Family, Health, Relationships, School, Work & Money

Growing up around gangsters, he now inspires youths and more with his faith-based art

By Gabrielle Chin , 4 January 2024

Growing up, Patrick Lee’s home was often plunged into darkness when his parents could not pay the electricity bills.

At times, they had to resort to borrowing money from loan sharks. 

With his parents out working to put food on the table, Patrick and his siblings were largely left on their own.

From a young age, his siblings joined gangs and sometimes got into trouble.

Patrick Bezalel

“I felt alone and lonely as a child,” recalled Patrick.

“I grew up very much on my own, and had to take care of myself,” recalled Patrick, now 51, who now goes by his artist name, Patrick Bezalel.

“I sewed on my own school badges since primary school, and sewed back my shirt buttons when they dropped while I was playing catching with friends.

Patrick Bezalel

Patrick now creates art that inspires, and also runs workshops for youth-at-risk, like this one in collaboration with REACH Social Services.

“I think my parents did their best for the family, but I didn’t feel loved as a child because they were hardly around.”

Scraping through PSLE

Even after barely scraping through his Primary School Leaving Exams (PSLE), Patrick, then 12, filled up the form for his choice of secondary schools on his own. 

“I knew nothing at all about schools,” Patrick said, laughing and shaking his head.

“I think my parents did their best for the family, but I never felt loved as a child.”

“I remembered placing Presbyterian High School as my second choice solely because I thought the word ‘high’ meant that it was a good school.” 

He got into the school of his second choice.

There, Patrick heard about God for the first time during Monday school assemblies.

“But the only Christian thing I remembered was this one song I enjoyed singing – Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart.

“I didn’t know what it meant but I liked the rhythm and sang it out loud in the hallways.” 

Proficient in Hokkien 

Patrick had no desire to join a gang.

But he hung out with people who were part of one, and hardly touched his school books.

He grew proficient in Chinese and Hokkien. But barely spoke a word of English, and usually scored 20/100 for tests in this subject. 

His schoolmates tried to introduce him to God. But in their zeal, they came across as haughty and overly self-righteous to Patrick, who felt as though they were out to find fault with him.

Patrick Bazalel

Secondary schoolmates tried to introduce Patrick to Jesus.

“When I finally managed to pass an exam, they said that it was God who blessed me. But what about most of the other times when I failed? Was it my fault or the Devil’s fault?

“Christianity became very distasteful,” he said.

‘O’ Levels miracle

Miraculously, Patrick scored just enough during the ‘O’ Levels to get into NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts). 

He only needed to pass three subjects. 

“Somehow, I managed to score a C6 in Human and Social Biology,” said Patrick in wonder. 

He also managed to pass Chinese and Art. 

Patrick didn’t realise it then, but the miracle of the ‘O’ Levels which allowed him to go to NAFA, in turn opened doors beyond his expectations.

He got an F9 for the other subjects, including English.

However, getting into NAFA created an added financial hurdle for his family, who resorted to borrowing money from Patrick’s grandma and from loan sharks.

“I also worked many part-time jobs while studying to pay for my education.” 

A brush with death

Subsequently during National Service, Patrick was posted to the elite Commando unit.

During a late night airborne training session, he and another jumper crashed into each other and Patrick’s parachute malfunctioned in mid-air. 

The ground was fast approaching.

“I knew that there was no way I would survive the fall without significant injuries,” he recalled.

The moment he hit the ground, pain shot through his spine and legs. He was momentarily paralysed.

The doctor told Patrick that he was “one lucky chap” to have survived after his parachute malfunctioned.

“I immediately knew that I had broken more than just my foot. It turns out that my spine was fractured and the ligament in my foot burst upon impact.”

The doctor told him that he was “one lucky chap” to have survived.

Patrick recalled that something had compelled him to change into a soft pair of boots at the last minute.

“Did you know that your boot saved your life?” the doctor said.

“Your insoles absorbed most of the impact on your ankles. It could have been so much worse.” 

Patrick recalled that something had compelled him, at the last minute, to change into a soft pair of boots that had two thick insoles within.

“Deep inside, I felt like I had been saved, like someone had saved my life,” said Patrick. 

At the back of his mind, he wondered if there was Someone divine who had been looking out for him.

Sadness amid success 

As he recuperated in hospital, Patrick didn’t wonder further about Who had saved him as he was caught up with his grandfather’s passing.

He thought no more about the matter as he transitioned into working life and marriage. 

Two decades ago, Patrick and Lily spent six months in Africa. Photo from @lilychia22 Instagram.

Patrick and his “forever Valentine”.

He started a creative and branding agency with his wife Lily Chia in 2000, and their company quickly scored big projects with a new TV station. Along the way, they picked up major clients like Maybank and Hong Leong Bank, and government agencies like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Environment Agency. 

