She lost her father, but her Heavenly Father assured her he was not lost forever

This Father's Day, Salt&Light remembers the fathers who have gone before us.

by Christine Leow // June 13, 2024, 1:43 am

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Debbie Zhang (right) with her husband Kelvin Loh and her father (left). Even as Debbie grieved over her father's death, she also agonised over his eternal future. All photos courtesy of Debbie Zhang.

When Debbie Zhang became a Christian in Singapore, she did not tell her family back home in another part of Asia. They were of a different faith and she was sure they would not approve. She was right.

When she eventually revealed her conversion to her family a year later, there were “a lot of conflicts”.

“They thought the religion was not good because of the trials in my life. For instance, why did I suddenly become a housewife? 

“The doctor asked the family to prepare for the worst.”

“They used to be very proud of me. They had raised me up to become a university graduate. They concluded this faith had brainwashed me. So we had a lot of fights.”

There was no way she could share the Gospel with her parents or her siblings; so great was their disapproval.

So in 2010 when she received a call from her sister telling her that their father was at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the sense of urgency Debbie felt was intense.

Her father had returned home complaining of feeling unwell. They had sent him to the hospital and he was immediately admitted to the ICU. There was a blockage in his heart and a clot in his brain.

Debbie and her husband Kelvin Loh, along with their two sons, rushed home to be by her father’s bedside.

“The doctor asked the family to prepare for the worst.”

Everyone was in shock. But Debbie did not despair. “I was very confident that God would grant me a miracle.”

Why no miracle?

By then, Debbie had been serving in Geylang Ministry for two years. The organisation is an outreach to people who work in Singapore’s red-light district of Geylang.

“I still believed God would give me a miracle.”

In that time, she had shared the Gospel with hundreds and had led many to Christ.

She was sure she could do the same for her father.

No one was allowed into the ICU. The family could only keep vigil outside. But because she had come all the way from Singapore, her mother managed to get the hospital to let Debbie into the ICU for a while.

The night before the visit, Debbie and Kelvin prayed and worshipped God all night. When Debbie went to see her father, he remained unconscious.

Young Debbie with her father.

“I was a bit disappointed because nothing happened. But I still believed God would give me a miracle.”

“God, You did so many miracles for Geylang Ministry. Why no miracle for my family?”

Night after night Debbie and Kelvin prayed for her father.

Day after day, she returned to the ICU. This went on for nine days. Then the hospital called to tell them that her father had passed away.

Even as she sat with her father’s body at the mortuary, Debbie held on to the hope of a miracle. She thought God would raise her father from the dead.

“I laid hands on his body and prayed for so long till the body became cold. Then I realised, ‘Oh no, he’s gone. My father died and God didn’t raise him from the dead.’

“So where is my father? I thought: He is in hell. I ran to the courtyard outside and cried very loudly. I told God, ‘You are so unfair. How am I going to believe in You? You did so many miracles for Geylang Ministry. Why no miracle for my family?’”

Three assurances

In her grief, Debbie suddenly remembered a conversation with her aunt, her father’s younger sister, the day before his passing. They had been outside the ICU when her aunt complained about a pain in her knee.

“Your great grandmother attended church regularly. Surely your father attended too.”

Debbie was prompted to pray for her despite her fear that her mother, who was with them that day, would consider her unfilial. When Debbie asked to pray for her aunt, the elder woman agreed.

Wah, that was a miracle. The whole family was of a different faith. I didn’t know how she would react to Christianity,” said Debbie.

Then came another miracle. After the prayer, her aunt told her: “I feel much better. See, I can even move my leg.”

But what shocked Debbie the most was what her aunt said after that: “The way you pray is the same as your great grandmother. She was a Christian.”

This was Debbie’s father’s grandmother who had cared for Debbie’s father when he was a child because his mother was working as a doctor in another town. It was possible that his mother also went to church.

Young Debbie with her parents and older sister, as well as her paternal grandmother (centre) who was a Christian and who used to take her father to church.

