Ex-nightclub owner, Jackie Ong stays safe in God’s hand

by Tan Huey Ying // April 6, 2019, 8:47 am

Jackie Ong Oakthree

Jackie Ong (middle) used to own and run several nightclubs before she discovered the plans that God had for her all these years – even before she knew He existed. All photos courtesy of Jackie Ong.

To many, the hand of God is a metaphor that speaks of the power and personable nature of God.

For 42-year-old businesswoman Jackie Ong, God’s hand has been a guiding and constant visual in her life.

“When I cry, the hand, an open palm would reach out and comfort me.”

From the tender age of five, Ong distinctly remembers seeing a vision of a hand, an open palm. “Every time when I cry, the hand would reach out and comfort me,” Ong recalls.

The apparition appeared at different junctures of her life, sometimes just as a vision, sometimes accompanied by a voice – long before she became a believer or even knew that God existed.

Growing up in a family of idol-worshippers, Ong did not understand the vision. All she knew was that this hand was open, inviting and always brought her comfort.

More tears than laughter

Growing up, Ong only knew lack.

Her father, a bookie and a gambler never brought back much to support the family. They depended on the meagre income that Ong’s paternal grandmother earned. Fights between her parents were common.

It was a childhood punctuated with more tears than laughter.

“I scared, what if I trust the wrong god.”

At 13, her father told her that he could no longer afford her school fees.

To earn her own keep, Jackie Ong started running errands for ‘ah longs’, the loan sharks. She quickly fell into bad company and by 17, was abusing drugs and needed a fix every four hours.

One day just as she was emerging from the drug induced stupor, and in the moment of clarity, “that hand appeared again”. It had been a while since she last saw that hand but it helped her realise her folly.

By sheer willpower, the plucky teenager weaned herself off her drug-use and threw all her energy into work instead, often holding down multiple jobs at a time.

She thought, money – perhaps lots of it, was what could change her life.

Jackie Ong (right) started working in the nightlife industry since she was 17.

The hand again

By 21, Ong had saved more than $80,000 which she used to start her first nightclub in Little India. A year later, she opened her second.

Within six years, Ong was a successful owner of a chain of nightclubs, with 200 staff on her payroll. Also to her name were two private properties and a couple of BMWs – all fully paid for.

But that was all there was.

Jackie Ong (front row, third from right) with her staff at one of her nightclubs. At the peak, she owned several nightclubs and had over 200 staff on her payroll.

At the age of 27, Jackie Ong was already twice divorced and a single mother strapped with the responsibility of rearing two young sons, and supporting her parents and grandmother.

For brief respite from the daily pressures, Ong would often drive to Tanjong Rhu, by the river, where she would sit in her car, smoking and drinking in solitude.

One night, Ong saw the hand appear again. This time, she also heard: “I am your God. Will you trust Me?”

Nothing to lose

Ong instantly knew that she needed to visit a church. That same weekend, with her two young sons in tow, Ong attended a Sunday service.

Despite not understanding the sermon, Ong kept going back. She sensed that the pastors knew God and it attracted her.

“Drinking, smoking, wrong relationships and nightlife business – I realised, not right.”

It was months before she began to understand God’s love for her. Despite her desire to accept God, childhood memories of watching her grandmother splurge on offerings to idols but to no avail haunted her.

“During every altar call, I found it so hard to lift my hand to acknowledge God. Because I scared, what if I trust the wrong god.”

A year later, Ong accepted Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. By then the 30-year-old figured, if God wasn’t real, she had nothing to lose.

Her decision to accept Christ was nothing short of transformative. She testifies: “Amazingly, I started to feel that I didn’t want my kind of life any more: Drinking, smoking, being in the wrong relationships and doing this nightlife business.

“I realised, not right.”

About turn

One night, in one of her clubs, Ong heard the voice of God again. This time He prompted her to leave the business and to enrol in Bible school.

“In my heart, I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I only knew how to run nightclubs, what else can I do?”

It was a huge struggle for Ong who was also the sole breadwinner in the family. Her sons, parents and grandmother all depended on her. Quitting her business meant ending the family’s only source of income.

Jackie Ong with her two sons who are now aged 21 and 16

“Wow, the money was so difficult to let go,” Ong exclaims. “And God didn’t tell me: ‘Let go of this, I’ll give you another mountain.’ No leh, nothing!

“It’s like tearing my brain and heart apart.”