In three years, their lean team of three staff members grew tenfold. Lily was lauded as a young entrepreneur, and featured in news publications. She was also appointed as judge of an award that recognises promising local brands.  

However, amid all this, Lily and Patrick were working to the point of burn out. It strained their marriage.

Lily buckled under the stress of increased expectations and the lack of rest.

She experienced depressive bouts and thoughts of suicide crossed her mind.

The inner voice

One day, Lily told Patrick that she “couldn’t take it anymore”.

“She prayed to whatever was out there, asking if there was a God. She asked Him to reveal Himself to her if He were real,” Patrick said.

“I then felt an inner voice nudge me, saying, ‘If you want Me to find you, you must be open’.”

Lily told Stories of Hope: “I then felt an inner voice nudge me, saying, ‘If you want Me to find you, you must be open’.”

Confused and thinking that they were her own thoughts, she went about her life as usual. 

Two days later, Lily found a Christian book on her desk. It was One Word from God will Change your Life by Kenneth Copland. Till today, she doesn’t know who left it there. 

“It was a thin book. I took the book to the toilet to read,” said Lily.

Though she had gone to church when she was 15 and was familiar with some Christian concepts, the book piqued her interest.

“The book talked about the love and grace of God in a way I had never known before,” said Lily. 

Strangely, Lily felt lighter and more at peace after service each Sunday.

In the same week, a colleague invited Lily to church. Her knee-jerk reaction was to say: “No, I’m not free.”

Lily said: “But then the phrase ‘You need to be open if you want to find Me’ came into my mind. So I found myself telling her, ‘Okay, I will go’.”

Initially, Lily was critical about everything she saw in church, including how some people raised their hands during worship.

Wah piang eh, confirm just for show,” she thought. 

Strangely, Lily felt lighter and more at peace after service each Sunday.

Tears rolled down her cheeks during worship though she had no understanding of what they were singing. 

Lily and Patrick now make it a point to step away from work and enjoy moments of peace with each other. Photo from @lilychia22 Instagram.

“Since I felt better, I thought I should just keep going,” she said. 

Comforted by the sermons, she responded to the call to give her life to Jesus a few weeks later. 

“By this time, I knew that there is a God Who loves me,” she said.

“Don’t ask me to go church”

“When she became a Christian, I was very upset. I thought that she and I were supposed to be free people, free thinkers,” recalled Patrick.

“She tried to convince me to go to church.

“I told her that I would send her there, but go off and play golf on my own. I didn’t ever want to step into church.” 

A few months after Patrick rejected Lily’s invitation, their company was sought out by a most unconventional client – a church.

“I told myself not to get brainwashed by this Christianity thing,” said Patrick, when he eventually started attending church with Lily, in his efforts to get to know their client’s business.

The church had been searching for a branding agency for some time. Despite having a long list of potential agencies, they had felt prompted by God to look for one final option. 

They had contacted the agency without realising that Lily had started coming to their services.  

They believed this was God’s confirmation for them, and felt a peace on meeting Lily and Patrick.

“Why is He after me?”

“The Pastor-in-charge told us that the best way to get to know their church was for us to attend their Sunday services and weekly Bible studies,” recalled Patrick.

“I would never step into a church on my own, but for a client, I would do anything.

“My mind kept telling me not to get brainwashed.” 

“Week after week, the church reserved seats for us in service – smack in the centre of the second row.

“If I even missed a week of service, our client would know. 

“In hindsight, God was really chasing me … I couldn’t run away from church anymore.”

Even then, Patrick steeled himself not to believe anything the sermons taught.

“My mind kept telling me not to get brainwashed.” 

“I would never step into a church on my own, but for a client, I would do anything.”

However, as Patrick continued to attend service, he realised that he felt more and more at ease in church even though he had no understanding of what the preachers were saying.

He even felt like lifting up his hands during worship.

“I told myself, ‘Don’t ever lift up your hands just because you see others doing it’. This inner struggle went on for about two months.

“I began to wonder, ‘Who is this God? And why does it feel like He’s after me?’”

The Father’s embrace

Then came time for the agency to present their branding proposal to the senior pastors.

Funny enough, the Pastor-in-charge seemed more interested in finding out about Patrick than the branding proposal.

“It felt like a father figure was physically hugging me.”

And so, their business meeting stretched for three hours into a conversation where Patrick ended up saying “yes” to God. 

But it didn’t do much to change his life.

“Truthfully, that was because my ‘yes’ to God that day was slightly intertwined with wanting the approval of the people around me.

“My heart was not fully surrendered.”

Patrick Bezalel

Patrick’s series of oil or acrylic on resin explores what key biblical occurrences would look like from God’s perspective, “from above”. Patrick’s artworks come with an augmented reality video that shows the process of its creation and the inspiration behind it.

