From suicidal to saved: Ex-gambling addict and debtor finds new life in God
Gracia Lee // January 31, 2020, 6:17 pm
Vincent Wong (centre), who had been trapped in his gambling addiction for almost 30 years, decided to get baptised last Christmas at St Matthew's Church. "I am known and also completely loved by God," he said. His cousin Adeline (right) has been a source of godly encouragement to him. All photos courtesy of Vincent Wong.
At the height of his gambling addiction, Vincent Wong owed money to 13 loan sharks.
When he used his salary to pay off one debtor, the others immediately called him up, demanding that he paid them too. If not, they warned, they would turn up to harass him at his home and workplace.
Wong knew they had no qualms about carrying out their threats. After all, he had been dealing with them for years.
“I felt scared and helpless. There really was no other way out, and I thought of committing suicide,” said the 46-year-old.
A relentless cycle
Wong’s gambling addiction had been a thorn in his flesh since he was a teenager.
A child of hawkers, he grew up in a one-room flat in Outram Park shared with six other family members. He was raised by his grandmother and rarely got to see his parents, who spent all of their time working to provide for the family.
Trapped in a continual cycle of debt, he failed to free himself for years, no matter how hard he tried.
Studying was not his forte and he dropped out of school when he was just 13. With much free time on his hands, he quickly got involved with bad company who introduced him to all kinds of vices. By 16, he was hooked on gambling.
As a young man, he spent his time in the company of gangsters. In the day, he worked as a chef. At night, he headed to nightclubs. “I spent my days indulging in drinking and other pleasures. I took drugs, gambled, flirted … I did everything,” he admitted.
To feed his addiction, he would borrow money from loan sharks. As soon as he managed to pay them off, he would borrow from them again. Trapped in a continual cycle of debt, he failed to free himself for years, no matter how hard he tried.
It eventually tore apart his family. His wife, whom he had married when he was 24, could no longer bear the brunt of his irresponsibility and filed for a divorce, taking their two young children with her. They had been married nine years.
The divorce made him bitter. “I pushed all the blame to them and thought that they didn’t understand me.”
His gambling habits continued well into 2011 when, driven to desperation, he became a loan shark runner. But instead of earning extra cash, he ended up being arrested and jailed for six months.
“My beloved father, I hope you will come out early so that you can celebrate my birthday.”
While in prison, he received a letter from his 10-year-old daughter. Written in pink ink, it began: “My beloved father, I hope you will come out early so that you can celebrate my birthday. How are you doing in jail? Are you fine in there?”
When his children visited him, it broke his heart to see how much hurt and pain he had caused them.
After he was released, he swore to himself never to gamble again. He got a job as a chef in a canteen and life became more stable for the next few years. However, he could not fight off the temptation for long.
“I often felt very lonely deep inside and returned to my old gambling ways after a few years,” he said. In just a few months, he racked up debts of $30,000 and had to cash out his insurance policy to settle them.
Down and out
Sick and tired of his poor choices, he promised himself again not to return to his old ways. He was successful for three years, working hard at his job as a bar manager, convinced that he was building a better life for himself.
But on Christmas Eve of 2018, he suffered a slipped disc and was unable to walk. Doctors ordered him to rest at home for a month. “The news made me lose my self-confidence and I began to feel lonely and helpless,” he said.
“I see it as a miracle how God was guiding me step by step to Him.”
To fend off depression and boredom, he met up with an old friend who enticed him into the world of online gambling and introduced him to illegal money lenders on the Internet. Just like that, he fell into the abyss of addiction once again.
By June 2019, he owed more than $20,000, with one creditor even threatening to look for his daughter at her school. He was desperate.
He was entertaining thoughts of suicide when a friend from prison called him, wanting to meet up. Wong agreed.
At their meeting, his friend, who is not a believer, handed him a little book. He said: “Many years ago, somebody gave me this and told me to read it when I face difficulties.”
He had chanced upon it as he was packing his drawer and thought to give it to Wong, since the latter was going through a tough time.
The little book turned out to be a Christian tract explaining the Good News. “It told me that I am a sinner in need of God’s help.”
Miracle of grace
Two days later, another friend called and advised Wong to seek help at Adullam Life Counselling, a Christian-based non-profit society that provides support and practical help to those facing debt issues.
“I see it as a miracle how God was guiding me step by step to Him,” Wong said in hindsight.
“I felt I was such a sinner, and my tears kept flowing and flowing.”
He turned up at the counselling centre and unknowingly stepped into a gathering where the Word was being preached. “The first sentence I heard was: ‘You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing!'”
Even though he did not know the context in which this was said, it hit him hard. “I thought of my past and everything I had done, and felt disgusted and disappointed with myself. I felt I was such a sinner, and my tears kept flowing and flowing.”
Spotting him, a pastor came to pray for him and asked if he was willing to receive God’s blessing and become a Christian. “I immediately said, ‘Yes!'”
Wong poured his heart out to the staff at Adullam. They comforted him and encouraged him to continue moving forward, advising him to lodge a police report and change his mobile phone number.
With their love and care, along with the support of his cousin Adeline Wong, who works at Prison Fellowship Singapore, he has since steered clear of gambling, although he is still working on paying off his debt.
“I have many weaknesses, but God loves me.”
Adeline took him to an Alpha course, where he learnt more about God and the Christian faith. Last Christmas, he was baptised at St Matthew’s Church, which he now attends.
“I have many weaknesses, but God loves me. I am not perfect, but though I am weak, God is even stronger!”
He is determined to stay on the straight and narrow. Earlier this year, he was promoted to assistant restaurant manager at his workplace, something he says is a testament to how his life has changed in the last few months.
Though temptation still comes his way, he has been better able to withstand it as he believes God will provide what he needs.
Every day, he pens down verses and prayers in a journal as he meditates on God’s Word. On January 23, 2020, he wrote:
“I am known and also completely loved by You.”
“Mighty Lord, thank You for the gift of my reborn life, the knowledge that You have taught me and for the blessings and love that You have granted me.
“I am known and also completely loved by You. Even though I am a sinner, You never turned Your back on me.
“You remain faithful forever. You washed me white as snow through Your work on the cross. Thank You Lord for saving me.”