For more than 10 years, Adalena Koh has washed the feet of the elderly and delivered food to their homes as their friend.
It looks remarkable from the outside, but what others may not see is what drives Adalena on the inside.
Having hung out with the 48-year-old last year, I spoke to Adalena again to hear about how her journey through life has moulded her.
“I was told that when I was still a baby, I was sold off. It was my grandmother who bought me back and raised me,” she began.
Adalena revealed that her grandmother raised her very religiously. Growing up, she found herself always searching and praying to different gods, mostly because she was scared of going to hell.
By the time she was 18 years old, she had even started becoming a religious teacher.
Two years later, when she was 20 years old, Adalena married a man from her religious circle.
She had only known him for three months, and their marriage was similarly was short-lived: “We had a stormy relationship and we parted after the birth of my second daughter.”
After her husband left, Adalena began to feel hate and distrust towards men. The young mother then spiralled into a life of drinking and smoking.
“Being young while having to take care of two young children, I felt that life was meaningless. I wanted to die, but I loved my children and granny. So, I drank and smoked every day for years.
“But in my heart, I wished to die.”
In 2008, Adalena was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Her knee had swelled and she had thought it was only a minor injury or sprain. But in less than a day, the pain became worse and continued to spread through her body.
“I was warded in the hospital and for eight straight days, I could not sleep at all. My whole body was swollen because my antibodies were attacking my organs. Even though I was under a high dose of pain killers, the pain was still so extreme that I would often vomit. It felt like a thousand needles kept poking me everywhere.”
The pain was so extreme that I would often vomit. It felt like a thousand needles kept poking me everywhere.
On top of the pain and sleepless nights, Adalena faced many other inconveniences: “I needed to go to the toilet every five minutes, but it was too painful to walk.
“So I would always need two helpers to carry me from my bed to the toilet. I also couldn’t close my fingers, so I couldn’t feed myself.”
In those eight days, Adalena shared that she had constant thoughts of wanting to kill herself: “But I couldn’t even kill myself, which only made me feel more pathetic and depressed.
“Since I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t jump off the building. And since I couldn’t close my fingers, I couldn’t even hold a knife.”
“One night, in total desperation… I decided to just pray,” said Adalena who shared that she had been to a church before and knew of Jesus’ existence.
“I met someone in the hospital while pregnant with my first daughter. They introduced me to Jesus, so I went to church once in a while,” she explained.
“At that time, going to church was just like praying to another god for me, but I never read the Bible or knew the gospel for myself.”
Adalena told me that she doesn’t know what led her to pray that night, but she simply prayed to Jesus for peace and sleep – and He answered her prayer!
“For the first time in eight days, I was finally able to sleep!” said Adalena. “This was truly a miracle, because amidst my depression, my restless thoughts and the extreme pain I felt, I was actually able to feel peace and rest.”
After that night, Adalena continued to pray over the next three days. Doing so, she was able to sleep peacefully even though she still faced pain.
But God had a miracle in store for Adalena: “On that third day, a pastor had come to pray for me. Since I was still bedridden, my friend came to visit me and brought this pastor along.”
Adalena’s friend had attended a meeting where she met this pastor for the first time. She invited him to visit Adalena and pray for her, which he spontaneously agreed to.
“It was really by a divine encounter that she met this pastor,” reflected Adalena.
If you pray for healing, then you have to try.
Something miraculous happened as the pastor prayed for healing over Adalena.
“After he prayed for me, he asked me to stand up and walk. I was shocked by his request so I asked him: ‘Are you crazy? I’ve been lying in bed for over a week, two people need to carry me to the toilet! How can I walk now?’
“But he calmly replied, ‘If you pray for healing then you have to try. If you don’t try then how do you know if God healed you?'”
The pastor’s logical response convinced Adalena. So she tried to stand up. “To my surprise, I was able to! But more than stand – I was even able to walk!” she exclaimed.
Miraculously, Adalena was able to return to an “almost normal” life after that prayer. She no longer had to rely on any medication at all, although she needed to use a wheelchair as advised by the doctor.
As it turned out, she only had to use the wheelchair for five years. Adalena’s improvement was nothing but divine; today the 48-year-old walks tirelessly for hours around Toa Payoh to serve the elderly.
Having been blessed with miraculously healing, Adalena dedicated herself to knowing more about God.
“I went to church and attended all their services – English, Chinese and Hokkien – because I thought that if I go to church it would make me more holy and learn more about God,” she said candidly.
“Every day I wanted to know Jesus and by God’s grace I was able to go even though I was on a wheelchair.”
And as she dove deeper into God’s word, Adalena began to share the gospel and even teach it to those around her.
In 2010, to cut down on expenses, Adalena, her two daughters and her grandmother moved into a rental flat in Toa Payoh.
At first, the move was motivated by financial considerations: “I was the sole breadwinner, but I was unable to work and earn any money for my family, so a rental flat was the best we could afford.”
But it was upon the move that Adalena began to sense a deeper conviction from God. She came to believe that she had been sent to Toa Payoh to spread His love and the gospel to her neighbours.
“I believe God healed me from my physical condition for the purpose of serving Him and sharing His goodness with the elderly, poor and needy,” she said.
“It’s amazing because I see how the Word of God has transformed some of the elderly,” adding how she saw changes in their life after coming to know Christ.
“At 70 or 80, it’s not easy to change, but God can bring about the change.”
As Adalena looks at the transformed lives of the elderly she serves, it makes her reflect on her own journey.
She was someone who used to believe that life was meaningless. But after knowing Jesus, she finally felt true freedom.
“God has healed and transformed me, and I want to continue living my life sharing this freedom with everyone around me.”