He was a convicted gangster; she is a university graduate. Together, they found love.

By Gracia Lee , 27 March 2022

She graduated from university. He was kicked out of Primary 2 after throwing a chair at a teacher. He also spent his youth as a gang leader.

The two seem worlds apart. Yet this difference is what makes the love story of Koh Choon Huat, 43, and Teng Teng, 41, so intriguing. They’ve been married for more than 17 years now.

“It’s not easy lor but she was willing to accommodate me,” Choon Huat said in Mandarin. “That’s how I knew she was The One!”

Sunday beehoon

The couple first met in 1999 at a Bukit Purmei coffee shop. Teng Teng, then a poly student, was helping at her mother’s fried beehoon stall.

Choon Huat had recently served a two-and-a-half-years jail sentence for rioting.

Now released, he was determined to turn over a new leaf. Spurred by his newfound faith, Choon Huat enrolled in a three-year Breakthrough Missions (BM) programme.

At 15, Koh Choon Huat was a gang leader. By 17, he was sent to jail for rioting. He served two-and-a-half years.

Every Sunday before church, Choon Huat would drop by the coffee shop with his BM “brothers”.

Teng Teng noticed that he was always “very smartly dressed”. However, she joked, he was “a bit orbit (old-fashioned) lah – long-sleeved shirt, tucked in, with jeans.”

Choon Huat (second from right) was part of the Breakthrough Missions staff for a time. He always wore his Sunday-best during church services.

Meanwhile, Choon Huat was secretly thinking well of Teng Teng.

He wondered: “Why is she willing to come down to help her mum on weekends?” He believed only a loving daughter would sacrifice their time that way.

The altar call

One day, Choon Huat decided to invite Teng Teng to a rally by an Indonesian evangelist.

Choon Huat: “Of course, it’s God’s timing … It was very wonderful.”

Although Teng Teng was not a religious person, she decided to accept his invitation.

During the rally, she unexpectedly stepped forward during the altar call and chose to accept Jesus into her heart.

This would be a life-changing decision for her.

“Of course, it’s God’s timing … It was very wonderful,” said Choon Huat.

Dirty dishes

Soon after, Choon Huat and Teng Teng met every Wednesday night at a McDonald’s in Harbourfront. This was the only time he was allowed out of the halfway house.

They would spend this period studying the Bible. Choon Huat also encouraged Teng Teng to attend church.

The very first photo Choon Huat and Teng Teng took together.

Choon Huat helped Teng Teng wash the dishes at her mum’s coffee shop stall. He continued to do this even after they started dating more seriously.

To encourage her, Choon Huat dropped by the beehoon stall every Sunday. He helped Teng Teng wash the dishes and clean up, just so she’d be able to make the 5pm service at St Andrew’s Cathedral.

Going steady

As they grew closer, the two of them naturally progressed to becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.

“We were crossing the road at Bugis after the 5pm service. That’s when he first held my hand,” said Teng Teng.

She adds: “He hasn’t let go since!” 

Choon Huat celebrated his 22nd birthday at a small restaurant owned by Teng Teng’s aunt. They’d already started dating.

Teng Teng: “What impressed me was how he was willing to share bravely about his past rather than hide it.” 

Teng Teng also accompanied Choon Huat as he went around churches, schools and prisons to talk about God’s saving grace in his life.

“What impressed me was how he was willing to share bravely about his past rather than hide it.”

A mother’s blessing

Although their relationship was going well, Teng Teng was still cautious at the thought of getting married.

She knew they were very different from each other. He was not English educated, and she was worried she would have to speak to him in Mandarin all the time.

Teng Teng was also anxious about having to carry more financial burdens, seeing that Choon Huat only had a Primary 2 education.

Choon Huat quipped: “I only studied Primary 2 for three months. Then I threw a chair at the teacher and she told me, ‘Don’t come back.'”

Although very different from each other, Teng Teng and Choon Huat have learned to enjoy each other’s strengths.

Mum: “I give you my blessings and go ahead if you feel he is the right one. Commit the relationship to God.”

However, what mattered most to Teng Teng was her mother’s blessings.

Her mum’s approval was clear: “I give you my go ahead if you feel he is the right one. Commit the relationship to God.”

Choon Huat loves his relationship with Teng Teng’s mum: “Whenever we talk, Teng Teng can’t come into the conversation!”

Mum: “He is always there to lend a listening ear and to share his non-biased opinions.”

Today, Teng Teng’s extended family not only accepts Choon Huat, they even call him up for advice on family matters.

“The elderly love having him around,” said Teng Teng’s mum. “He is always there to lend a listening ear and to share his non-biased opinions.”

She added: “He’s just like a son to me.”

The proposal

Choon Huat proposed on Teng Teng’s 23rd birthday, during her final year of University.

He could not afford an expensive engagement ring. But with what he had, Choon Huat purchased a necklace with a cross on a heart.

Touched by his sincerity, Teng Teng accepted.

Teng Teng graduated in the same year she was engaged to Choon Huat.

The couple agreed to put Christ at the center of their marriage.

The couple were married in church on December 17, 2004. Their wedding dinner was attended by almost 600 guests, including Choon Huat’s BM ‘brothers’.

Married with kids

17 years and two children later, Choon Huat and Teng Teng have learned how to make their marriage and family life work.

They attribute all of this harmony to God’s grace in their lives. 

“At first, I was worried that I would have to do everything with the kids,” shared Teng Teng.

Teng Teng: “We are really opposites. But because of these opposites, we are able to work together better.”

“But no, when it comes to discipline, sports, fetching them around, teaching them Chinese – Choon Huat is there.

“Meanwhile, I handle the admin work, registration and school stuff.”

Teng Teng added: “We’re really opposites. But because of that, we work better together.”

Teng Teng was at first worried that her relationship would end in divorce, like both their parents’ marriages. But Choon Huat assured her: “We must really commit. We have Christ at the centre.”

“On their own, can two people journey together in unity? Cannot,” Choon Huat reflected. “Who will listen to the other?”

“It is only when we are united in Christ that our marriage will last.” 

Bible school

After marriage, Choon Huat felt a strong calling to do theological studies in Taiwan.

He shut down his swimming pool maintenance business to do so.

Teng Teng was worried her husband would return to his old ways overseas, trapped by the allure of the vibrant nightlife.

Choon Huat promised her: “I won’t. Not because of you, but because of God.”

Choon Huat completed his theological studies in Taiwan. He later earned diplomas in theological counselling and counselling psychology in Singapore.

In Taiwan, Choon Kuat stuck to his daily routine of waking up early to pray – a habit he first began in prison.

Choon Huat and Teng Teng have developed a great partnership by building on their differences in productive ways.

He sees prayer as the most important thing that has kept him from going wayward.

“I’m not able to do it on my own. It is God who is constantly guarding me.”

A God who recycles

In 2020, Choon Huat founded a halfway house with a friend. With House of Anatole, he believes he is obeying God’s call to go into full-time ministry.

Even though this meant a smaller income, Teng Teng has stayed supportive, seeing life-changing value in his work.

The Koh family on Chinese New Year with daughter Janah, 8, and son Jadon, 12.

“Can God use someone like me? God can,” Choon Huat declared.

Choon Huat: “Can God use someone like me? God can. God is in the business of recycling rubbish.”

“God knows how to recycle rubbish. In society, ex-prisoners are sometimes seen as trash.

“But when God uses you, He can transform our rubbish into recycled paper that is useful to others!”

This story was first published in Salt&Light and is republished with permission.

Related articles
Tell Me More
Feeling lost in life?
This is default text for notification bar