The bowl of porridge that moved a drug addict to try quitting

This Chinese New Year, Salt&Light finds stories of family reconciliation and forgiveness that only Jesus can orchestrate.

by Christine Leow // January 30, 2024, 1:01 am


Alvin Chow and his mother celebrating her birthday in 2019. All photos courtesy of Alvin Chow.

When Alvin Chow was eight months old, his parents divorced.

Although he did meet his father on occasion, he cannot recall much about him. The only father figure he does remember is his stepfather who entered his life when he was in pre-school.

“There were a lot of quarrels at home and scoldings. I was very unhappy,” Alvin, 45, told Salt&Light in Mandarin.

Alvin with one of his brothers and his mother celebrating Chinese New Year in 2018.

When he was about 13, his stepfather walked out on them as well. His mother took on different jobs to provide for her three sons. Despite her attempts at holding the family together, her relationship with Alvin grew strained.

Alvin (second, left) with youths from a church. He himself did not have a happy childhood.

Said Alvin: “From a very young age, I didn’t like to stay at home.”

“There were a lot of quarrels at home and scoldings. I was very unhappy.”

When he was in Primary 8, he joined a gang.

“It was fun because I always had a lot of people to hang around with. I had protection.

“There was comfort, and I felt safe and secure. In a gang, they listen to you and agree with you.”

With his gang providing a bulwark against loneliness, his relationship with his mother cooled to a chilly disdain on his part.

It would take decades for the fissure to mend, but not before Alvin went through a turbulent wilderness journey.

The rough road to redemption  

Within a year of joining the gang, Alvin dropped out of school and found himself in trouble with the law. He was arrested while on his way to a gang fight and sent to live in a boys’ hostel for a year.

“When they prayed, they closed their eyes to pray. I closed my eyes to sleep.”

“At the time of the arrest, I was scared. But I didn’t regret joining a gang.”

Upon his release, he returned to his gang. Within a year, the law caught up with him again. He had been, once more, on his way to a gang fight. At 17, he was detained at Tanah Merah Prison. He would be there for the next three years.

It was during this time that Alvin joined a Bible study class.

“Every day, we spent 23 hours in the room and had one hour of yard time. I took up the class to spend some time out,” he admitted.

“At the start, I did listen but only half-heartedly. When they prayed, they closed their eyes to pray. I closed my eyes to sleep.”

Alvin (left), who used to sleep during prayer times at detention, praying in earnest at his birthday celebration in 2020.

Apart from the daily classes, Alvin also had a roommate who was a Christian. The roommate would share the Gospel with Alvin.

“I started to really believe that God is my Saviour.”

“I don’t remember what he said but it was entertaining. He talked to me about Jesus. Every morning, he would get a group of people to read the Bible and pray.”

When his roommate eventually asked him to pray to accept Jesus into his life, Alvin agreed.

“I believed that Jesus is the only One,” he said simply.

But the prayer changed nothing in his life, until the pastor at one Bible study class urged the men to “not waste our lives but to sincerely pray to God”.

Said Alvin: “My heart was moved. I thought to myself: Better not waste time anymore. In my heart, I prayed to God. And I started to really believe that God is my Saviour.”

This happened two years into his detention.

Very soon, Alvin found a new desire to share the Gospel with the other prisoners.

The slow descent into addiction

After three years in detention, Alvin was released. He did not return to gang activities. But he did not stay away from his gang friends either. 

“I got frustrated with myself. I asked myself, ‘Why did you touch this drug?’”

Instead, he would go clubbing with them and other friends he had made in prison.  

There were few attempts to be integrated in a church.

“My faith was quite shallow. I believed that Jesus is my Saviour but there was no transformation in my life.”

The night life opened doors to drugs. At first it was prescription pills when he was drinking at the clubs. Then he progressed to Ecstasy.

“It was just for fun. I wasn’t addicted. I only took it occasionally,” Alvin maintained.

Despite knowing the damage hard drugs could do, Alvin tried Ice and got addicted.

Then came Ice (crystal meth).

“I had not wanted to touch Ice because I knew my personality would be different. But then I tried it and I got frustrated with myself. I asked myself, ‘Why did you touch this drug?’”

He tried to stay away and was successful for a few months.

Then he started to “dream of taking the drug”. Soon, the time between puffs got shorter and shorter, and Alvin found himself regularly smoking Ice.

“Ice makes you hyper alert. I would not sleep for two to three days and I got paranoid.”

A mother’s love

When Alvin first came out of detention, he was still excited about his Christian faith.

He told his mother about Jesus. But the past tension in their relationship proved to be a difficult obstacle.

“I would talk to her and we would quarrel. After some time, I just prayed. I told God, ‘I have no way of talking to her. Send someone to talk to her.’”

God did. Within weeks, a group of Christians going door-to-door to share the Gospel stopped by their house. They invited Alvin’s mother to church and she accepted Jesus into her life.

“I was very happy when I found out.”

When Alvin subsequently got re-addicted to drugs, it was her turn to pray for him.

It was his mother’s gesture of love that made Alvin think about quitting drugs.

“I was moved,” he said.

There would be more that would move him. He was at a particularly low period in his life, feeling like “everyone bochap (did not care) about me”.

“The more I tried, the deeper I got. I realised I couldn’t quit on my own.”

“I had not eaten for a few days because the drugs made me lose my appetite. My mum found out about it.

“When I came out of my room, she spoke to me in a soft voice and told me she had made me porridge. I suddenly felt very moved and very sorry for what I had done.

“I kept thinking: Why did I bring all this misery back home to my mum? It must be so hard for my mum to have a son like me.”

That demonstration of love was a turning point for Alvin. It made him want to quit drugs for real.

But when he tried, he realised it was not as easy as simply deciding to stop.

“The more I tried, the deeper I got. I realised I couldn’t quit on my own. That was when I got really scared. I wondered: Was my whole life going to be like this? Will I be a drug addict my whole life?”

In desperation, he turned to the God he had forsaken.

“I knelt down and prayed, ‘Please help me because I can’t help myself.’”

Read Part 2 of Alvin’s story below. Who could help Alvin turn his back on his addictions for good?

“God would not give up on me”: How Jesus pursued a drug addict and restored his relationships


Peace amidst the tears: One mother’s lament in the shadow of her daughter’s addiction and mental illness

The mum at The Helping Hand who never knew a mother’s love

“I couldn’t get love”: Beaten by his dad, abandoned by his mum, jailed 4 times. What hope was there of reconciliation?

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.