Family, Meaning of Life, Relationships

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

By Raymond Tan , 27 October 2021

When I was five years old, my mum divorced my father who was an alcoholic and gambler.

I still remember vividly the night my mum left our home holding our hands (my two-year-old sister’s and mine), while my father lay on the floor in a stupor.

 So long as I did not commit any crime that would land me in prison, I was okay.

I grew up with my grandmother; since young I have always yearned for belonging and acceptance.

So when I was 12, I started mixing with the wrong crowd in my neighbourhood and picked up smoking.

Nevertheless, I still managed to score decent grades for my PSLE and got into a good boy’s school in Potong Pasir.

At age 15, I started partying with drugs. Things became so bad that I was asked to transfer out of school and I went to a neighbourhood school.

Raymond Tan new charis mission

Young Raymond at 16 in Hong Kong – he was already going to parties where all sorts of substances were ingested.

I had no problem adapting and, in no time, I found myself belonging to a new group of friends … and got even more deeply involved in drugs. So much so that for ‘O’ levels, I was marked absent for all my subjects.

From then on, life just spiralled down even further.

Double life

When I entered the Army, I thought the discipline and regimental lifestyle would reform me. 

I even signed on as a regular and served for five years, but I kept a double life.

 I led a dark secret life, hidden from everyone else – a life of smoking, drinking, doing drugs, gambling, and more.

Many of my army mates advised me to give up my life of vice. But I ended up being charged and sent to the detention barracks for a total of five times during my service, for insubordination and other disciplinary issues – I did not change.

When I returned to civilian life, I also led another dark secret life, hidden from everyone else – a life of smoking, drinking, doing drugs, gambling, and more. 

In 2005, I was sentenced to imprisonment for fraud. 

On my very first Visitors’ Day, my aunt, mum and grandmother visited me. But it was via tele screening, meaning that we saw each other through monitor screens from different locations.

Raymond Tan new charis mission

Raymond (far right) with his wife, Samantha (second from right), at his nephew’s birthday party with the rest of his family.

All of them started crying when they saw me.

Money became my prime motivation and drive. To me, money was security.

I promised myself there and then that I never wanted to see my loved ones go through that ever again.

But did my life change after my release? Sadly, no.

All I had resolved was that, so long as I did not commit any crime that would land me in prison, I was okay.

Money became my prime motivation and drive.

To me, money was security. I joined the booming property industry and made good money. But needless to say, money became more of a curse than a blessing.

“I got ready to jump”

It all came crashing down in 2009 when, one day, I looked back at my life and saw how meaningless it was. What was the significance of it all? What was the purpose of my life, I started asking myself.

I prayed: “God if You are real, give me the courage to jump … or You show me a way out.”

I fell into depression.

These questions kept weighing on me so heavily that, for six months, I couldn’t function. Until one night … I finally decided that enough was enough.

I decided to end it all.

But first I had to work up the courage. So, I drank, and drank, and drank … and stuffed myself full of drugs …  And then I went to the parapet on the rooftop of my block.

And I got ready to jump.

But, strangely, fear seeped in. Despite all the alcohol and drugs that I had taken, I was not high.

Instead, I was super conscious and alert. I became so clear-minded that I heard myself telling myself … to pray. At least for the last time.

And I did.

Are you better than them?

It was during chapel services in secondary school at Potong Pasir that I was introduced to Jesus and I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour at age 13. But, even then, I still chose to live life by the ways of the world.

After the army, I was going to church faithfully on Sundays and attending cell group meetings but I also led a secret life of smoking, drinking, doing drugs, gambling, and more.

“That is a place for ex-convicts and drug addicts. People with messed up lives. Why there?”

On the rooftop of my block, I prayed : “God if You are real, give me the courage to jump … or You show me a way out”

And God answered me in my desperate pit of despair and showed me: “The New Charis Mission.”

I asked God: “Why there?”

At this point, I only knew The New Charis Mission as a place for ex-convicts and drug addicts to help them change their lives. A friend had once taken me there for a visit.

So, I said to God: “God, that is a place for ex-convicts and drug addicts. People with messed up lives. Why there?”

Raymond Tan new charis mission

Raymond and his wife, Samantha Ernest, on holiday. Raymond says that encountering God through his time in the 12-month The New Charis Mission residential programme set him on the right track and brought restoration to his family.

And God answered with this that pierced my heart: “Are you any better than them?”

I called my friend right away to ask about admission to The New Charis Mission.

A family made whole

On March 20, 2010, I admitted myself into The New Charis Mission for a 12-month residential programme.

There, I was given the opportunity to be trained. Pastor Don and the leaders there believed in me and provided me with many platforms to learn and to serve the community.

Raymond Tan new charis mission

Raymond’s spiritual father, mentor and now boss, Pastor Don Wong (left) was instrumental in his journey of transformation.

It was there that I found the passion to work with young people.

It was there that Father God healed the hurts from my childhood, and I truly experienced His grace and love.

It was also the beginning of a new relationship with God. It was there that Father God healed the hurts from my childhood, and I truly experienced His grace and love as I witnessed reconciliation that made my family whole.

I am grateful that God has never given up on me. Not only did He save me from taking my own life, He gave me a new lease on life in every sense.

God has resurrected the areas of my life which were dead. Relationships, meaningless and hopeless life, debt and failures … God turned all these around.

From prisoner to prison counsellor 

In 2016, I was sent to and graduated from City Harvest School of Theology. This opened doors for me to share the word of God on mission trips and elsewhere. I also attained my double diploma in Criminology and Counselling Psychology.

Today, I am  a full-time staff at The New Charis Mission. I am a prison counsellor and I am also a certified trainer/speaker and mentor for schools where I minister to youth-at-risk.

Raymond Tan new charis mission

Raymond went on several mission trips with The New Charis Mission. Here he is with Uncle Jack, Deputy Director of TNCM, and Seno, an Indonesian brother, during a trip to the Riau Islands in 2010.

I am blissfully married to the woman I love who is also my best friend and a wonderful helper whom God has provided.

Every day, I thank God for all that He has blessed me with and I am eternally grateful for this new lease on life that He has given me.

Who I am today is a far cry from who I was 11 years ago, when I walked into The New Charis Mission broken, wretched, with nothing to my name.


This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.

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