“I was famous at Tanglin Police Station for bringing shoplifters in”: How this store manager changed a shoplifter’s life with her tears
by Gemma Koh // December 12, 2022, 4:33 pm
In September, Georgina Lee met Reverend Jeff Yuen – some three decades after the former teen shoplifter was hauled into her office. Photo by the Thirst Collective.
In Part 1 of this story, Reverend Jeff Yuen, a former teen shoplifter, related an encounter with a kind store manager that triggered a seismic shift in him.
This is Part 2, which tells the store manager’s side of the story:
Georgina Lee was nicknamed “The Policewoman” for her ability to spot and catch shoplifters.
In her decades of working in retail, she has encountered shoplifters of all sorts.
Georgina Lee was nicknamed “The Policewoman” for her ability to spot and catch shoplifters.
Once, she caught an elderly man who had thousands of dollars worth of designer merchandise hidden all over his body.
“We knew he had been stealing over a few days.
“We finally caught him in the act and thought we had emptied everything out of his bag and clothes. Then my staff found socks in the back pocket of his trousers.
“I told the man, ‘I suggest you see a doctor and get help. Because I think you have an illness’,” she said.
On another occasion, Georgina was physically injured when she tackled a shoplifter. In the early 1990s, Georgina, was the store manager and buyer at a high-end shop selling streetwear.
“We both fell to the floor. I hung on to his shirt and he kicked me in the face. My face was all blue-black,” recalled Georgina, who is now in her early 60s.
The tiring, thankless part of her job often reduced Georgina to tears.
Another time, a grandmother pleaded with her not to turn her grandson over to the police.
“I felt sorry for her. But her grandson had taken a lot of stuff. I had to take him in.
“I had to be accountable to my employers.”
She added that it was also to deter black sheep – among her otherwise loyal staff – from stealing.
“It was a lot of work to involve the police,” she admitted. “But hopefully that would put the shoplifters off from doing anything else that would be detrimental to their whole life.”
Said Georgina matter-of-factly: “I was famous at Tanglin Police Station for bringing shoplifters in.”
Georgina not only changed his life, but also shaped the work he is doing. He is now Reverend Jeff.
The tiring, thankless part of her job often reduced her to tears.
“I felt so sorry for them,” she said.
She also had a kind heart that touched at least one shoplifter.
This came to light when Jeff Yuen, a former teen shoplifter, told Stories of Hope about the store manager who not only changed his life, but also shaped the work he is doing. He is now Reverend Jeff.
Rev Jeff, now 47, served as a missionary before starting Soakability Church.
Headlocked into her office
One week after Georgina was kicked in the face, a teenage Jeff and his friends set off the security alarm at her shop when they tried their hand at stealing sunglasses.
The friends ran off in different directions. Jeff was the only one who was caught. An athletic sales assistant put him into a headlock and dragged him into Georgina’s office.
“It’s totally amazing to be contacted 30 years later about something that you said to somebody that changed him.”
Georgina didn’t take young Jeff to the police station. (Jeff didn’t realise it back then, but it was because he had not stolen anything that day).
Instead, she shocked him by saying “Jesus loves you” as she burst into tears.
Jeff shared this with Stories of Hope, some 30 years after the incident. He often wondered about the store manager.
Georgina, who still works in retail, was on the way to lunch with a colleague when Stories of Hope phoned her, telling her that she had changed the trajectory of a teen shoplifter’s life.
“I burst into tears. I was very teary,” she later told this writer. “It’s totally amazing to be contacted 30 years later about something that you said to somebody that changed him.
“You have otherwise no way of knowing whether the seed you planted falls on hard ground or soft ground,” she said, referencing the parable of the sowers in the Bible. (Matthew 13:1-9, Matthew 13:18-23)
Initially, Georgina was unable to remember the specific incident, simply because Jeff was not the only shoplifter she had talked to about Jesus.
“I dealt with shoplifters almost every week. I had also invited many to come to church with me,” she explained.
But her memory was triggered when she met the former shoplifter in the flesh.
Finding God on her Walkman
Georgina’s own faith journey began when she “accepted Christ to get a persistent colleague off my back”.
She felt out of place in her jeans and t-shirts among congregants dressed in suits.
She was working in advertising in the 1980s, and the colleague had invited her to a home cell meeting.
Georgina then honoured her commitment to go to church, even if she felt out of place in her jeans and t-shirts among congregants dressed in suits.
