Relationships, Work & Money

30 years ago, a store manager’s simple act of kindness changed a teen shoplifter’s life forever

By Gemma Koh , 14 October 2022

Imagine getting a phone call out of the blue, telling you that something you did 30 years ago changed the trajectory of someone’s life.

When a former teen shoplifter told Stories of Hope about a kind-hearted store manager who was the catalyst of his dramatic change decades ago, this writer tracked her down.

The store manager’s name is Georgina Lee. She is now in her 60s, and still in the retail business.

In the early 1990s, Georgina worked in a high-end store that sold designer streetwear in the Orchard Road area. 

Her tears and compassion left a mark on his blackened heart, even if they didn’t change him straight away. 

The much-coveted goods attracted shoplifters almost every week, and Georgina became well-known at Tanglin Police Station for the rate at which she was taking them in.

She did not take this particular suspected thief to the police. But her tears and compassion left a mark on his blackened heart, even though they didn’t change him straight away. 

“Is he successful now? Which church is he attending?” asked Georgina through tears of joy when this writer told her of the impact she had unknowingly made some three decades earlier.

“Let’s arrange for you to meet him, and you can ask him yourself,” this writer said. “For now, let’s just say that his first name is Jeff.”

This is Jeff’s back story – and the ripple effect from the little seed that Georgina planted:


“My father was a businessman who went bankrupt. So he became a plumber and went overseas to work. My mum and I didn’t see or hear from him for a couple of years – not even birthday presents or letters.

“There was no man to protect the home. Twice, thieves broke into our one-room HDB flat. We screamed and shouted and they went off.

“My father eventually came back to Singapore, but brought back other problems like gambling, women and alcohol.

Jeff, 13, and friends kept the gangsters at arm’s length by procuring items they wanted.

“Because of that, I was looking for some kind of connection, acceptance to fill that void when I went into secondary school,” said Jeff, who is now 47.

Then 13-years-old, Jeff didn’t want to find this acceptance by joining a gang. Neither did he want to be bullied. So instead, he and a handful of friends kept the gangsters at arm’s length and their classmates happy by procuring items – that included books, perfumes and watches – they wanted.

They would also sell some of their spoils to second-hand shops.

“How much did you steal?”

The first time the young teenagers were caught shoplifting, they had a stash of pens and perfumes on them.

An officer in plainclothes stopped them in the lift and took them into a stairwell and asked: “How much did you steal?”

Jeff recalled: “One of our friends started crying as if his father had died. No one could stop him. His face was red, and he was rolling on the floor begging the man to let us go.”

The man told the boys: “Do not come back here again or we will take you to the police.”

Chasing the high

The boys realised that their friend had another “natural talent” beyond distracting shopkeepers.

“He was our last resort. When he cries, we’ll be left off,” Jeff explained.

“I was high on the adrenaline of being able to get away without being caught.”

Subsequently, the boys were caught at a sports store. The act did not work. Their parents were called to come and get them.

“The shop made our parents pay two times the price of the goods we took,” said Jeff.

Jeff’s parents cried, but their tears soon dried up when their son showed no signs of changing.

“I was high on the adrenaline of being able to get away without being caught. It was like a drug,” Jeff confessed.

Trapped in a dead end

Jeff prided himself on being very observant.

“My friends and I were very aware of our surroundings. We knew where the cameras were, and I could smell an undercover detective a mile away,” said Jeff.

The young teens, however, didn’t know about security alarms. Their first experience with one would change Jeff’s life.

There was a “Beware of dog” sign. But he climbed over the gate anyway.

The security alarm tripped when the boys walked out of a high-end streetwear store in the Orchard Road area with sunglasses on them.

A very athletic sales assistant came running out of the store. The friends scattered in different directions, and for some reason, the sales assistant zeroed in on Jeff.

Jeff ran into a dead end in a residential area, where there was a “Beware of dog” sign. But he climbed over the gate anyway.

 “After a chase a few times around the house, I got caught.

“I was head-locked back to the store,” Jeff recounted.

The store manager’s tears

Jeff was thrown into the store manager’s office. She checked his bag, but didn’t find any stolen goods. Jeff didn’t realise it then, but this saved him from being taken to Tanglin Police Station.

“I didn’t steal anything that day as I didn’t like sunglasses,” Jeff told Stories of Hope. “It was my ‘day off’.

“If a Christian tells me that Jesus died for my sins, I would tell them, ‘I worship Lucifer’. It scares them off.”

