Family, Relationships

Saved from 3 generations of violence and drugs, a young girl finds family in a children’s home

By Janice Tai  , 4 October 2022

Growing up in a two-room rental flat with nine other relatives, Devi Chandra’s home was always cramped and chaotic.

It was “the most popular unit” in the block: Strangers often walked in to use the toilet – and to join her relatives in taking drugs. The police often raided it.

These were a “normal”, even “mundane”, part of young Devi’s life.

“My sister and I had to wake up early to do a lot of housework, then we would stay in the room because there were a lot of men around the house,” Devi, now 35, said.

“I learnt in school that drugs were bad, but I did not know violence was bad. “

If Devi did not master her ABCs well, she was made to stand facing the wall for hours or had a pencil pressed against the sensitive part between her fingers.

If she cried, hot chillies were rubbed into her eyes.

Labels such as “stupid”, “slow” and “prostitute” were hurled liberally at her.

She had no clue that such family violence was abnormal.

Little Devi had no concept of family.

She was one when her father died. Her mother – who was not educated or legally married to her father – was ostracised by her extended family. She was barred from living with her three children.

Whenever Devi’s mother stood at the gate of the flat to hand the relatives money for raising her kids, she was not allowed to touch her children.

Love or abuse?

Devi’s mother was finally allowed to come and live in the flat when Devi and her siblings entered school – just to provide household help.

Her mum was treated like a servant, and made to do all the cooking, serving of meals and other household chores.

“I never really knew my mother as our minds were ‘poisoned’ against her from young. But when we were beaten by a belt or cane, she would try to protect us.

Devi was under the impression that her family showed “love” via their harsh actions. 

“I felt helpless. I didn’t know how to help her when she was treated badly, beaten or abused,” Devi said, tearing at the memory.

Growing up in an environment where the line between love and abuse was blurred, Devi was under the impression that her family showed “love” via their harsh actions. 

“I learnt in school that drugs were bad, but I did not know violence was bad. I thought my relatives were being involved in my life,” said Devi.

Still, she would stay late in school to delay going home.

“It was a dark time and I was just trying to survive without questioning. It also didn’t matter how I felt,” she said.

Sticky situation

Things changed in 2002 when she was 15.

Devi was in a neighbour’s flat when one of her family members barged in with a long, wooden stick.

He bashed her with the stick as she ran around the house in fright. It was unclear if he had been taking drugs or drinking. 

Her neighbour was too stunned to help … until the man broke the stick in half and tried to stab her.

Her neighbour was too stunned to help … until the man broke the stick in half and tried to stab her. Then bystanders quickly pushed him out of the house and locked the gate.

“I was angry and did not understand what was happening. I ran to the police station to seek help,” said Devi.

A social worker interviewed her and she got a personal protection order against the relative.

Her other relatives were livid that she had reported a member of her family.

“Let’s go home”

Devi, who felt guilty, was sent to the hospital for treatment and for her own protection.

No one visited her.

Then two weeks later, a man and woman walked towards her hospital bed and said: “Let’s go home.”

Andrew and Grace Choo, the founders of AG Home, welcomed Devi into their home during her tumultuous childhood years.

Shocked and confused, Devi asked: “Who are you? Where are we going?”

The couple introduced themselves as Andrew and Grace Choo. They told her that the government had asked them to take her in.

Bread and milo

At Andrew and Grace (AG) Home there were many other girls just like her. It was like a big hostel, and she was taken to a dormitory shared by three other girls.

The next morning, she woke up feeling hungry.

Grace took her to the kitchen and gave her a slice of bread and a cup of Milo.

“In the past, no one would present breakfast to me as we usually helped ourselves to whatever was on the table.”

Devi started crying.

“In the past, no one would present breakfast to me as we usually helped ourselves to whatever was on the table,” she said.

“I just felt a deep sense of love from her and in her action.” 

The daily routine at AG Home included morning devotions, area clean up, skills development and character-building programmes, as well as sports activities.

