Widowed while pregnant, she was in despair until she realised she was not alone: The story behind Mt Zion bookstore
by Janice Tai // February 25, 2022, 4:58 pm
Little did Victoria realise that her mission field in Indonesia would also be where she would find new family, as her daughter later married a local church worker. “They fell in love while serving God," says Victoria. All photos courtesy of Victoria Yeo.
After trying to conceive for six years, Victoria Violet Yeo was ecstatic when she found out that she was expecting.
She was six or seven weeks into her pregnancy at that time and she and her husband were eager to start a family.
But just a few days later, Victoria received news that her husband had drowned in a freak accident at Jurong Lake. He had taken his young niece and goddaughter there for a bout of fishing when the strong currents pulled him under water.
At the young age of 29, pregnant Victoria suddenly became both a widow and a single mother in 1985.
“I was 100% angry with God. Why me, God? Why do I have to live this kind of life? God, you are so unfair,” recalled Victoria, now 65, of the confusion, pain and anger she had felt towards God at the time.
Visits to the obstetrician were sad ones as she would be emotionally affected seeing other pregnant women with their husbands by their side.
“I was 100% angry with God. Why me, God? You are so unfair.”
Her family and church friends from what was then Rhema Assembly of God church rallied by visiting her and accompanying her to the doctor.
In 1986, a year after her daughter was born, Victoria decided to open a Christian bookstore. She wanted to have a shop that could operate at flexible hours so that she could watch over her daughter.
As a former receptionist, she often went over to the nearby Tecman bookstore during her lunch break to gaze at all the “pretty things” on the shelves and had wondered what it would be like to have a bookstore of her own.
“It was a crazy decision. I knew nothing about business and had no money to open a store. I also wasn’t much of a reader, being not well educated and having left school after my ‘O’ levels,” said Victoria.
The birth of Mount Zion bookstore
Nonetheless, she prayed and felt she received God’s confirmation to go ahead and name it Mount Zion, after the verse in Hebrews 12:22.
Many times, she would hide herself in the toilet to cry at the general bleakness of her situation.
To finance the Mount Zion bookstore that was to be at Forum Galleria, she sold off her four-room HDB flat and squeezed in with her parents and brother in their three-room flat. The proceeds of her flat went into purchasing stocks of books and paying the rent. Her family members, who were mostly pre-believers then, were shocked at her decision.
The first two years of running the business was extremely difficult for her. She had assumed that having her own storefront meant she could spend more time with her daughter, but she ended putting in 10 to 12 hours at the store every day.
Her mother helped to look after her toddler. There were days when Victoria felt depressed and overwhelmed with anxieties and worries about the future and how to make ends meet while raising her baby. Loneliness also gripped her unrelentingly.
Several times, the single mother could not help but vent her frustration and anger on her daughter. Once she returned from work feeling fatigued and her daughter refused to take a shower. Victoria smacked her three-year-old but stopped when her mother intervened.
Many times, she would hide herself in the toilet to cry at the general bleakness of her situation.
Business at the store was bad. At times, she had no income and had to eat into her savings. She was also cheated of $30,000 by a Christian brother who also ran a bookstore and had promised to help her secure book supplies with the money. The books never came.
“If they knew my Christian bookstore was not doing well, they might think, ‘Where is your God?'”
“I was devastated but I had no one to share all these problems with because my family was not Christian then. If they knew a Christian cheated me, they would not want to become one. If they knew my Christian bookstore was not doing well, they might think, ‘Where is your God?’” Victoria shared candidly.
Soon, she found herself with no more money to sustain the business. On the way to church one Sunday, she told God that she had to wind up the business. She prayed that if He was real and wanted her to continue the business, He would show her a miracle that day. She told God that if the preacher that day would call for anyone who needed prayer for financial problems in business, she would respond to the altar call.
She knew that it was extremely unlikely that such an altar call would be issued as her church only had a small congregation and most of them were students. There was hardly anyone else in business, except for her.
Lo and behold, the church had a guest speaker that day and he made the exact call that she had prayed for. She dashed forward to be prayed for and cried her heart out. After the prayer, she picked up her toddler and hurried home, embarrassed at the thought that now others knew that her Christian bookstore was failing.
Meeting God in the lift
Victoria was still in tears when she reached the lift lobby of the church. Just as she entered the tiny lift, a voice boomed: “Meditate on the Word of God day and night; it will bring you success.”
“It was a loud, audible voice and I knew it was God. The voice hit me hard.”
She trembled in fear.
“It was a loud, audible voice and I knew it was God. The voice hit me hard. It was as if someone was waking me up from my depressed state,” said Victoria.
The next morning, she went back to work at the bookstore as usual. No customers came.
