Screenshot 2023-11-24 at 11.06.28 AM

Yan Fei helping out with logistics at the children’s church camp. All photos courtesy of Yan Fei.

The employment agent that contacted him dangled an enticing carrot: Come to Singapore ­­– we have a job in a Fortune 500 company waiting for you.

Yan Fei, then 25, did not probe much further into the nature of the promised job. He knew that agents had confidentiality clauses with companies, and was disillusioned with his then occupation as a customs officer. Career progression was slow and corruption rife. He was also keen to move out of his family home in East Asia, as he did not get on with his parents. What Fortune 500 job could be worse than his current circumstances?

The young man packed his bags and headed for Singapore in 2014. But he was in for a rude shock. It turned out that the advertised Fortune 500 job was actually for a general worker role in a fast-food restaurant.

“Technically, the agent didn’t lie, the fast-food chain was among the Fortune 500 companies,” remarked Yan Fei sardonically.

Rude awakening

He contemplated flying home to East Asia. After all, he had a degree in petroleum engineering and was not looking for a general job. His friends, however, convinced him to stay on in Singapore and work for at least a few months. He had incurred costs coming to Singapore and it would have been embarrassing for him to return home without a job.

“I was angry and felt cheated, but I had no choice. I knew this was a common tactic used by agents and it was also my fault for the miscommunication,” Yan Fei told Salt&Light in Mandarin.  

Yan Fei (in grey t-shirt) as a newcomer to Singapore.

As a foreign worker, he was put on the toughest and most unpopular shift – the overnight shift. Working the night shift six days a week was no mean feat. In addition to having to adjust to the different weather, food and culture in Singapore, Yan Fei soon fell sick.

He developed several skin problems, including rashes, from prolonged dishwashing at work. It was also difficult for him to acclimatise to the humid weather.

Yan Fei (extreme right) working alongside his colleagues at the fast food chain.

“In my first few years in Singapore, I felt very lost. I kept to myself but often quarrelled with my colleagues and threw things around the kitchen,” admitted Yan Fei, now 34. 

No hope 

“I felt there was no hope in my life as I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the future. I had no direction,” he said.

What gave him comfort was enjoying familiar food in Singapore’s Chinatown – steamed buns (mantou), dumplings and stir-fried dishes were his favourite.

Yan Fei (centre) trying out Singapore food in his early days here.

Another anchor in his life was the eastern religion he believed in. Over the years, he had trained in that religion so intensively that other devotees sought him out online to consult him on religious and philosophical questions.

He continued to practise the religion while in Singapore – he had joined it after grappling with his own existential questions.

Unknown to many, Yan Fei also had an unusual ability.

“Since young, I have been able to see things that other people can’t usually see. It felt dark and oppressive. Feeling fearful, I would always sleep with my back to the wall for added security,” said Yan Fei.

A mystery 

He had similar supernatural encounters in Singapore. Once, he visited a friend’s house and saw a human-like shadow in a dark corner. He walked up to it, intending to greet the person when he realised that he was actually seeing a spirit. In the physical realm, the corner was occupied by an altar.

“He told me that tomorrow I would meet the person who would set me on the right path.”

“I was filled with dread. I knew that in the next few nights the spirit would surely come to look for me,” said Yan Fei.

His coping mechanism was to go jogging at night.

“That way, I would tire myself out and could sleep better at night without being disturbed by the unclean spirits,” said Yan Fei.

So he would run around his Sengkang neighbourhood. As he ran, he sometimes paused to kneel down to pray. 

One night, as he prayed, he sensed God speaking to him.

“It was the first time I heard God speaking to me so clearly. I have always longed for direction and spiritual guidance,” said Yan Fei. “He told me that tomorrow I would meet the person who would set me on the right path.”

He was expectant but did not let his emotions overtake him. After all, the religion he followed at the time had trained him to keep his mind and heart free from distractions and emotions.