It was two months later on an ordinary Sunday that Patrick had an encounter that changed his life. 

As the worship band played, Patrick suddenly felt overwhelmed by God’s love.

“It felt like a father figure was physically hugging me,” he said.

Growing up without a father’s expressions of affection, this outpour of love from God took him by surprise. 

“I turned to my wife and told her, ‘Sorry dear, I feel that God loves me more than you love me.’”

“I couldn’t stop weeping for 40 minutes. His love felt so unconditional and so lovely,” Patrick recalled. 

“Up till that point, I had never expressed my emotions so deeply.

“Feeling alone since I was young, I had been pretty numb to my emotions.

“I even turned to my wife and told her, ‘Sorry dear, I feel that God loves me more than you love me.’”

Art with heart

Looking back, Patrick saw how God had been watching over him since he was a child. 

Although the people around him belonged to a gang, Patrick strangely had no desire to join one aside from simply hanging out with them. 

“Thankfully, God gave me a more independent personality.”

“Thankfully, God gave me a more independent personality. I never joined the gangs because I didn’t like the trouble of being involved in fights.  

“There were moments when I was instigated to fight, but they just somehow didn’t happen.

“My siblings got into trouble. But God really protected me from all that.” 

Even his narrow pass during the ‘O’ Levels was a miracle.

“My ‘O’ Levels cert was like a passport. Without it, I would not have been able to go to NAFA, let alone start my creative agency which led me to step into church.

Patrick prays that his art brings comfort and joy to each home and office they find themselves in. So he was heartened to learn that one man bought Ark, which was inspired by the assurance in Psalm 91 of how safe we are under the Lord’s strong and mighty wings of protection. It was the very Psalm the client meditated on every night before bedtime to help manage sleep anxiety.

“With each door that God opened for me, He led me closer to Him.”

Looking at his ‘O’ Levels certificate recently, Patrick read the “F nine” of the subjects he failed as “fine”.

He saw it as God taking him through his failed past to see His protection and His redemption instead. 

Turning his weakness into strength

When Patrick tried reading the Bible, he found that God used his weakness in English and reading to his advantage. 

“Because I couldn’t read, I had to go slowly and painfully – word by word.

Patrick and Lily reading God’s Word during a Bible study trip with the church many years later.

“I found that I was able to understand God’s word better, versus listening to sermons or an audio Bible.” 

Patrick started reading the Bible during a time of frequent travel to Indonesia for business. 

With no phones or entertainment to distract him during the flights, he spent his time reading the Bible. 

“The more I read, the more addicted I was. I couldn’t stop.

“I relished my time with God, just reading word by word.” 

Art with heart

In 2017, Patrick heard God tell him, “Son, I want you to train your patience.” 

Patrick was confused by this message. Wasn’t God already training his patience via his slow reading and understanding of His Word?

“God just told me, ‘Why don’t you start drawing?’” recalled Patrick

“As I was still a bit rebellious, I picked up my iPad and drew a skull.” 

“As I stared as it, the Bible verse ‘O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55-58) came to my mind.”

Patrick Bazalel

Patrick sharing how he sketched a skull after hearing God tell him to start drawing. He gets inspiration for his art from praying, asking the Lord, “What next?”

Patrick then understood that God was calling him to exercise patience by delving into Christian art. 

He started drawing and drawing and has not stopped since.

Patrick took on the name Bezalel, after a master craftsman in the Bible.

Instead of working with mainstream symbols associated with Christian art, his first series of paintings included hyper-realistic drawings of animals such as lions, rams or horses. 

Patrick prays that his art, based on biblical images and analogies, will bring hope, joy, peace and comfort to the homes that they find themselves in.

Patrick Bazalel

Patrick painting a golden crown of thorns on a lion. His hyper-realistic pieces comprise some 350,000 strokes drawn by hand. Patrick hopes his art will remind people of how God loves us so intimately that He is into every detail of our lives and numbers the hair on our heads (Matthew 10:29-31).

Patrick is also on a mission to inspire the young to pursue their giftings. He often speaks to youths at church and at secondary schools and Institutes of Technical Education, and holds workshops for youth-at-risk.

Patrick Bezalel

Patrick brought to life the story of David and Goliath through VR (virtual reality)  during the BRAVE Kids’ Conference in December 2023. It was attended by some 400 children.

Patrick Bezalel

Patrick also uses VR in faith-based art classes to bring the work of young clients to life. “It gives them new perspectives they would have never imagined,” he said.

“Now, my life is for Christ and I obediently follow what He tells me to do.

“I know that what He has for me is best,” said Patrick.

If you would like to know more about Jesus, click here to find a church near you.

Click here to join our Telegram family for more stories like Patrick’s.


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