TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains mention of a suicide attempt that some may find distressing.
Alvin Chiong was a 16-year-old plumber when he first laid eyes on Mei Wong, a 19-year-old student.
He was at her family’s flat fixing a broken pipe.
Several months later, her face came to his mind. He found her home number which he had scribbled on his jeans – his makeshift phone book of clients’ contacts.
“I think she knew I was in a gang because I kept my hair long in those days,” said Alvin, now 52.
They kept their relationship secret from her parents for seven years.
Mei didn’t suspect that her boyfriend had a secret of his own: He had been hooked on drugs since the age of 9.
When Alvin and Mei got married in 1997, it became harder for him to hide his drug use.
Her husband seemed to spend a lot of time in the toilet, and aluminium foil at home ran out very quickly. Small solid fuel holders, like those used at buffets to keep food warm, appeared around their home.
Alvin would also sleep for up to 36 hours at a stretch – crashing after the unnatural high from methamphetamine that made him hyperalert.
“Mei asked if I was taking drugs, but I denied it,” said Alvin.
Alvin, who was trained in graphic design, could not hold down a job either because of his withdrawal symptoms. His unreliability grew to the point that even his gang members couldn’t trust him.
A year into their marriage, Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers raided their home and took them in.
“Mei was terrified because they came with guns,” recalled Alvin.
“Mei was terrified because the CNB officers came with guns.”
Alvin was sentenced to a few months behind bars, while their housemate was sentenced to death.
It did not frighten Alvin who went back to his old ways.
Despite his attempts, he couldn’t shake off his addiction to drugs. Even attending chapel services in prison did not help.
“We were not there to talk to God. We were there to pass messages to each other and talk to friends,” Alvin admitted.
Mei didn’t leave Alvin as he had feared. But she refused to let him back into their home for a year.
When she finally did, they had their first son. Their second one was born five years later.
In between, Alvin was in and out of prison another three times and was caned three times.
“Mei opened the toilet door and found me KO-ed with heroin, syringes and tablets on the floor.”
“Then one day, Mei opened the toilet door and found me KO-ed (knocked out) with heroin, syringes and tablets on the floor,” Alvin recalled.
Alvin grew up believing his father’s drug use was normal. And Mei, not wanting the same to happen to their young sons – who were just one and seven at that time – moved out with them to live with her parents.
Depressed after losing his family and high on drugs, Alvin almost jumped from his 10th-storey flat one night.
“I kept hearing this voice, ‘Jump down. You can settle everything this way. It’ll make your wife happy. Don’t give your family so much trouble.’
“But then I heard this very soft voice say, ‘If you have the courage to jump down, why not take this courage and go to a halfway house to quit your drug addiction?’
Looking back, Alvin believed that God had stepped in to save him.
Enrolling in a private halfway house, Watchman’s Home, Alvin managed to stay clean for a year. But then, against their advice, he left. In less than a week, he went back to taking drugs.
Alvin then enrolled in another halfway house but was caught taking drugs three times and was asked to leave.
Out of desperation, he begged Watchman’s Home to take him in again.
That was his turning point.
“I didn’t take this as an excuse to go back to my bad habits.”
For the first time in his life, Alvin spoke to God from his heart: “God, can you help me? I’m not here to change my addiction. I want to change my life.
“I give you the steering wheel to my life.”
Alvin’s past self-guided attempts to quit drugs had failed. But his decision to turn to God resulted in a significant change.
Still, the journey was tough. During this time, Mei divorced him.
“I heard God telling me, ‘I am removing you from the car. I am keeping them safe,'” said Alvin.
“I didn’t take this as an excuse to go back to my bad habits. I thank God for holding on to me, that I could continue my journey in the halfway house.”
Alvin, found comfort reading the Bible, though he initially found it difficult.
“I would open the Bible and fall asleep. I couldn’t understand anything because I only had PSLE education.
“So I asked God, ‘Help me. I don’t understand what You are talking about. Help me to understand and teach me how to apply it to my life.’