“I pretended to be the victim. I kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry; I didn’t know my friends were stealing. My friends are bad friends’, hoping she would buy it.”

The store manager appeared to believe him.

“Why do you hang out with such bad friends? See, they’ve left you alone,” Jeff recalled her saying.

“She had so much compassion,” he said.

The store manager offered to introduce Jeff to friends who would care for him. When she asked him to attend church and “cell group” with her, he wondered if he was going to be arrested and thrown in prison.

Georgina Lee

Store manager Georgina, on a buying trip to New York City, around the time Jeff was hauled into her office. This photo and main photo (taken in the 1980s) courtesy of Georgina Lee.

“Then she started telling me that Jesus died for my sins.

“Usually if a Christian tells me such things, I would tell them, ‘I worship Lucifer’,” Jeff said in a mock sinister voice. “It scares them off.

“Usually when I’m caught, I’m the one begging for mercy and crying.”

“But now I had no choice but to pretend to agree with her; ‘Yes, Jesus is so good’.”

(At that time, Jeff was attuned to the “energy” from the dark side of the spiritual realm and would often see ghouls and spirits.)

Other Christians had told him that if he didn’t become a Christian, he would go to hell. But this store manager didn’t.

“Instead, she looked at me and said, ‘Jesus loves you so much’. And she started crying.

“I was shocked. Usually when I’m caught, it’s the other way around; I’m the one begging for mercy and crying.”

Feeling uncomfortable with her tears, Jeff agreed to go to church with her.

The walk of shame

Jeff’s parents came to bail him out of the manager’s office.

As they did the “long walk of shame” out of the small store with knowing sales assistants watching, Jeff’s mind was reeling.

“I was thinking: If there is a religion that is real, it will probably be Christianity. Because God could send a stranger to cry for me.”

But subsequently, when the store manager called to ask him to go to church with her, Jeff would say he was busy and had no time.

She eventually stopped calling. The decades that followed erased memories of each other’s names from their minds.

But Jeff never forgot about their encounter.

The invitation

However, Jeff continued to lead “a bad lifestyle”.

When he was 18 years old, he graduated to procuring alcohol “to get my classmates drunk”.

He reasoned, “It was either to keep them happy or be enemies with them”, adding that one student almost stabbed another in the neck with a penknife.

“The effect of alcohol was quite funny because my classmates would hand in their assignments with stupid things like cartoon characters drawn all over them.”

“My mind flashed back to the store manager, her tears and her saying ‘Jesus loves you’.”

Then one day, the girl sitting in front of him in school turned around and told him: “I think you should go to church”.

“I didn’t say yes,” said Jeff. “But my mind flashed back to the store manager, her tears and her saying ‘Jesus loves you’.

“I also thought that if God is real, He would show himself.”

“You better show up now!”

The next day, Jeff was late for school. He tried to sneak in unnoticed – by climbing over the gate at the back of the compound.

His trousers got snagged on the barbed wire at the top of the gate. Below was pile of red bricks that wasn’t there the previous day when he was late.

“I felt an invisible force – like a hand – flip me around and push me to one side.”

In that split second before he fell head first towards the bricks, he thought, “Something has to happen. If there is something, someone or a God out there, you better show up now.”

“Miraculously, I felt an invisible force – like a hand – flip me around and push me to one side. I did a half somersault and landed on my feet.”

Ending up with only minor scratches on his hand, Jeff thought, “I’d better go to church.”

“Foreign language class, is it?”

So Jeff went with his classmate to Cornerstone Community Church where he heard people speaking in foreign languages.

He asked a new friend there: “You all having foreign language class, is it?”

Daniel Chua – who is now pastor at The City Singapore – explained that they were speaking in tongues. “It’s the language of the Spirit. When you receive Jesus, you receive the Holy Spirit.”

The energy these people radiated was different from the darkness that Jeff was used to.

“They were in control. The Holy Spirit was not forcing them. There was peace and light. It was not disturbing, not chaotic.

“It was very different from spiritual practitioners I had seen going into a trance or faking it,” he said.

Slayed by the voice

Curious about this new spiritual side he was seeing, Jeff took note of the sinners’ prayer and “tried it” when he got home.

“I said, ‘Heavenly Father, I receive you, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’

“Then I waited for 5, 10, 15, 25 minutes. Nothing happened. I thought Daniel had bluffed me.