The light we carry 

A little over 2pm the following day – a Friday in April 2017 – Yan Fei was behind the fast-food counter, ready to knock off and hand over his shift duties to a colleague, when he saw a man outside, striding towards the restaurant.

“I had no doubt that he was the ‘right’ person that God had sent my way. But why was a church involved?”

“I saw a light glowing all around him and knew that this was the person that I needed to meet that day,” said Yan Fei.

As the man walked towards him, Yan Fei realised that he knew this person. It was the swim coach from the pool next door. He had frequently approached Yan Fei to request for iced water.

“Sometimes he would buy food or coffee, but there were times he would just ask for iced water,” recalled Yan Fei. “I liked him as he was always friendly and cheerful. I would happily serve him his iced water and some napkins.”

This time, however, the coach strode up to him purposefully. 

“We have a party for young people tomorrow. It’s organised by my church. Would you like to come?” he asked Yan Fei.

Yan Fei with Steven, the swim coach who first invited him to church.

“I had no doubt that he was the ‘right’ person that God had sent my way. But why was a church involved?” Yan Fei wondered.

Despite the questions on his mind, he found himself replying: “Yes.”

Fellowship of faith

The coach arranged to pick Yan Fei up the next day. In the car, he told Yan Fei about his pastor who, interestingly, was a former secret society gang member.

When Yan Fei stepped into River Community Church on Arumugam Road in Macpherson, he was introduced to the pastor.

“I couldn’t tell he was the pastor. I thought a pastor would be dressed in a tie and in a western suit, but his hair was dyed blond like he was from a Japanese secret society!” recalled Yan Fei.

Yan Fei at the home of Senior Pastor Samuel Phun and his wife, Pastor Evelyn, to celebrate Christmas.

Nonetheless, he felt the warmth and love of the church members who all came around to greet him. He noticed that even the children made it a point to make eye contact with him. These gestures made him feel welcome.  

As the pastor delivered his sermon in English, a young man who was seated next to Yan Fei translated the message word for word into Mandarin for him. 

Then, the young man turned to him and asked: “Do you want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?”

“Though I didn’t really understand, all I knew was that this was a good and right thing. Therefore I wanted it. I said, ‘Yes, I accept’,” said Yan Fei.

They prayed, and the young man and the people around him excitedly began congratulating him.

The most important decision 

“I was embarrassed by the attention. I thought I was just giving this a try!” said Yan Fei.

“If I did not experience Him, it would have been impossible for me to convert from my previous faith to another faith.”

“But I thank God that, even though I didn’t really understand what was happening, I had made the most important decision of my life. It saved me and brought me into freedom.” He teared as he recalled the moment.

But there were still doubts and questions for the young believer.

“I didn’t get the concept of worship and thought people were just singing songs like in a party, having no true reverence for God. I also didn’t understand why they kept saying Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God,” said Yan Fei.

“Only now do I understand that it’s really between us and God, and if I did not experience Him, it would have been impossible for me to convert from my previous faith to another faith.”

His newfound church mates took the time to hang out with him.

“They knew when it was my day off and would rearrange their schedules to suit mine. We ate together and walked together, and that was how I experienced God’s love,” said Yan Fei, who also began studying the Bible and attending one-on-one discipleship classes in church.

Yan Fei (third from right) joining his cell group for a Chinese New Year gathering.

Shortly afterwards, he also witnessed how God answers prayers – even those in the quiet of his heart. 

Whenever he had to do the afternoon or night shift at the fast-food restaurant, it meant that he could not attend the 6pm Saturday service at his church. Foreign workers such as himself were often scheduled for the peak weekend shifts.

“I did not pray about this because I didn’t yet really know how to, but I wanted to go to church and hoped that perhaps I could get a new job or something,” he said.

But God knew the desire of his heart. The following Monday, to his utter surprise, his manager came to him with a special request.

