Family, Health, Relationships

“They knew that their parents would never abandon them”: Mum whose sons fell into drugs

By Christine Leow , 15 May 2024

Chua Chiew Peng recalls the time when she drove to a deserted parking lot in the dead of the night and wailed in her car.

She was living in Vancouver, Canada, at that time with her husband and their two sons.

She had just overheard her own mum crying in her room.

The older woman was visiting and had discovered that her grandsons – just 14 and 16 – had been addicted to drugs for two years. The younger boy became a drug dealer as well. Police often showed up at their home to conduct searches or to investigate his gang connections.

Chiew Peng’s family moved to Canada in 2004 when the boys were 7 and 9.

“My mum was shocked. The hardest part was hearing her cry,” recalled Chiew Peng, who is now 55 and a counsellor. 

Her own husband, Jabez Tan, had also been involved in gangs and drugs in his youth.

The discovery

As their sons entered their mid-teens, Chiew Peng and her husband found out that they were smoking. Within months, the boys moved on to marijuana.

“We had lots of talks about it. But it was tough for them because everyone around them was doing it,” said Chiew Peng.  

Both parents took great pains not to put undue pressure on the boys to “behave in a certain way”.

Then her sons became rude, even aggressive. They stayed up till all hours of the night. One was caught smoking a joint at the back of the school, and the Tans were called in for a talk with the teachers.

“I had lots of fights with the boys about it,” recalled Chiew Peng.

Chiew Peng and Jabez, who were pastors in different churches in Vancouver, had taken great pains not to put undue pressure on the boys to “behave in a certain way”.

Chiew Peng (front row, fourth from left) with the community at Basel Hakka Lutheran Church, which she pastored in Vancouver.

“When they asked questions in Sunday School, the teacher would say, ‘Go home and ask your parents.’ They felt dismissed.

“When they misbehaved, they were told, ‘You shouldn’t behave this way. Your mum is a pastor’.”

Their father’s story

The boys’ own father, Jabez, had also been involved in gangs and drugs in his youth.

Three days after a quarrel over his drug use, Jabez’s father jumped from the block of flats where they lived.

Jabez Tan

Jabez enjoyed the sense of belonging he felt when he was part of a gang. That was what made breaking away from drugs so much more difficult for him.

Even though his father was a gambler who was depressed from owing money to loan sharks, Jabez felt guilty because he “was partly to blame”.

At his father’s wake, Jabez knelt before the coffin and vowed he would not go back to drugs.

At his father’s wake, Jabez knelt before the coffin and vowed he would not go back to drugs.

But he couldn’t free himself from the grip of addiction.  

While serving National Service, he was caught for drug use. Locked up and awaiting court martial, Jabez and two others escaped by sawing off a grill. 

He was caught and sentenced to three months in a disciplinary barracks on top of a 22-month sentence.

“I had to carry heavy sandbags, dig hills, pour the sand into another place. It was heavy work.” he said

Breaking free

Jabez reoffended in 1979 and was sentenced to three years in civilian prison where he met one of his army seniors whom he had known from detention. Around the same time, Jabez also got to visit a younger brother who was in a reformative training centre for delinquency and drug addiction.

“Both used to be very vulgar people. But I saw how their speech and life had changed. 

“In that hour I visited my brother, he never used one nasty word. In the past, at least one out of 10 words would be vulgar.”

Both men had become Christians. Separately, they urged him to attend chapel and to “believe in the Lord, and not bother what others think about you”.

Jabez heeded their advice, and after a year, invited Jesus into his life

By the time Chiew Peng met Jabez in Bible college – when she was 24 and he was 33 – his past was well behind him. 

Dividing the family

Jabez, who had battled his own demons with drugs, was saddened by his sons’ addiction, but he understood.

When Chiew Peng found a bag of marijuana in her younger son’s room, she flushed it down the toilet. Jabez on the other hand, worried about how their son would answer to the gang.

While Chiew Peng wondered if all this could have been avoided had they not gone to Canada, Jabez was thankful it did not happen in Singapore. With drug laws in the country so strict, he thought their sons could have ended up in prison like he had.

Chiew Peng and Jabez used to quarrel about the way each dealt with their sons’ addiction. He felt she was too harsh and she felt he was too soft with them. But, in the end, they united to pray for their sons.

Chiew Peng and Jabez’s differing approaches to the boys’ drug problem caused friction between them.

“We had a lot of arguments about whether we should move back to Singapore,” said Chiew Peng.

“There was also a lot of guilt as a mother. Did I do something wrong? Did I not do enough?”

Drugs also divided the family in other ways.

“The boys were close when they were young. But drugs destroyed their relationship and their trust in each other.

“When drugs are involved, money is involved. You want to get the drugs, you lie and there are fights over it,” Chiew Peng explained .

“The discord took a toll on my faith,” admitted Chiew Peng

“How could I continue as a pastor? I told the Lord, ‘I’m disqualified.’

“There was also a lot of guilt as a mother. Did I do something wrong? Did I not do enough?”

Relapsing again and again …

For more than two years, Chiew Peng and Jabez swung between hope and disappointment as their sons tried to quit drugs only to relapse again and again.