At about three o’clock in the afternoon, a regular customer came in, pointed a finger at her and said with a loud voice: “Meditate on the Word of God day and night, God will bring success to you through this.”
Stunned, Victoria blurted out: “Do you know that I had just heard the same thing from God yesterday? Why did you suddenly say this to me?”
“I don’t know. When I saw you, I just felt I needed to tell you that,” the customer replied.
It was then that Victoria was deeply moved that God had not forsaken her. He still cared for her and remembered her.
From that day onwards, she started reading her Bible and praying first thing every morning before heading to work.
The fate and fortunes of the bookstore also began to shift.
By the time she hit her late 30s, Victoria had sunk into a more serious bout of depression.
The first sign of change was when the landlord of Forum Galleria informed her that the management wanted to revamp the place, hence tenants like her who were two years into their three-year lease can cease the tenancy without incurring any penalty.
A businessman friend of hers also urged her to apply for a storefront at Raffles Place MRT. Back then, Raffles Place MRT had just opened and it was a ghost town. The management wanted to pioneer a new retail concept at the MRT in order to drive footfall up.
Victoria tendered for a space and secured it, though she had filled up the form wrongly and the management had to send a courier down to her to re-sign the form just two hours before the deadline.
Since then, the Mount Zion bookstore at Raffles Place MRT has become an iconic place of refuge for weary office workers in need of refreshing reads or a quiet place of solitude among the tomes of books.
Over the next 15 years, God blessed the bookstore tremendously. Revenue grew more than a 100-fold, and it expanded from one store to five. Other partners joined the business as well.
During this time, Victoria also grew in her walk with God and she began doing regular missions work at a small church in Medan, Indonesia. She travelled there a few times a year to do outreach and her daughter tagged along, from a young age of 12.
By the time she hit her late 30s, Victoria had sunk into a more serious bout of depression. At that time, she was facing mounting stress at home as well as at work with her business partners.
One morning, while she was sitting at a breakwater at East Coast Park, she began having suicidal thoughts. She had been crying for almost four hours and the sea waves rolling in front of her tempted her to jump in.
Ten years later
At that moment, she heard the same voice that had once spoke to her in the lift 10 years ago.
“The voice woke me up … He is the lifter of our heads. I was looking down at death but He lifted me up to see life, hope and light.”
“Stop and go back. You have a daughter whom I have given you to be responsible for. I will show you the way and take care of you,” the voice told her, jolting her awake once again.
Victoria came to her senses and her spirits lifted.
“The voice woke me up. I recognised that it was the same voice as the one who spoke to me in the lift years ago. He is the lifter of our heads. I was looking down at death but He lifted me up to see life, hope and light,” said Victoria.
“If I had really jumped that day, I don’t know what would have happened …” she added, her voice cracking.
Victoria spent the night on her knees in reverent worship.
“I offer my life to You, God. Show me more of Yourself,” she cried. It was then that she felt the rain of God dripping down on her.
“At first, I thought it was my air-con leaking and went to check it out. But the air-con was in the other corner of the room. I realised that I had literally experienced the rain of the Holy Spirit as in the lyrics of the song ‘Holy Spirit Rain Down’,” recalled Victoria with awe.
The green card
In 2001, Victoria sold off the Mount Zion chain of bookstores.
“My work had taken away precious time with my daughter and I realised we were drifting apart. I also wanted to give her a good education. A good friend suggested a university in the United States and I thought it was a good idea because many of the authors of the good books I sell come from the US,” said Victoria.
“Though I happily received the blessing, I was puzzled because I had not applied for a Green Card.”
In order to enter the country under the working visa pass, Victoria set up a book business there called Mount Hermon. The plan was to have a Mount Hermon bookstore in the United States which will also supply books for the wholesale business in Singapore.
The mother-daughter pair moved to the States the following year.
Working and studying in the States was no walk in the park. Finances were tight and their stay in the country was dependent on Victoria’s ability to renew her working visa pass. In the second year of their stay, Victoria’s application for the working visa pass was rejected. Upon an appeal, her visa was renewed for another year. In the third year, however, her lawyer told her that renewal would be difficult and urged her to prepare to return to Singapore.
During that time, there was one Sunday when Victoria was invited to a Spanish church to set up a booth for its members. She sat through the service without understanding a word as the songs and sermon were conducted in Spanish.
However, during the altar call, the Spanish pastor abruptly pointed at her and said: “The Chinese lady over there, can you come up? I need to pray for you.”
Victoria knew he was referring to her as she was the only Chinese person there. The pastor began speaking in English to her and prophesied over her in front of the congregation: “Your Green Card will be at the doorstep” and she found herself on the floor, slain in the Spirit.
“Though I happily received the blessing, I was puzzled because I had not applied for a Green Card,” she said.
A Green Card confers permanent residency status to its holder, and the person is allowed to live and work permanently in the United States.
