Family, Relationships, School

Violent and fearless, this “angmoh gangster” almost ended up in prison many times. Could anyone stop him?

By Christine Leow , 17 November 2023

The day Leon Stewart first met his gang leader was the day he was taken to his first gang fight.

Killer Mike” grabbed his hand and said: “You don’t run. You stay here and watch.”

Leon had been introduced to the gang by a boy like him: They had repeated Primary 6 after failing their PSLE (Primary School Leaving Exams). 

The fight was in Orchard Road.

“They were throwing chairs. There was blood everywhere. The fight got really, really violent,” Leon, now 54, recalled.

Leon Stewart

Leon (extreme right) with his brothers and their parents. Their Italian-Indonesian mum was a part-time seamstress, and their Anglo-Indian dad, an engineer.

Leon was scared and trembling.

“But when Killer Mike asked me if he liked what I saw, I said, ‘It was very interesting.'”

Seeing their bravado gave Leon the feeling that “this was quite happening”.

School dropout

After witnessing the fight in Orchard Road, Leon spent his Saturdays getting into fights and became “good at punching people”. 

Growing up, he was repeatedly told that he was good for nothing.

Now, among a gang who affirmed him, he had found something he was good at. He began to move up the ranks.

“With the power of the gang came the girls.

“That kind of false glamour really enticed me to the point where I was not interested in studying,” said Leon, who dropped out of school in Secondary 3.

leon stewart

By the time Leon (centre, back) was 16, he had stopped going to school and church.

“I waltzed into the principal’s office and told him, ‘I’m sick of studying in your school. I want you to write my testimonial and give me my leaving certificate. I’m leaving school. If you’re not happy, you can call my parents’,” he recalled.

Even his mother’s tears could not change the rebellious teen’s mind. 

Violent and vulgar

Leon’s life became an endless cycle of fights fuelled by drugs, drinking and smoking.

But amazingly, he never got arrested.

One weekend in 1986, he went to meet his gang at their usual hangout. But he couldn’t find them.

“I heard rumours later that a few of them ran to Malaysia because of some gang things that went sour,” he said. 

Leon had a chance to change his life. Instead, he was recruited into another gang.

Freed from his gang, Leon had a chance to change his life.

Instead, he was recruited into another gang, after its gang leader saw him beating up three men who had disturbed his cousin. 

This gang was more violent than the previous one.

They harassed people in the streets and beat them up “for no reason – not even to rob them”.

His mother knew of his gang association but couldn’t stop him.

Leon Stewart

Six-year-old Leon with his mother, Angeline.

Leon had grown up in a Christian family. But by then, had stopped attending church.

When his mother brought the Bible to him, he threw it down.

“I also broke the cross on her door. Then I cursed her.

“I was very vulgar towards her, very violent, throwing things around the house,” he recalled.

“You’re not leaving home today”

One day as Leon was preparing to leave home to meet his gang, his mum took the house keys away. 

“She told me, ‘You are not going out of the house today. God told me not to let you out of the house.’

“I scolded her and called her names. I told her, ‘Your Jesus is full of rubbish!’

“But she said, ‘If you are going to leave this house, it’s going to be over my dead body.’

The nine guys he was supposed to meet had been arrested. They were facing a murder charge.

“She was really, really serious.”

Leon overturned furniture and threw picture frames to the ground. But he didn’t leave home.

A few days later, he opened the newspapers and got a shock.

The nine guys he was supposed to meet had been arrested. They were facing a murder charge.

Leon Stewart

Leon at 17. Although he eventually got out of the gang, his drug addiction continued into his 20s.

“A fight had taken place in a toilet. They beat up a man. One of them kicked the guy in the skull, fracturing it and killing him.”

Leon raced to his mother, newspaper in hand.

“She looked at me and said, ‘I told you so. I told you God told me not to let you out of the house.’”

Leon Stewart

With mum Angeline, in a recent photo.

But Leon still refused to believe his mum.

“My concept of God was Someone who sat on the throne with a lightning bolt saying, ‘Ah, you doing something wrong!’ Shoot!

“He was far away, untouchable. Why should He bother about me?”

In the jaws of danger

National Service put an end to the gang life, but not to Leon’s drug addiction.

He later drifted from job to job, until a classified advertisement caught his eye.

It said “crocodile keeper”.

The Jurong Reptile and Crocodile Paradise (which has since closed) was looking for a showman to perform with the crocodiles. It intrigued the curious and fearless Leon.

“I had a sick sense of adventure,” said Leon, who was in his 20s at that time.

“The job became really fun and I really, really enjoyed it.”

But there, he met fellow drug takers and his addiction became worse.  