Still, she gritted her teeth and obeyed.

“God was there since young, but I didn’t know it was Him because I didn’t know who He is.”

Ong exited from her business, sold off her properties and cars, then moved her family into an HDB apartment. In 2010, she enrolled with Youth With A Mission’s (YWAM) Discipleship Training School. 

At YWAM, Ong got the shock of her life.

The picture of the hand printed on the banner at the school matched the hand in the vision she had been seeing all her life!

It was the confirmation that Ong needed. “God was there since young, He catered to my life. But, I didn’t know it was Him because I didn’t know who He is. I thought it was just my imagination!

“As a non-believer, when difficult times come, there is no one to turn to. I used to think it was a mistake for me to be on earth. But I realise now, God has never given up on me.”

Jackie Ong (front row, far left) with the YWAM DTS of 2010. The photo of the hand on the banner was exactly the image she had been seeing throughout her life.

Discovering her design

In her third year at YWAM, a leader approached Ong about her plans to return to the workplace.

Ong was at a loss – the nightlife industry was the only place she was familiar with. Where could she go with her less than desirable qualifications?

She started looking through the classifieds and a job posting for a sales designer at an interior design firm caught her eye. Despite not knowing anything about the industry, Ong felt the Lord say: “Just go.”

In obedience, Ong went and aced the interview. 

It was a steep learning curve but she had grit.

Reading architecture magazines, observing colleagues, squatting in cramped toilets watching her contractor lay tiles, Ong soaked in as much knowledge as she could.

She discovered she had a knack for scheduling and managing projects. “In my clubs, I handled over 200 staff, so to me, this is easy.”

Soon, Ong was excelling at the work.

Jackie Ong (right) with some of her team from OakThree studios.

Just as she settled in her new career, Ong was jolted out of her sleep and awoke to a vision from the Lord. 

Ong shares, still with excitement of seeing a bright light-enveloped scene. “I saw Jesus at the well!

“There was a queue waiting to draw water from a well. It was precious water, but those who had already taken, kept coming back for more.

“I was upset. They can take what they need, why be greedy and take away someone else’s portion?

“But Jesus said to me, ‘Let them come, I am the One who will provide.’”

jackie grandma

Jackie Ong, together with her paternal grandmother.

“He also told me: ‘I am using you. You are My vessel and I will provide through you.’

“My heart melted. I cried and cried.”

Ong explains, “Over the years, I always had to provide for so many – my kids, my parents, even my grandmother. Why always me? I am tired.”

Depending on her Heavenly Father to provide was especially difficult for Ong who had to fend for herself since a teen. “If you tell me to pray in Jesus name, no problem.

“But to surrender to the Father’s provision, it was very difficult. My dad never provided for me, our roles were reversed.”

Yielded and molded

Not long after, she was awakened in the night once more. This time, the Lord told her to set up her own interior design firm.

“I am using you. You are My vessel. I will provide through you.”

“I cried a long time,” Ong admits sheepishly.

She was in her comfort zone and was reluctant to step out. She knew just how hard it would be, and had witnessed the exploitation the industry is known for, including underhanded tactics and unethical business deals.

But God had shown His intentions to make her a channel of blessings, and she needed to yield to His plans.

“Everyone said I was very bold, but no! If God did not poke me, I wouldn’t have moved.” She continued: “Because it is not always about you, it is about how others can draw from Him also.”

Modelling light

In April 2013, Ong started Oakthree Studios which offers interior design and contracting services with a team of nine office staff and just over 50 workmen.

Jackie Ong (second from left) with her team at Oakthree Studios.

“I don’t just look at the numbers when I calculate. If God touches your heart to bless, you don’t look for returns.”

Since then, Ong has had ample opportunity to upgrade her life again, instead, she chooses to support the ministries that nurtured her as a young believer and to ensure that her staff are well taken care of.

“I thank God that He always provides! At least up till today, I can still pay my workers on time.”

Even in dealing with difficult clients, Ong endeavours to be a blessing – especially because she knows that God wants her to.

She says: “I don’t just look at the numbers when I calculate. If God touches your heart to bless, you don’t look for returns.

“Ultimately, I have God behind me and He sees everything.”

About the author

Tan Huey Ying

Huey Ying is now an Assignments Editor at Salt&Light, having worked in finance, events management and aquatics industries. She usually has more questions than answers but is always happiest in the water, where she's learning what it means to "be still".