Emboldened by the prophetic word she received, Victoria called her lawyer the next day to request submitting an application for her Green Card. The lawyer refused to submit the application as she had only been living in the United States for two years at that point in time, and applications for the Green Card then required a minimum stay of five years. Based on his experience of helping foreigners with their Green Card applications, he was sure that her application would be unsuccessful.
Victoria told him about the prophetic word she received and persisted with her request. Eventually, the lawyer relented and followed her instructions.
“You are so blessed and your God is powerful,” the non-Christian lawyer told her.
Seven months after the application, she still had not received any news of the Green Card. The lawyer called her and advised her to buy her air ticket to return to Singapore as the grace period for her visa would expire in a few weeks’ time. She repeated her confidence in God’s promise but the lawyer, who was not a believer, just laughed at her and said it would not happen. She told him she would fast and pray.
The following week, she received the Green Card approval letter by post. Her lawyer was surprised and was at a loss for words.
However, in order to receive her Green Card, she had to attend an interview with the Immigrations department and show them proof that she had the required minimum sum in her bank account. At that time, she had less than USD$1,000, which would certainly disqualify her. Yet she continued praying and kept the faith.
Within the next few days, she finally received the long-awaited Green Card by post at her doorstep. Strangely, she was not contacted for any interview at all.
Excitedly, she rang up her lawyer and told him the news.
“You are so blessed and your God is powerful,” he told her over the phone. In his many years of practice, he had not come across a case like hers being successful, he said.
There were many other times when God came through for them in the nick of time.
In 2005, she recalled that her daughter’s fees of US$14,000 for the last semester of study was due and there were only a few months left before the payment deadline. Victoria did not have the money and did not know what to do.
“Moving to the United States for my daughter’s studies was an impulsive decision. I did not count the cost,” she said.
When Victoria prayed about the issue, she discerned that God did not want her to ask others for a loan. Instead, she was to trust Him to send the people and resources to her. So, Victoria did not ask her brother for a loan and simply waited.
A few months later, a woman came up to her. During the course of their conversation, she asked Victoria about her daughter’s school fees. She said she would give her a loan and that Victoria could return her the sum when her daughter started working. It was a relief.
“I am just a simple woman with little education. But I have learnt to just step out in faith and let God show up with His miracles.”
Yet at the last minute, the loan did not come through as the woman was facing some financial difficulties in her business. By then, it was December and the school fees needed to be paid in January.
Troubled, Victoria attended a six-day Christian seminar to press in and seek the Lord. When it was time for the offering, Victoria found herself giving all that she had at that point in time – USD$100.
The next day, her daughter reminded her that her school fees of USD$14,000 was due in a few days’ time. Helpless, Victoria went into her room and prayed.
That afternoon after the seminar ended, Victoria received a call from an elderly cell group member. She was just visiting her children in the States and had thought about Victoria. When she realised that Victoria was facing financial difficulties, she met her in person to loan her the money. It was the weekend just before the school fees were due.
Victoria’s daughter, Andrea, graduated from Vanguard University in California in 2006. Having witnessed God’s hand of protection and provision over her life over the years, she was moved to serve the Lord in the Indonesian church in the mountains that her mother had introduced her when she was a young girl.
There, she spent six months doing mission work and sharing her testimony. Occasionally she would join them in worship, when they danced with tambourines.
Little did she expect to find love in the small church and end up marrying one of the local church staff, Ando Ginting.
“They fell in love while serving God,” said Victoria. “I was shocked that my son-in-law would come from the very mission field that we have been returning to for years.”
All of them have since returned to Singapore. Victoria is now a happy grandmother to her nine-year-old grandson and five-year-old granddaughter.
Besides taking care of her grandchildren, Victoria is still running her Mount Hermon bookstore located in West Coast Plaza.
“There is still so much I hope to do. Like what the Psalmist says in Psalm 34:8, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Therefore, my desire is to serve God and His people and to let them know our Almighty God,” said Victoria.
Age has not slowed her down much. After doing missions work in Indonesia for 17 years and seeing the church there grow from 60 people to over 600, she has been making inroads in outreach work in Myanmar for the past seven years.
Her dream for her last lap of mission work is to minister to the people in China. To that end, the indefatigable Victoria has been attending Chinese church services and cell group sessions at City Harvest Church to polish up her Mandarin.
In 2020, she also fulfilled another of her longstanding dreams to go to Bible school. At the age of 64, she graduated from the City Harvest School of Theology with an Advanced Certificate of Theology.
“I am just a simple woman with little education. But I believe God has chosen me by giving me the faith and wisdom to help His people,” said Victoria.
“For a widow to have ventured this far, it can only be God’s doing. I have learnt to just step out in faith and let God show up with His miracles.”
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