Initially, Devi felt lost. After a lifetime of being on her guard, she did not know who to allow into her life.

Ah Pa and Mummy Grace

Everyone in AG Home called its founders “Ah Pa” and “Mummy Grace”. Devi could not.

It was only after two weeks that some of the walls she had built up came down.

As everyone prepared to attend a staff member’s wedding, Pastor Andrew said to her in a fatherly manner: “Devi, would you like to dress up more?”

“I am good like that, Ah Pa,” she replied. This term of endearment suddenly rolled off her tongue.

“There was a consistency in their love that I saw every day. I knew they would not fail me or leave me.”

Every morning, Pastor Andrew and Grace discussed devotions from Our Daily Bread with the 60 girls. The couple would also pray for the girls.

Life at the Home was so different to what Devi was used to.

“I remember thinking, ‘So this is what a family is. A family does things together.’

“Ah Pa and Mummy Grace would play with us and even be involved when we do area cleaning,” said Devi. “It was eye-opening.” 

Ah Pa, Mummy Grace and the staff loved the girls there like their own. If Devi needed a toothbrush, she would get one. If she was afraid to sleep, she could talk to a staff member who would pray with her.

Here, Devi felt seen.

When she did well in her ‘N’ levels, she was publicly affirmed. Pastor Andrew also noticed that she was good at running and picked her to be a member of the Home’s sports team.

No one from her family came to visit her, but the staff threw a birthday party for her every year.

Devi celebrating her 21st birthday with Ah Pa and Mummy Grace and the team at AG Home.

“There was a consistency in their love that I saw every day. I knew they would not fail me or leave me. Every day during the devotion time, I also heard them talk about God and about experiencing His love,” said Devi.

“Who is this God?” she wondered.

A month after she first came to the Home, she had a personal encounter with Him.

The power of words

Devi was sitting in the garden when she chanced upon a Bible. As she began reading the book of Proverbs, specific words caught her eye and she exclaimed: “These words are so true!”

Proverbs 18: 21 was one of these verses: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

The verses touched Devi, who had been called “good for nothing” and “ugly” in her growing up years.

She stopped a staff member who was walking past her. 

The verses touched Devi, who had been called “good for nothing” and “ugly” in her growing up years.

“What do I need to do to accept Jesus into my heart?” Devi asked. By now, she had encountered enough love in the Home, and the truth from the Bible made her hungry for God.

As the staff member led Devi to invite Jesus into her life, Devi felt peace and knew that there was a purpose for her life.

Building a relationship with God shaped and strengthened Devi’s identity of being loved by Him.

Caring for her needs

Devi also began experiencing miracles in her life.

Once she did not manage her allowance from the Home well and ran out of money. Getting on her knees, she prayed.

Shortly afterwards, she was called down to the office. It turned out that a $100 cheque had just come in from a race she had won but had forgotten about.

Another time, she prayed for running shoes in order to participate in a race. A volunteer, who was not aware of her prayer, brought her a pair.

“God was very real to me. I felt Him being there with me, loving me and taking care of my needs,” said Devi.

As she experienced God’s faithfulness, Devi started thinking about her family members. She yearned for them to know Him too.

Devi receiving a trophy for her win in a cross country race.

In the lobby of the Home, she sat down and started talking to God about what was in her heart.

She randomly flipped open a Bible next to her and the verse that jumped out at her was: “They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’” (Acts 16:31)

She saw this as a promise from God.

Breaking the cycle

One day, during a counselling session, a social worker from a Family Service Centre drew a genogram, a graphic representation of relationships among members of a family.

It opened Devi’s eyes to three generations of violence, drugs and abuse in her family history.

She was prone to negative thoughts such as “Maybe it’s better if I take drugs”.

The social worker then asked: 

Would Devi like to continue with the cycle of violence, drugs and abuse, or would she like to break it?

Devi realised she had a choice to make.

“I decided to break this cycle – not just for me but for the generations ahead of me, with Christ as my foundation.

