She is a university graduate. He graduated from the streets. But their love of God grew their love for each other

Salt&Light wishes all readers a Happy Valentine's Day!

by Gracia Lee // February 14, 2024, 3:57 pm

Though they are from vastly different backgrounds, and only got married in their late 40s, Jeremy Tan and Dora Lim are confident of this:

Though they are from vastly different backgrounds, and only got married in their late 40s, Jeremy Tan and Dora Lim are confident of this: "In God's perfect timing, He brought us together." All photos courtesy of Jeremy Tan and Dora Lim.

“There are three negatives about him: He’s a former drug addict, he’s blind in one eye and he doesn’t have much education.

“But there’s one positive: He really loves God.”

When Dora Lim, a former primary school English teacher, first heard about the man her long-time friend wanted to introduce to her, she was intrigued.

“I thought: This is a rather interesting person,” said Dora, a fourth generation Christian who had spent seven years as a missionary in Central Asia.

“She’s a real graduate, while you graduated from the streets.”

In her late 40s at the time, she had been quite happily single, though also open to the prospect of finding a partner.

The man in question was Jeremy Tan, a staff member at Christian halfway house, The Hiding Place, who had turned his life around after being addicted to drugs for 22 years.

Jeremy’s colleague, who also wanted to set the two up, told Jeremy: “In terms of everything, you lose to Dora. She’s a real graduate, while you graduated from the streets.

“There is only one thing you can ‘compete’ with her: Your love for the Lord.”

After having his life transformed by Jesus, this was the most important thing Jeremy, then also in his late 40s, valued in a life partner.

“Okay, on, on, on,” he told his colleague.

Three visions and a prompting

So one Saturday afternoon in September 2016, the pair met at a Koufu food court in Raffles City, with their matchmakers – married couple Chua Chiew Peng (Dora’s long-time friend) and Jabez Tan (Jeremy’s colleague).

Even though Jeremy and Dora were of vastly different backgrounds and would not naturally have crossed paths, Chiew Peng had felt prompted to link them up after seeing visions of them together – thrice.

While she had been hesitant to act on the visions at first, she’d felt an inexplicable peace to go ahead and introduce them after much prayer.

“I also knew Jeremy’s attitude. His faith is very sincere, very child-like. I heard that he had even forgiven the guy who had made him blind,” said Chiew Peng, a long-time volunteer at The Hiding Place.

From 2000 to 2006, after graduating from Bible school in the United States, Dora was a missionary in a rural part of Central Asia.

Her prompting had turned out to be right.

Though Jeremy and Dora had seemingly little in common, their conversations flowed easily. 

“With other people, you may need to find topic to talk, but with her don’t need,” said Jeremy, now 54. “I just talk whatever randomly and she can always reply me.”

He bared everything about his past: His lawless adventures as a secret society member and loanshark runner. How he had gotten into hard drugs at 18. How he had been addicted for 22 years, going in and out of prison – including one in Thailand – for drug-related crimes.

How he used to steal from strangers, his loved ones and even a church to fund his vice. How the drugs had completely wrecked his body and mind.

How he had cried out to God for help. How he had been arrested that very night. How he had tasted God’s goodness at The Hiding Place and turned his life around.

“On that first date, he gave me the highlights of his colourful life,” said Dora, who was unfazed by his past. “I really believed that God had changed him.”

The eight-hour first date

The date ended up lasting eight hours, though it was not without some bumps that the couple look back on today with great amusement.

Midway through that first date, Jeremy stopped to ask Dora for her name – twice. “I was thinking, if he’s going to ask me a third time, I’m going to stand up and leave!” Dora exclaimed.

Smiling sheepishly, Jeremy explained: “All the way until now I got problem remembering people’s names. I’m just not good at it.”

When they first met, Jeremy and Dora hit it off so well that they ended up spending eight hours talking.

When 4pm rolled around, Dora told Jeremy that she had to leave to attend an evening worship service. Out of courtesy, she asked if he would like to come along.