“Against all probability and odds, he actually wanted me to swap my late shift to the morning shift going forward. He felt that the elderly uncles and aunties needed some help in the morning. He even tried to persuade me as he thought I would be reluctant to do so since I get a special allowance for the night shift,” said Yan Fei, flashing his trademark grin.

This arrangement allowed him to attend church on Saturdays for a full year before the next manager took over.

Salvation, one by one

Another answered prayer Yan Fei would come to experience was seeing the truth in Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household.”

To his surprise, his mother would end the prayer with “Amen”.

After receiving salvation, Yan Fei prayed for the same for his parents. It seemed nearly impossible – when he went back to his hometown to tell his mother that he had become a Christian, she reacted with agitation.

Yan Fei recalled: “She was in the midst of cooking when I told her, and she began chopping the ingredients violently. She berated me for not going to Singapore to work hard and earn money but instead engaging in such ‘useless’ pursuits.”

The turning point would arrive a few years later when he received a call informing him that his mother had been hospitalised for gas poisoning. It was winter time and, with doors and windows likely closed, she had inadvertently inhaled gas while burning fuel to prepare food for customers at a food stall.

When doctors conducted checks on his mother, they also found out that she had a 5cm tumour on her liver that needed to be operated on.

Yan Fei leading a prayer segment in his church.

Yan Fei called his mother every day to pray for and with her. To his surprise, she would end the prayer with “Amen”.

“When she was wheeled in for surgery, the doctors opened her up and could not find any tumour. It was a miracle,” said Yan Fei with wonder. His parents became believers and, one by one, his sister and relatives also came to Christ.

A new way 

After a few years of working in the fast-food chain, he left the job to become an employment agent himself. By then, he had already forgiven the crooked agent who had brought him to Singapore.

Being laid off was more than an inconvenience; his work pass would be suspended unless he could secure another job quickly.

“I got my agent licence and knew I needed to be righteous. Yet my boss kept pressurising me to deceive and cheat other foreign workers. His priority was money-making but I didn’t want to follow the tactics he was using,” said Yan Fei.

Instead, he would spell out for the foreign workers their rights and remind them that they could quit and find another job if the current arrangement was not suitable for them.

Annoyed that he was not making money fast enough for the company, his boss fired him shortly after.

Angry and troubled, Yan Fei approached his pastor for advice on what to do. Being laid off was more than an inconvenience; his work pass would be suspended unless he could secure another job quickly.

One option was for Yan Fei to poach his past employer’s customers. They were willing to follow and support him.

His pastor, however, suggested that God’s way of doing things could be different.

Fellow foreign workers

Said Yan Fei: “My pastor urged me to hand over the customers to my colleagues instead of bringing them over to the next company.

“What I need to do is just to pray for one person – the next person – who comes my way.”   

“He not only encouraged me not to chase my former boss for the money he owed me, but to also prepare a gift and a card for him when I left the company. 

“It was something really hard for me to understand and obey, but I wanted to do things God’s way.

“When I did so, I had a spiritual breakthrough.”

Yan Fei currently works in a coffee factory.

Inspired by the swim coach who brought him to Christ, he also volunteers as a swim coach in order to have faith conversations with the children he meets.   

Yan Fei sharing God’s love with the little ones.

Yan Fei has been befriending various Bangladeshi and Indian foreign workers and inviting them home for meals or to church outings.

The workers are often either cleaners in his neighbourhood or general workers around his industrial workplace. Last year, he reached out to more than 80 workers.

Yan Fei with fellow migrant worker friends.

“Some become believers and it’s a bit tiring and sad when they leave us to go back to their own countries,” he said.

“But I remind myself that they will continue discipling others back home and God’s work continues there. What I need to do is just to pray for one person – the next person – who comes my way.”   


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About the author

Janice Tai

Salt&Light senior writer Janice is a former correspondent who enjoys immersing herself in: 1) stories of the unseen, unheard and marginalised, 2) the River of Life, and 3) a refreshing pool in the midday heat of Singapore.