer warrior, praying for him with her prayer buddy Dorcas, who would eventually become Paul’s wife.

But when the prayers began, his life became worse. He lost his insurance job because his depression made it difficult for him to hold down a job. Then his depression worsened.

Barbara Tjoa (left) and her friend Dorcas who would become Paul’s wife.

“One day, it was so bad I called Barbara at about 10pm and we spoke till about 2am.

“Whenever I speak to her, she always speaks to me about God. That night, she told me, ‘For all your intellectualism, what has it brought you to? What have you got to lose by receiving Christ?’” 

“I have not touched a cigarette again since that morning.”

Stumped for an answer, Paul said the Sinner’s Prayer with her and accepted Jesus into his life.  

The next day, instead of waking up a new creation, he awoke with the old desire to smoke. Within an hour, he had puffed away four sticks of cigarettes.

He called Barbara.

“I told her, ‘I can’t be a Christian.’ She asked me, ‘Why not?’ So I told her that I was still smoking.

“She told him that smoking did not make him less a Christian and encouraged him to pray if he wanted to stop smoking.

“I thought: This woman is crazy. But I will just humour her. I am going to pray.”

He said a simple prayer asking God to take away his desire to smoke. The moment he ended his prayer, he suddenly lost the urge to smoke. He took all the cigarettes from his drawer and threw them into the bin.

“I have not touched a cigarette again since that morning in June 2, 1992.”

Free at last  

Paul began going to church with Barbara. Instead of becoming better, Paul’s life deteriorated even more in the months that followed.

“It was the toughest time. Most terrible. The devil was still after my soul.”

He found himself unable to sleep. Some days, it got so bad that he thought of killing himself. Other days, he fought to carry on.

“I was like a washing machine going round and round.”

Accusatory thoughts assaulted him, telling him he was a hypocrite not worthy of the Christian faith. On the verge of giving up on Christianity, he decided to go to one last church service to hear a visiting pastor preach.

“I heard a voice say, ‘You will never love Me the way I love you.'”

After the sermon, the pastor called people up to pray for them. As he did, rows of people fell to the ground under the power of the Holy Spirit.

“I thought: This is mass emotionalism, mass psychosis. This is crazy. Just because I said a prayer (to be a Christian) doesn’t mean I have left my brain on the shelf.”

Paul refused to go up for prayers. He did, however, go to the pastor when all was done to thank him for the “really good message”.

“I thought it would be my last conversation before I leave God. The pastor looked at me and said, ‘Has anybody prayed for you?’

“Then he prayed, ‘I rebuke the spirit of intellectualism in you.’ I thought: How did he know that?”

The pastor did not even touch him but Paul fell to the ground.

“On the ground, something was happening. It was like my heart was shattered because of the relationship I came out of. But I felt like the jigsaw puzzle of my heart was coming together.

“Then I heard a voice say, ‘You will never love Me the way I love you but I am going to teach you how to love Me.’

“I realised it was the voice of God. Then something was lifted out from me. It was a demonic spirit. When I got up, my legs were like tauhu (beancurd), like I was drunk.

“They prayed for me for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the depression left me. The depression never came back.”

A mind for Christ

With that, Paul suddenly “knew who God was”. He became “like a man possessed by the Holy Spirit”. For months, he stayed in his room, reading the Bible from cover to cover and praying non-stop. He also listened to sermons and read Christian books.

Paul (right) with his wife Dorcas (right, standing) and their sons, daughter-in-law and beloved dog.

“I did this for six months. My parents were shocked. But I got a new revelation every day.

“After being born again, wherever I go, I talk about God.”

“What I studied in Philosophy, I used in my Bible reading and Bible understanding to break down the issues and understand it. I began to have a revelation of who God is and who Jesus is.

“I told God, ‘I am going to take Your Word for all that it is. You tell me what to do, I will do it 100%. Because depression, addiction — You delivered me from them.’”

Since then, the man who had prided himself on the power of his mind and his ability to reason told God: “You blessed me with a mind. Let me use it for Your glory.”

Over time, God led Paul to see that it was more logical to accept miracles as from God than not.

“I have seen miracles. On a mission trip in Cambodia, there was a kid who was born blind in one eye. He was prayed for and his eyes turned till his pupil came back and he could see. How do you explain that?

Paul preaching in Uganda. He sponsored a water filtration system in the capital that has become a means through which people there have been drawn to the Gospel.

“We had this lady in church. She had breast cancer and the cancer spread through her whole body, her nervous system and blood. The MRI showed it. After we prayed for her, she was totally clear. I have the MRI. It blows your mind.

“When I was an atheist, I would have said it is unexplained and be perfectly fine with it from a philosophical standpoint because we don’t know everything.

“Now I look back and think it is quite stupid not to admit it is a miracle of God.”

Paul at a rural church in Sri Lanka.

In 2011, Paul became a bi-vocational pastor at New Life Community Church, a position he still holds today.

“After being born again, wherever I go, I talk about God. People at my job would call me Holy Moses. I just laugh. It was something I decided: What God wants me to do, I’ll just do it.”


How a Singaporean’s gift of clean water to Uganda brought locals to the Living Water

In Primary 1, a teacher’s kindness made him feel welcome. On his last day in Sec 4, another changed this head prefect’s world forever

“After all that you have done, I still love you”: The audible voice of God changed him from gangster to pastor

God called him out of the pubs to the pulpit

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.