“He wasn’t supposed to say yes! But guess what he did? He said yes,” said Dora. “In my head I was like, oh no! But bopian (no choice) I asked.”

They arrived late to the service. Knowing that heads would turn if people saw that she brought a guy to church, Dora planned to sit quietly at the back row and leave once the service was over.

“I could imagine all these eyes behind me looking and wondering, ‘Wah, who is this, ah?'”

But to her horror, Jeremy, upon spotting Jabez and Chiew Peng in the first row, promptly made a beeline for the front and made himself comfortable in the pew behind them.

“And then during offering time, he stood up – we’re sitting in front – and leaned over to tell Jabez that he didn’t have any money!” said Dora.

“I could imagine all these eyes behind me looking and wondering, ‘Wah, who is this, ah?'” she added with a chuckle. “But thank God that was during the one-week school holiday break, so a lot of people were not around.”

After the service was over, they found themselves at Chinatown eating sapo fan (claypot rice), with their conversations never seeming to run dry.

Dora recalled: “Chiew Peng had told me that Jeremy was a very quiet person. But during the eight hours we were together – apart from the time we were in church and he could not talk – he had verbal diarrhoea!

“I think he wanted to show me who he was.”

They would have chatted for way longer if Jeremy did not have to return to the halfway house by 9pm. “Like Cinderella,” he quipped.

Finding a home in each other

Both parted ways that night tired but sure they had just met the one they had been waiting for all these years.

“Actually I knew Jeremy was it before I met him.”

Though they were so different, they found a unique sense of comfort and ease in each other.

Said Jeremy: “The way she talk very outgoing. We can click. I could tell she was genuine also, her body language. I was very comfortable talking to her.”

Dora, on the other hand, liked that Jeremy was confident and did not feel inferior to her because of his past.

He also assured her that he would not go back to drugs as he has two main things that keeps him accountable: His relationship with God and his band of brothers.

Dora said: “I felt those were good, practical reasons, not something like, ‘Oh, because I love you.’ So I wasn’t worried about it.”

Over the next few weeks, they chatted with each other every day over text messaging and phone calls.

As Jeremy lived in the halfway house, a requirement for all staff members at The Hiding Place, they could only meet for dates once every two weeks when Jeremy was allowed to go out.

But whenever he went out to do deliveries, he would secretly swing by her place to see her.

“We were like boyfriend-girlfriend already,” said Jeremy. “But she said she’s still not ready to accept me as a boyfriend.”

Dora explained: “I wanted to have my parents’ blessings first.”

Convincing Mum

Knowing that her parents – especially her mum – would take some time to warm up to the idea of her dating a former drug addict, Dora decided not to tell them about Jeremy’s background before they met him.

“What would the relatives think? How can he afford to take care of you? Don’t get married; I’ll take care of you.”

“I didn’t want to cloud their judgment,” she said.

Without informing her parents, she invited Jeremy to join them for a family meal at a dimsum restaurant in Star Vista and introduced him to them then.

As the restaurant was too noisy, the family went home to chat after the meal, during which Jeremy shared with them honestly about his past.

To their surprise, her parents, who are believers, seemed embracing. “My mum was very happy, she was smiling. We even took a picture together,” recalled Dora.

That night, heartened by her mother’s positive response to Jeremy, she held his hand for the first time while walking him to the bus stop and gave him a peck on the cheek.

It was her way of telling him that she was finally ready to officially become his girlfriend.

Asked if she had any reservations about Jeremy’s background, Dora said no. “I did mission work because I believe that God can change people’s lives. If I didn’t believe that God had changed him, then my years as a missionary would have been in vain.”

But that night, the reality of the situation struck Dora’s mum.

“For the rest of the week, every day she would think of a reason why we shouldn’t be together,” said Dora.

“What would the relatives think? How can he afford to take care of you? Even to the extent of: Don’t get married; I’ll take care of you. She was really desperate. She was worried for me, worried about all the unknowns.”