“At the 30-minute mark, a voice that was loud but gentle and peaceful filled the whole room.”

The voice said three words: “Lay down, son.”

Jeff fell to the ground. He felt an intense peace.

The voice that was loud but gentle and peaceful said three words: “Lay down, son.”

“I got baptised in the Holy Spirit. Every single fibre of my being was filled with love.

“God used the most powerful word: Son. Which means that He is a father.

“No God would call you son unless you are a deity. This was very unique,” said an intrigued Jeff, who had finally found the ultimate father figure in his life.

Jeff still feels the same peace whenever God gives the green light for decisions he prays over.

Fearful demons

But meanwhile, on the way to school the next morning, Jeff felt the conflict between “light and darkness” and “something trying to come out of me”.

He would later learn that the dark spirits were fighting for his soul.

At the MRT station, he suddenly lost control of his body, and almost jumped onto the tracks.

He made it to class, only to end up writhing on the ground and growling like an animal.

He then tried to take the bus, thinking it would be safer. But his head involuntarily hit the seat in front of him, scaring the passengers.

He made it to class, only to end up writhing on the ground and growling like an animal.

His course mates – “even the gangsters and violent ones” – were terrified and huddled together on one end of the room.

A classmate who was training to be a leader in one religion, tried to cast out the dark spirits as four people held Jeff down.

“He chanted for half an hour but it didn’t work,” said Jeff.

Then a teacher, who goes to a Methodist church, approached Jeff.

She said: “Hey Jeff, I would like to sing you a song.”

Jeff realised that “demons are scared of worship songs” – even a simple children’s one.

And she sang the children’s song: “Jesus, loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so … ” 

Said Jeff: “My whole body calmed down.”

She invited Jeff to sing along with her.

“That was the first Christian song I learnt,” said Jeff, who realised that “demons are scared of worship songs” – even a simple children’s one.

A new supernatural realm

Jeff went back to church, where he was prayed over for deliverance from evil spirits.

“I vomited out buckets of green stuff that technically is not possible for one person to hold in their stomach,” he said. 

Then he read the book, The Believer’s Authority by Kenneth Hagin, which explained that God has given His followers the power to stand against the devil.

“When I understood that, I was set free immediately.”

Hungry to know more about God, Jeff devoured the Bible in a month.

And as he began having a relationship with God, He opened Jeff’s eyes to the supernatural side of His realm. They included visions of the secret struggles of people around him, that Jeff would use to encourage them. 

A more satisfying high

Jeff’s childlike faith led him to heed the call in Mark 16:15-20: “Every believer should lay hands on the sick … Signs shall follow those who believe.” 

He was also inspired by a book on healing by British evangelist Smith Wigglesworth, and questioned, “Why isn’t healing happening today – and why not in Singapore?”

Hungry to witness miracles that he heard was happening in the mission field overseas, he prayed for a door to open. 

Jeff’s was the only name that had come to mind. The two had only met once – for five minutes.

God answered.

Shortly after, Jeff got a call from a brother of a friend. The man had prayed and fasted for 40 days for a name – and Jeff’s was the only one that had come to mind. More astonishing, the two had only met once – for five minutes.

In 1998, after Jeff finished his National Service, the duo went to remote areas around Asia where people had no access to hearing about Jesus. Under the stars, they would screen films “about a Middle Eastern man who was very holy. They would also pray for the sick.

“We looked for areas where there were 0% of believers. It was a joy to see that 0% become 0.001%, said Jeff. All photos courtesy of Jeff unless otherwise stated.

Jeff recalled a woman who asked for prayer for her daughter.

“The daughter was walking slowly towards me. She looked like she weighed at least 100kg.

Something had come upon her one day, and she started throwing herself in the drain, in the fire, in the lakes, said the mum.

As a result of being confined at home, the girl put on an extraordinary amount of weight. 

Said Jeff: “I asked Jesus what to do, and heard the Holy Spirit prompt me, ‘Tell her to jump’.

“It gave me the same high as stealing – only better because people were getting eternal life. 

The girl said that she would fall if she jumped. Jeff nevertheless held her hand, and together they jumped.  

“We started with small jumps. And on the fourth time, she jumped higher.

“She cried and said, ‘It (the oppressive spirit) is gone’.

Mother and daughter kneeled down before Jeff who then told them to get up.

“It wasn’t me who healed you. The person who healed you is Jesus, he said.