“My husband was a bit more understanding. He tried to get them to go to school. He was more hopeful that they would come out of it. I was not,” she said.

“I was a bit more confrontational. Once they were on hard drugs, they were not listening, they were not in their right mind.

“Each time I looked at them, I would start crying. There was a lot of pain and sadness.”

“I thought I had lost my children. When would my prodigals return? The path felt very lonely.”

The boys refused offers of rehabilitation, which would have amounted to a few thousand dollars.

After one bitter fallout with her older son, Chiew Peng felt God reassure her that He would “restore my sons to me”.

“So I hung on to the promise, got disappointed. Hung on, got disappointed …

“I didn’t come from a good family. I thought I had given my children the best. So there was a lot of grief and questions as to what went wrong.

“I thought I had lost my children. When would my prodigals return? The path felt very lonely,” said Chiew Peng who turned to journalling and studying the Bible even more. 

“I wanted to quit being a pastor so many times,” she admitted.

But she heard God say: “Your calling came before you even had your kids. You do not become disqualified because of them.”

Said Chiew Peng: “I told God I had failed as a mother. Then I heard God say, ‘I am the perfect Father and I still have many prodigals, including you.’”

It sobered her.

Big move in a short time

Chiew Peng decided to return to Singapore to recover from the toll the stress had taken on her.

Her older son unexpectedly asked to return to Singapore, too. Their home in Canada had been broken into because of a drug-related situation. Gangs were involved and he no longer felt safe there.

Chiew Peng and Jabez had separately sensed God telling him to return to Singapore too with their firstborn. 

There was a snag, though. Their younger son refused to leave Canada. He was only 17 and had dropped out of school.

Jabez told Chiew Peng that they could possibly lose their younger son to an overdose.

“It was really heartbreaking. He was very upset with us. He felt like we were abandoning him, even though we told him, ‘The ticket is always there for you to come back.’”

He refused to keep in contact with his family, even posting a message on Facebook: “I just wanted to let you know I am not coming back. I would rather go hungry and homeless. I don’t know if or when I will talk to you again. Goodbye, Mum. I love you and I’m sorry.”

Said Chiew Peng: “I felt the pain really cut right into my heart.”

Jabez told Chiew Peng that they could possibly lose their younger son to an overdose.

“It was in the middle of the night. I went for a very, very long walk, crying and bawling. There was a lot of pain,” she said, adding that she surrendered the situation to God. 

So it came as a surprise when, within a month, their younger son asked to return home to Singapore.

It turned out that a childhood friend had taken him to a Chinese restaurant in Canada to cheer him up. He had been struggling without his family and missing them.

The note inside the fortune cookie said: “In a very short time, you will consider a big move.”

The meal came with a fortune cookie. The note inside said: “‘In a very short time, you will consider a big move.”

Her son put the paper in his pocket and forgot about it.

Months later, Chiew Peng’s son met his probation officer who encouraged him to return to Singapore. After that meeting, he happened to reach into his pocket and found the message from the fortune cookie.

“Everything clicked for him,” said Chiew Peng in wonder. “He had a whole encounter with the Lord on his own.” 

Returning home

Within months of their return to Singapore, both boys were doing drugs again.

This time, Jabez and Chiew Peng presented a united front. They told the boys that their home was a drug-free zone. If they were doing drugs, they had to leave. Both parents became equally firm that their sons go to a halfway house. The boys relented and went to The Hiding Place. One son also went to The New Charis Mission.

When Chiew Peng and Jabez were united in insisting that their sons go to a halfway house, the boys relented.

Their younger son lived at the halfway house for two years. He completed his ‘O’ level exams there, with stellar results. Upon completing the rehabilitation programme, he enrolled at a polytechnic to study Mass Communication. He is now 26 years old and works in a friend’s dog-walking business.

Their older son took a longer route to recovery. It included time at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC). Now 28, he works in construction and has been clean for a year.

Chiew Peng and Jabez prayed daily for their sons.

“I believe in prayer,” said Chiew Peng.

“The Lord has met me so many times in prayer. When everything was so mad, I found peace and sanity in in prayer.”

Never abandoned

While Chiew Peng would not wish the family’s experience of suffering on anyone, she gained precious lessons that she would not have been learnt otherwise.

“Through it, I began to know how God loves us, pursues us, and never gives up on us.”

Jabez Tan

“My children know that, even at their worst, their parents will never abandon them. They know they always have a safe haven to come back to,” said Chiew Peng.

She also earned a Master of Counselling, and now has her own practice, Greater Than Two: Counselling and Therapy.

“God impressed upon me this name. When I am in counselling with my client, I am with Someone greater. Counselling is God’s way of healing people, too,” she explained.

They knew that, even at their worst, their parents would never abandon them.

Her relationship with her children has since been healed.

“Our relationship was so tested. Now it is very strong,” she said, adding that they still kiss and hug her.

“My children say, ‘Mum, I know that you love us.’ They knew that, even at their worst, their parents would never abandon them. They knew they always had a safe haven to come back to.

“That is the assurance – that they know the heart of God because they can see it in the heart of their parents.”

This is an excerpt of articles on Chiew Peng and Jabez’s stories that first appeared in Salt&Light

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