“I asked my father what he thought about Jeremy and he said, ‘Well, if this is God’s will, what can I say?'”

Jeremy was understanding. “My background, who not scared? I was prepared lah,” he said.

Desiring the blessing of Dora’s mum, the couple prayed that she would have a change of heart toward Jeremy. God heard their prayer.

Over the next month, two people who had never met Jeremy before spoke to Dora’s mum and advocated for him.

Dora recalled: “One was her good friend who told her, ‘You know, Jeremy’s parents have passed away, so if you are nice to him, he’ll be very nice to you.'”

The other was her mum’s older brother who takes frequent mission trips to the prisons in Cambodia.

“He’s met Cambodian pastors who used to be drug addicts and has seen how God has changed them. So he told my mum, ‘God can change people’,” said Dora.

One day, ahead of a family gathering, Dora’s mum went up to her and said: “Ask your friend to come.”

“I was like, ‘Which friend? Oh, you mean Jeremy?’ That was when I knew her heart had changed towards him,” said Dora, adding that her mum is now chummier with Jeremy than with her.

“I joke that he’s become the son and I’m the daughter-in-law!”

As for her father? “I call him a Christian fatalist,” she said with a chuckle. “I asked him what he thought about Jeremy and he said, ‘Well, if this is God’s will, what can I say?'”

The impromptu proposal

With the support of Dora’s parents, the couple began to seriously consider marriage even though they were only two months into their relationship. 

“We were both of age already, why do we want to waste time?” explained Jeremy.

“But who wants me, a drug addict? No house, no money, no nothing. Anyway prayer don’t need money one what, so I pray.”

Through prayer, both of them also knew that they were meant for each other.

In fact, Dora had known that Jeremy was the one for her even before they had met.

When Chiew Peng first told her about him, Dora had prayed about whether she should meet him.

“God didn’t say yes or no, but He brought a prayer to mind that I had made when I was in my early 30s. I had forgotten it,” she recalled.

“The prayer was: ‘God, I don’t want to play games about whether this is the right person or this is not the right person. If there is a right person, bring him along. If there’s not a right person, keep everyone else away.’

“When the Lord brought this prayer to my mind, that was my answer. It was like He was telling me, ‘See? You prayed and you forgot, but I didn’t.’

“So actually I knew Jeremy was it before I met him.”

Jeremy, on the other hand, knew that Dora was an answered prayer as he got to know her better.

Since he was a resident at the halfway house, Jeremy had seen many men with families and yearned to have one of his own one day.

“But who wants me, a drug addict? No house, no money, no nothing. Anyway prayer don’t need money one what, so I pray,” he said, adding that he had prayed for years to find a suitable partner.

He gave God a list of qualities in a girl that he would like: “Someone who loves God. Can be a pillar of trust and support for me. Not too fat, not too thin. Just nice. Don’t need long hair. Don’t want make up. Simple person.”

Dora checked off everything on the list.

So he decided to propose, quite suddenly, while eating ice-cream under the Woodlands MRT track near Causeway Point. 

One of the locations that Jeremy and Dora chose for their pre-wedding shoot was the place – under the Woodlands MRT train tracks – where Jeremy had proposed.

Dora recounted: “It was a bit dark and dingy. He was eating his ice-cream and then he put his arm around me and said, ‘Marry me?’

“I got a shock. I was like, ‘Huh? I know I said I didn’t want a ring, but this is really shabby, you know!'”

Jeremy interjected: “Did I go down on my knee?”

“No, of course not!” she retorted. “It was so shabbily done. Anyway I decided I wouldn’t give him an answer. So I said I’ll think about it.

“But I gave him the answer the next morning.”

Jeremy confessed: “It was very impromptu lah. Some more I running late already to go back to The Hiding Place. So I thought, ‘If you don’t do now, when you want to do?'”