There, she started finding out about God. Hungry to learn more, she listened to cassette recordings of the late British missionary and theologian Derek Prince on her Walkman every day and grew in her faith.
She was struck by how went “from a foul-mouthed soldier to finding God” and by the love he and his wife Lydia had for Israel and the orphans that they took in.
She once put in two five-cent coins into the offering bag. “It was my bus ride home.”
“You can’t give that way if there is no God. If you don’t have a strong anchor, you will give up. God gives you that hope, something to cling to,” she said.
She also found Derek Prince’s teachings “real and relatable, whether they were about blessing, or sowing and reaping”.
As a new Christian, she once put in two five-cent coins into the offering bag.
“It was my bus ride home,” she said.
“I tithe (the biblical concept of giving 10% of one’s income to the church) because I want to give back to God. I do not tithe to look for that hundred-fold return.”
But her life is a testimony that “God doesn’t shortchange you”.
Georgina, who came from a poor family and grew up in a two-room HDB flat, would soon see God’s fingerprints in her career that would see her travelling around the world, and living in Hong Kong while working for a luxury retailer.
Georgina, who came from a poor family and grew up in a two-room HDB flat, would soon see God’s fingerprints in her career.
It started in the late 1980s, when a photographer told Georgina that women’s magazine, Female, was looking for a fashion stylist.
Georgina seemed suited for the job. She had an eye for unconventional things, and her job in advertising involved sourcing for props for photo shoots.
“The art director at the magazine decided to try me out. He gave me a brief to find a big banana leaf and style a shoot.”
She got the job, which gave her the opportunity to work with top local models like Ethel Fong and Hanis Hussey.
Georgina, who is a natural multi-tasker, found it a breeze to book the models, photographer, hairstylist, make-up artist – plus source for clothes and locations for shoots – all at once.
“God has given me the gift of logistics, of knowing where to find things,” she said.
She believes that the choice jobs she had came from God.
Love, not force
Georgina lives out her faith by quietly loving the people around her.
“I don’t drag people to church because I hated it when people did that to me.
“I had Christians literally put their foot in the door of my flat and say, ‘If you don’t go to church, you will go to hell.’
“I don’t drag people to church because I hated it when people did that to me.”
“It was like a sales person trying to push their way through. It was a turn off. The forcing is not right.”
Instead, she believes in “forming friendships and accepting people for who they are”.
“Just love them. And when they trust you, they will open up to you if they get into trouble.
“If they need help, they may ask you to pray for them.
“At the end of the day, people can see whether you are genuine or not,” she said.
Ministry of planting seeds
Georgina, however, shares her faith with strangers whenever she feels God’s prompting to do so.
This is what she did with some of the shoplifters, like young Jeff Yuen, whom she caught 30 years ago.
“They are giants in preaching. I don’t have the courage to teach like they do.
“But when I feel the need, I will speak up on the spur of the moment.
“It’s a different ministry. It’s spontaneous.”
For instance, she would ask a troubled taxi driver driving her to church: “你想来教会吗？这是我的教堂。” (“Would you like to come to church? This is my church.”)
“I believe my ministry is to plant seeds, and to leave the Holy Spirit to do the work.”
Recently on the bus, she started chatting with an older woman who was wheeling a piece of luggage.
The woman was headed to the casino.
“Do you want to stop gambling?” Georgina asked.
“I try to, but it’s very difficult,” replied the woman, who was well aware that the odds are against winning.
Then Georgina said: “It is hard. But Jesus can help you. Can I pray for you?”
The woman allowed her to, and also revealed that her own son is a pastor.
Said Georgina: “I believe my ministry is to plant seeds, and to leave the Holy Spirit to do the work.”
Blossoming of many Jeffs
In September, Georgina got to hear firsthand how one of these seeds grew into something larger than she could have ever imagined.
On meeting the former teen shoplifter 30 years after their first encounter, Georgina said: “I am totally amazed, because I never realised that a seed I planted 30 years ago has blossomed into someone like Jeff.
“Jeff’s testimony has given me so much encouragement.
“I always say, this is the last leg of my life I’m running. And I want to run it well.
“I pray that the seeds I plant will go into places that the Holy Spirit will water and blossom into many of him,” she said, pointing to Jeff.
This story was first published in Stories of Hope and is republished with permission. Read Part 1 – Rev Jeff Yuen’s story – below:
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