This was a piece of family history that was new to Debbie. Until then, she had assumed that her family had always believed in another religion.

A day later came another assurance. Debbie’s friends encouraged her with Hebrews 11:1.

The church that her father’s family – her grandmother and great grandmother – used to attend.

“That seemed like a promise from God that my father knew Him.”

“I told God, ‘If the tomb next to my father’s is a Christian one, then I know my father is with You.’”

But Debbie needed more. She was particularly conflicted because her father had vehemently opposed her baptism in 2001.

“He even wanted to disown me. So I assumed my father never knew Jesus. I told God, ‘You need to prove to me my father is with You. If not, don’t talk about my serving You at Geylang Ministry. I don’t even know how I can believe in You.’”

Debbie asked God for a sign.

“I told God, ‘If the tomb next to my father’s is a Christian one, then I know my father is with You.’”

When she got to the cemetery, her heart sank. Where they were, almost everyone was of a different faith from Christianity. The odds of a Christian tomb and one that was next to her father’s was next to nil.

When she got to the burial site, Debbie saw no other tomb next to her father’s. Her mother had selected an exclusive spot high on a hill. The next tomb was too far away for Debbie to see.

But when the family had performed the burial rituals, they descended the hill in a different route from whence they came. That was when Debbie got to see the next tomb in the distance.

“It was a Christian tomb. It was a miracle.”

Two healings

Even though she was now assured that her father was saved, Debbie had her regrets. She mourned the fact that she had not been by her father’s side when he had passed away.

But five years after her father’s death, God had another message for her.

A former pimp Debbie had been helping through Geylang Ministries was hospitalised. As he had no family, the hospital contacted Debbie.

“That was the healing God gave me. All the regret, all the pain about my father’s passing was gone.”

She and some women from Geylang Ministry happened to visit him when the doctors told them that the man was dying. They sat with him in his last moments.  

“We prayed for him. We told him we would take care of his funeral. I told him, ‘Go in peace. If you see someone in white, follow Him.’

“He took his last breath in front of us. That was what he wanted. Not to die alone.”

At a conference for fathers, Debbie later attended, God spoke to her about that incident.

“He said to me, ‘You always regretted you didn’t have a chance to send your father off. So I compensated you.’

“The uncle who had died in the hospital was about my father’s age and it almost felt like he was my father. When God said that to me, I cried non-stop. The resentment and regret in my heart melted away.”

A few years after this, there came another unexpected episode of healing for Debbie.

As a favour, Debbie accompanied a woman who was a former pimp to a workshop for mothers. At the workshop, all participants were asked to write a letter to their father.

Debbie (left) found healing when she wrote a posthumous letter to her father.

“When I wrote my letter, I could feel my tears coming out. In one part, I told my father, ‘I don’t understand why you persecuted me when I wanted to be baptised. I only got to know you were a Christian later. But I know God is merciful. I will see you in heaven.'”

“As long as we are faithful, God will take care of us.”

When Debbie was asked to read her letter out to the other participants, she fell apart.

“I kept crying. I couldn’t talk at all. It took me some time because I couldn’t continue. But that was the healing God gave me. All the regret, all the pain about my father’s passing was gone.”

God did not work the way Debbie had expected. But He gave her everything she had wanted.

“God made up for all my regrets and all my pain. His ways are higher than ours. When I was attending to Uncle and when I accompanied Aunty to the workshop, God used those incidents to bring healing to me.

“I will never say that I serve and sacrifice a lot. Whatever place God asks us to serve in, He will honour us. Our personal life and our ministry will blend together and He will use one to help the other.

“As long as we are faithful, God will take care of us.”


In the now-quiet Geylang lorongs, a ministry to prostitutes and pimps continues

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“My father showed me God is real”: Repeat offender’s transforming faith and love moved his daughter

I learnt how to be a dad from my father, my spiritual fathers and my heavenly Father

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.