Moving into the halfway house

On August 5, 2017, less than a year after they had first met, the pair tied the knot in a church wedding at Bethel Presbyterian Church, which was attended by some 400 guests.

Instead of flower girls walking down the aisle before the bride, four of Jeremy’s colleagues from the halfway house walked down carrying four objects of significance: A Bible, the wedding rings, two hearts representing love for God and each other, and a pair of shoes from Central Asia, symbolising the couple walking together for the rest of their lives.

“Our backgrounds are so different and yet God brought us together and we are able to work well together,” said Dora, pictured here on their wedding day.

And so they began their life together, albeit in a slightly unusual way. After they were married, Dora moved into the halfway house with Jeremy.

All staff members are required to stay in The Hiding Place, which has also been Jeremy’s home since he was a resident there in 2010.

At first, Jeremy tried to negotiate with the late Pastor Philip Chan, then the executive director of The Hiding Place, to allow him to spend three nights at his flat in Woodlands and four nights at the halfway house.

“I can’t force her to stay here and I also don’t want to ask her to do it,” said Jeremy.

Jeremy and Dora (second row, right) with The Hiding Place co-founders, the late Pastor Philip Chan (first row, right) and the late Christina Chan (first row, middle), as well as their daughter, Joaquim (first row, left). With them are also fellow staff member Caleb Tan (second row, second from left) and his wife, Grace.

It was Dora who suggested that she moved in.

“It’s more practical lah. Anyway I was prepared to live in,” she said matter-of-factly.

“A lot of people think it’s such a difficult thing. But I’ve lived in Central Asia for seven years. I’ve already crossed such a big gap where I’ve had to learn a new culture, new language, new way of life. What is moving into The Hiding Place?”

She added that she had also been “floored” by the warmth and hospitality of the people there and knew that she would not have any problems fitting in.

Jeremy said: “One thing I like about her is that she can mingle with the boys. Even if I’m not at home here, she can just watch TV and talk to the rest. She can click with them. That’s what I think is a wonderful thing.”

Dora (middle, in blue) did not have any problems fitting in at The Hiding Place.

When she’s not busy with her responsibilities at non-governmental organisation Care Channels International, where she has been working for the past 16 years, she helps out around the halfway house updating the newsletter, helping staff members with their English, packing things in the kitchen.

“I always joke: We were like buy one get one free,” she quipped.

Little things matter

Nevertheless, there are unique challenges that come with married life in the halfway house, like having little privacy or alone time.

With work so closely intertwined with his life, Jeremy had to learn how to strike a delicate balance between serving in the halfway house and spending time with his wife.

“I cannot always say: She understands, she understands, she understands. Last time I didn’t know, but now I know … though can be better lah,” he admitted humbly.

He now makes it a point to be intentional about the little things, such as taking her on a quick fish soup date after her aqua lesson, going for a walk in the neighbourhood at the end of the day or driving across the island to pick her up from work.

“All this is automatic gear for me now,” said Jeremy.

“God kept us for each other,” say Dora and Jeremy.

When he expressed that he feels bad that she is often roped in to help out in his ministry, Dora gently reminded him that he helps her out in many ways too.

“At the end of the day, you have someone beside you that you can hug, you can love, you can talk to.”

“I help him with his ministry and he helps me with my family,” she told Salt&Light, adding that she is grateful for Jeremy’s steadfast help in loving and caring for her aging parents.

Asked what they enjoy most about marriage, both answered that it is simply the comfort of having each other around.

“At the end of the day, you have someone beside you that you can hug, you can love, you can talk to,” said Jeremy.

With such a loving relationship, some of their friends have commented that they should have met and gotten married earlier.

But Dora believes they would not have been ready for each other then.

“I think that God kept us for each other. If we had met earlier, I might not have been mature enough to take his nonsense and the challenge of living here, and he might not have been ready either,” she reflected.

“But in God’s perfect timing, He brought us together.”


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About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer and Assistant Editor at Salt&Light.