Miraculously, it got easier and easier for Alvin to understand the Bible.
As Alvin prayed to seek God’s guidance on various aspects of his life, he heard God’s prompting and saw His provision at just the right time (watch video below). It strengthened his faith.
Alvin subsequently joined the halfway house as a staff member, and stayed on until felt prompted in his heart that he was ready to move on to the next chapter in his life.
Later, while working for a cleaning company, Alvin felt God telling him to quit his full-time job. Instead, he was to work part-time so that he would have the freedom to return to prison – as a volunteer.
Alvin obeyed God’s call, even though he had just been promoted to manager and was due to receive a bonus.
“Starting on my prison volunteer journey, I prayed, ‘God, now I have no job.’”
But the very next day, Alvin was offered three part-time jobs.
“I asked God which part-time job to pick and He said to take up the hawker assistant job.”
This decision turned out to be a huge blessing.
Alvin’s boss allowed him to have time off on Sundays, gave him and his sons some money. His boss also lent him his car, making it easier for Alvin to get to prison to teach Bible study classes and assist the pastor with chapel service.
Alvin believes: “When you take care of God’s work, He will take care of the rest.”
Today, Alvin is training to be a tour guide; guiding will leave him sufficient time to continue his volunteer work in prison.
God had an even bigger surprise for Alvin.
One day, as Alvin was preparing to share his story of transformation at a church, he prayed: “God, I want to thank You for what I am today. I want to thank You for everything.”
Then he heard a voice in his heart. “It said, ‘Go and thank your wife. She was the one who asked Me to save you.’”
“Mei said, ‘I know there is another God up there. If You can hear me, please go and help my husband.’”
He went to ask Mei if what he had heard was “real or my imagination”.
They were both shocked. “Mei told me that she had never told anyone else about the incident.
“One night after we separated, she couldn’t sleep. She was very worried about me. She was not a Christian, and had gone to various places of worship, trying to help me. But nothing worked.
“Then she looked into the sky, and said, ‘I don’t know how to help my husband. I know there is another God up there. If You can hear me, please go and help my husband.’” (Watch the video below)
When Alvin and Mei compared notes, they realised that she said this prayer around the same time that Alvin was thinking of committing suicide.
The timing was miraculous.
“God is amazing,” Alvin said, looking back in wonder.
“Even if you don’t know God, you can approach Him.”
That day, Alvin invited Mei to church to hear his testimony.
There, Alvin publicly thanked his ex-wife for praying him, and told the audience that God had heard the prayer of a non-believer.
He encouraged them to do what Mei had done: “Just talk to God. Even if you don’t know Him, you can approach Him.”
Later, when the pastor asked those who wanted to accept Jesus into their lives to go to the front of the church, Mei went.
Said Alvin: “I believe she found the real God who hears us. Only when you find the real God will you let go of the rest.”
One day, Mei playfully asked if Alvin wanted to move back home with her and their sons again.
Alvin didn’t say yes straight away, but decided to wait until Mei was really sure about it.
“I will be marrying your mama again. Are you okay with that?”
By this point, he understood the importance of “waiting for God’s timing and not go against that”.
The couple prayed and talked about it. When they sensed that Mei was ready, Alvin spoke to their sons.
“I told them, ‘I’m sorry that I didn’t fulfil my duty as a good father. I hope you can accept my apology.
“‘I’m coming back and I will be marrying your mama again. Are you okay with that?’”
And so, five years after they divorced, Alvin and Mei remarried each other in 2016 – this time, sealing their vows in church.
“I felt that getting remarried to Mei was impossible. It was God made it possible.
“God blessed me by bringing me back to the family. I was accepted again by the kids and Mei,” said Alvin.
“I always have faith in God that He always blesses us in His time which is always right.”
Alvin also wants to tell people who may feel like they’re in a hopeless place: “Talk to God like a friend. You will see amazing things happen.”
Additional reporting by Gemma Koh. A version of this story first appeared in Salt&Light.
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