“Instead of violence and abuse, I want to cultivate gentleness, love and the other fruits of the spirit,” said Devi.

It would not be easy. Instead, it was too easy to react in anger by screaming or speaking loudly and sarcastically towards the other girls, or having the urge to raise her hand to hit the other party – behaviour that she had seen while growing up.

“I decided to break this cycle not just for me but for the generations ahead of me.”

Devi asked God for His courage and boldness to deal with her past and present.

“My conscience would step in and I would ask myself why I am thinking or acting this way. Then I would walk away,” said Devi.

When things didn’t go her way, she was prone to negative thoughts such as “Maybe it’s better if I take drugs”.

“I would have to pray and ask God to help me,” she said.

A good sport

Sports became Devi’s outlet for her pent-up emotions and taught her many character-building and life skills.

While distance running or playing basketball, for instance, Devi learnt about teamwork, pacing, breathing and the importance of being forward-looking.

Devi (second from left) enjoying a game of soccer with friends outside the AG Home.

When sailing, she picked up the skills of remaining in control despite unpredictable conditions on the seas.

Sailing in the open sea taught Devi much about navigating life.

Mentors from the Home who became her spiritual parents, and a church community also helped her throw off fears of feeling abandoned and neglected.

Devi with her sports mentor, Naomi Tan.

“They noticed me, welcomed me and whenever I talked about my family, they would be there to hold me and cry with me,” said Devi.

After graduating from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) at the age of 21, Devi felt led by God to work for AG Home as a youth and sports worker to support other cohorts of girls.

After seven years there, she went on to work as a child protection coordinator in the social service sector.

A promise fulfilled

When Devi left the job at the children’s home, she knew it was time for her to return home to her family.

Moving back to the same two-room rental flat to live with her relatives reminded her of the past and brought back negative emotions.

“There was no more violence and abuse, but I felt alienated and could not connect with them. So, I kept to myself but prayed every day for God to help me with forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Devi.

After 17 years of prayer – her sister also came to know the Lord.

There was little personal space in the cramped two-room rental flat for Devi to pray and do her quiet time.

But on many occasions, God would wake her up at 4am while the others were still sleeping so that she could spend time with Him, even if it was on the dirty kitchen floor.

After years of encountering God’s love, along with counselling and inner healing, Devi found the grace and strength to forgive those who had hurt her.

Slowly, she began to apply what she had learnt in the children’s home in her own family setting.

She cooked dinner and encouraged her family to eat together.

Showing no favouritism, she would buy the same thing for every one whenever she bought treats for the family.

Her family members and relatives observed her talking and behaving differently, and slowly reconciliation happened.

Devi’s whole family (younger sister, older brother and mother) came to faith after more than a decade of prayers. Her mum passed away last year.

After 15 years of praying for her mother, Devi’s mum finally received the Lord as her personal Saviour.

One year later, after 16 years of prayers, her brother also came to Christ while in prison.

Two years later – after 17 years of prayer – her sister also came to know the Lord.

“I just wept. It was beautiful seeing the whole family come to know God. He fulfilled the promise He gave me earlier,” said Devi.

Love transforms

Devi has since been able to impact more lives in Singapore – and beyond.

Passionate about using sports to empower persons with disabilities, Devi is a long-time volunteer with the Para Cycling Federation of Singapore; she helps to train persons with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Digging a well in Cambodia on a mission trip.

In China, she started a women’s fellowship and helped to plant a church there, despite only learning Mandarin during her brief time there.

Devi teaching English to village children during a summer camp in China.

Two months after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Devi and a team from Tung Ling Bible School went to Germany for two months to support Ukrainian refugees.

Giving a massage, as part of a Mother’s Day special programme for the refugees and missionaries in Germany.

“God has been compassionate and gracious to me. With His unfailing love, He has given me the capacity to love others,” said Devi.

“Finally, I know what love is. God is love and His love conquers everything.”


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

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

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