“In that case, the mother said, “my whole family will worship Jesus.

After six months in the mission field, Jeff (left, pictured with his mission partner) decided, “I have the experience, I have seen the miracles, now I need to study the Bible. And so he enrolled in Tung Ling Bible School and its School of Ministry.

In another instance, the deaf daughter of a headman could hear again; and as a result, her whole family came to Christ, and her brother became a pastor.

In yet another area, a man whose vocal chords were damaged by alcohol could speak again.

“Seeing this, the local authorities went to look for sick people and brought them to us out of curiosity – rather than compassion,” said Jeff.

Jeff said: “We went to areas where there were 0% of believers. It was a joy to see that 0% become 0.001%.

“It gave me the same high as stealing – only more satisfying because people were getting eternal life.” 

Miracles in the family

Jeff would also see miracles in his own family. 

His father became a Christian before he passed on.

“I got a vision that my mum would see her grandchild. She has been cancer-free for 14 years.”

His mother who had Stage 4 cancer also gave her life to Jesus when Jeff’s fellow church workers prayed for her, as he and his wife Tammy were on the flight home to Singapore, after spending several years as missionaries in Thailand. 

“The doctor gave Mum the death sentence and asked us to prepare to let her go.

Jeff with wife Tammy, and their son Josiah, now 14.

“But I got a vision that she would live to see her grandchild. She has now been cancer-free for 14 years,” said Jeff.

Healing in the streets

Today, Reverend Jeff Yuen, heads Soakability Church in Singapore, which took root 11 years ago when he heard the Lord tell him to “start a community that believes that I am bigger and better than sickness and diseases, where signs and wonders will be the norm”.

Following Jesus’ model of healing the sick in the streets, Jeff would help people to encounter Jesus first – and only afterwards tell them about Christ if they ask. 

Jeff’s ministry is inspired by what Georgina, the store manager, did for him 30 years ago: Sharing Jesus’s love, in the marketplace, with someone who would not step into a church building.

“Whatever she did really shaped us,” said Jeff.

“I am totally amazed,” said Georgina, on meeting Jeff for the first time since their encounter 30 years ago. “His testimony has given me so much encouragement to plant more seeds that I pray the Holy Spirit will water and blossom into many of him.” Photo by the Thirst Collective.

On Sunday afternoons, Jeff and small teams from Soakability take to the streets and set up “free healing” signs offering to pray for the sick and injured.

In areas where customers seek out fortune tellers, his team offers to tell people – without charge – about what Jesus sees in their future.

“After all, that’s what they are in the area for,” he said.

“It’s a journey,” he said. “So you help them to love Jesus first.”

Not chasing miracles

Jeff’s teams have seen miracles such as people with HIV and advanced cancer getting healed, and a tumour the size of a papaya disappear. 

On Sunday afternoons, Reverend Jeff and small teams from Soakability take to the streets and set up “free healing” signs offering to pray for the sick and injured. Photo from soakability.com.

His street ministry has been featured in the Swiss-produced documentary, Christ in You, which shows everyday people partnering with the Holy Spirit, to bring change to others on the streets around the world. Jeff has also authored two books about his experiences.

“We are not chasing after miracles … Miracles are the byproduct.”

What happens then when some people don’t get healed? 

“The easiest answer is, ‘I don’t know’.

We mourn with those who mourn, we rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15),” said Jeff, on the importance of connecting with people and loving them. 

“I have a kid with autism who is 14 years old who hasn’t been healed. It beats me, although there have been breakthroughs.

“The Bible says ‘Meditate on what God has done’ (Psalm 143:5). We cannot meditate on what God has not done, or give excuses for why God hasn’t done anything. It brings disappointment,” he said.

However, Jeff is very clear on one thing:

“We are not chasing after miracles. We are chasing after Jesus.

“Miracles are the byproduct, the fruit of the connection with Jesus,” said Jeff, who teaches on prophesying and healing supernaturally with God’s love and power in Singapore and beyond.  


Check back soon for Part 2 in which store manager Georgina Lee – nicknamed “The Policewoman” for her ability to spot shoplifters – tells her side of the story. Also look out for a video of the reunion between Georgina and Reverend Jeff.

RELATED STORIES:

His dad once told him to jump from their HDB flat. What healed their relationship?

I was marked absent for all my O’Level subjects … I was that deeply involved in drugs

Related articles
Tell Me More
Follow us on TikTok!
This is default text for notification bar