I was born in a kampong in Serangoon North. My house was a temple and gambling den where many came to gamble illegally. In this environment I grew up in, there were a lot of drugs, and I saw a lot of things.
By the tender age of 10, I’d already learned to gamble. Eventually,
at the age of 12, I quit school before even taking PSLE –I just didn’t like and
couldn’t study. I found work at a hawker and at construction sites but all my
earnings would go to gambling and paying off loans.
After army, at the age of 20, I worked at another construction firm as the pay was not bad. But working in that line, I came across a drug that was very popular then – ecstasy. My manager and colleagues, whom I partied with, all took it. My manager recommended it to me and I took it just like that, thinking it was just a pill I could control.
So I took one pill – and it ended up controlling my life for 10 years.
Soon after this addiction, I quit my job as I didn’t have any mood to work. I spent my days partying and looking for money Desperate to get “higher” as ecstasy alone couldn’t satisfy me, I added on other drugs like marijuana, ketamine and methamphetamine. It was a miserable 10 years. By 2007, completely broke, I decided to sell drugs like ecstasy. I got caught in no time and was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison plus 10 strokes of caning.
Prison life didn’t change me. In prison, I got involved in a gang and other illegal activities, even starting a soccer betting group and eventually losing over $3,000. My friend, who started this group with me, requested a transfer and ran away, leaving me to bear the costs. After this incident, I lived like a dead man. No hope, no future, no education – and no trust left.
“Next time go out want to do what?” I figured I would just go back to my old life. Yet, by this point, I’d became deeply aware of a void in my heart nothing could fill. Drugs couldn’t satisfy me, nor sex, women, money or gambling.
However, a miracle happened about a year before I was due to
be released. I was exercising in the yard one day when the speaker blared
overhead: “Christian counselling standby”.
I had attended Christian counselling in prison before but stopped, and so my number had been cancelled from the classes. In my heart, I heard a voice asking me to go. Though I felt strange in a way I didn’t know how to describe, I proceeded to queue. There was a high possibility that I would get charged because I hadn’t re-registered.
Then, the miracle: God literally opened three gates for me to enter the counselling room. From the yard to the counselling room, I had to pass by three gates, each normally guarded by a warden. First gate no warden, second gate no warden, third gate no warden – only one in the control center in charge of opening the gates. I was shell-shocked!
So I joined the counselling session. They were running the usual program. But during this worship session, my heart just felt very… warm. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but now I know it was the Holy Spirit.
After that session, I decided to re-register my number, and another miracle happened. I was told that I’d have to wait for a few months. I said I would wait. But the very next week, they called my queue number and said I could go. I don’t know how my number jumped to the front, but that was what happened.
From that point on, I never stopped attending the counselling sessions. My journey of faith started from there, where I learned to pray and read the Bible. God graciously also placed a lot of Christian brothers around me, even in my cell. They taught me about quiet time, how to pray, how to give thanks for food.
And so I learnt from them.
I didn’t care about my life in the past – “die also never-mind”. But about one month before I was due to be released, I started to give serious thought to my life and pray about my future decisions. During my quiet time one day, He showed me a verse, 2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (NIV)
This verse was like a hammer that awakened me! Even though I’d become a Christian then, my mind often flashed back to the life I used to enjoy. There was still an old path from my previous life that I was tempted to return to. I asked God, “You want me to go where? How to continue to pursue things like righteousness, faith, love and peace?”
Amazingly, around this time, my Christian brothers began to tell me about a “halfway house” called the Hiding Place, a Christian home for people who want to quit drugs and seek transformation for their lives. I prayed and God gave me peace to go.
Right before my release however, I had to fight against distractions and temptations –one of which was my childhood friend who proposed to support me in becoming a soccer bookie again after my release. It was like the devil was trying his best to ‘ka-cheow’ me!
So I made a decision: I would go to the Hiding Place straightaway. I checked into the Hiding Place in November 2011. The journey was difficult and I was very unhappy in the first year because of my anger, bitterness and jealousy. For the first six months, I rubbed shoulders with the brothers there, offending them constantly.
The tipping point came when I was accused of doing something wrong and despite everyone knowing I wasn’t in the wrong, I was so furious that I nearly packed my bags to go home. I would have if not for a dream my friend, Jeremy (who was one of my bunkmates then) had of me. The next morning when I awoke, he was standing right in front of me. “Cary, I just had a dream that you are leaving,” he said. I was shocked. Jeremy continued, “Don’t make rash decisions, just cool down and pray.”
I knew this was God’s intervention, and so I calmed myself down. As I was crying, praying to God, this verse – which I had come across 4 times that same week – came to mind:
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV)
It was in this moment that I finally noticed what was on a poster beside my bed – an eagle soaring. For so many months I hadn’t realised, I never read the verse. So I decided to wait on God and stay.
Time passed, and God moulded me along the way. Morning and night devotions, as well as learning to cultivate quiet time with God at the Hiding Place transformed and equipped me immensely. I was like Noah from the Bible: building my own ark to the Lord, being consecrated and set apart from the sinful world outside.
Living with others, I learned to become more patient, gracious and understanding. God even brought reconciliation to my family, especially between my mother and me, as we’d had a bad relationship in the past due to my drug addiction.
Becoming a new man took me five years, of which in the last two years God has graciously opened doors for me to share my testimony in local churches and prisons – in English. What blows my mind is that I only started learning English in the Hiding Place, but He has indeed equipped me with all that is needed to share His love with others. This year, against my wildest imaginations, I’m attending Tung Ling Bible School! Of all the wrong choices I’ve made in life, one choice I know to be truly right and which I will never regret – going to the Hiding Place, stepping into a relationship with God. God has shown me His everlasting faithfulness in my life. I was a nobody yet God reached out to me and is using me in His ministry, doing things I never dreamed possible.
If I could speak to a younger version of myself, I would say, “Don’t waste your life. Cherish the people who love you. Cherish every moment.”
And to you who are reading: one day Jesus will find you, just like Jesus found me in the prison.
Cary Lim (SOM 2019, T2)
The Hiding Place