Love at first sight

One day in early 1993, a girl named Lyra walked into his family’s house.

She had come to hang out with his brother’s girlfriend. 

“When she walked in, I was like, ‘Wow, who’s that girl?’

“If anyone tells me there is no love at first sight …” he trailed off with a smile as he recalled the moment.

They went on their first date that night.

She was 19 and he was 23.

Six months later, they were married.

Leon Stewart

Showing their marriage certificate. Lyra confessed years later that she was drawn to his “bad boy image” even though she didn’t like that he was a junkie. “We had a good laugh,” said Leon.

The happy couple cutting their wedding cake with Leon’s parents and Lyra’s mother.

Their first child, a daughter, came along soon after.

But feeling trapped by his new responsibilities, Leon found his escape in the party life.

“I consumed dope for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had late nights and multiple extra marital affairs,” he said.

Leon Stewart

Leon and Lyra with daughter Tara.

“Here I am thinking my wife didn’t know. But nothing was hidden from her.

“But I didn’t really care. My heart had become so hard.”

“Die, they would have found it”

One morning while at work in a warehouse job, Leon received a call from his wife.

“My wife screamed down the phone, ‘CNB (Central Narcotics Bureau) are at our house right now! Do you know what you have done? My baby girl is here. You have brought this upon us.’”

When he got home, he discovered that the CNB officers had searched the entire house, including behind the toilet cistern.

“I became even more arrogant, more defiant, with late nights, partying, getting drunk and getting stoned.”

“I had a small jewellery box with a little packet filled with marijuana on top of the cupboard.

“I thought, ‘Die, they would have climbed up and found it.’”

While the officers did search the spot, they came away empty-handed.

“I was very, very stunned,” he said.

Leon later discovered that all his friends had been arrested and jailed during that drug bust.

Once again, he couldn’t explain how he was the only one who had been spared. 

But the close shave with the law did nothing to change him.

“I became even more arrogant, more defiant, with late nights, partying, getting drunk and getting stoned.”

“Save my son!”

Three years later in 2000, Leon received another wake-up call.

This time, his baby son came down with a bad bout of bronchiolitis.

Little Gino, who was a few weeks old, could not breathe on his own and was admitted to a high dependency ward.

Lyra and baby Gino who was born on the same day as their daughter, Tara, who was then six.

“It really shook us,” said Leon.

As they sat by Gino’s hospital bed, Lyra cried and Leon prayed.

“I looked at the ceiling and said, ‘If there is a God up there, please save my son.’”

That evening, Leon’s younger brother, who had become a Christian, went to his home to pray for Gino.

“He told me, ‘You need to trust God. Your son will be healed.’”

The next day at the hospital, they found Gino in his crib minus all the medical equipment.

When they failed to comfort his son, they unhooked him from the medical equipment and picked him up to rock him.

Leon said: “I got so angry. I stomped into the nurse’s station and scolded them, ‘He can hardly breathe. Why did you take out the equipment? You think I got no CPF to pay the bill?’”

When he calmed down, the nurses told him what happened.

At 4am, Gino had started fussing. When they failed to comfort him, they unhooked him from the medical equipment and picked him up to rock him.

As he fell asleep, they realised that he was breathing on his own.

Leon remembered his brother’s words. But he still refused to believe that God had healed Gino.

The voice in his ear 

But as Leon gazed at his son, something supernatural happened.

“I heard a very gentle male voice at the side of my right ear, saying, ‘Leon, after all that you have done, I still love you.’

“I got a shock because I had not consumed any drugs that morning. So I was sober.”

Lyra, who was by his side, heard nothing.

“I was so broken inside that I could literally feel physical pain in my chest cavity.”

“I was afraid. I kept looking in the direction of the voice. Then the voice came again.

“This time, it was the left ear. Same words. I was freaking out,” he recalled.

Trying to make sense of what had happened, Leon shut his eyes.

“As I did, I saw a vision of myself sitting in an armchair. There was a huge movie screen that was playing out my whole life,” he recalled.

“Every bit of my life from primary school – the fights, drugs, people I’d messed with.”

Leon Stewart

Leon (standing, fifth from right) in Primary 1.

Then he saw another vision. This time, it showed the faces of those he loved – his mum, his wife, his daughter.

Leon when he was 17, holding his baby nephew.

“I was so broken inside that I could feel physical pain in my chest cavity. I broke down and tears kept falling from my eyes.”

He could not understand what was happening. So he phoned his mother and told her everything.

“She shouted loudly, ‘Hallelujah, praise the Lord!’

“For 18 years, I’ve been praying that the Lord would speak to you.”

“She told me, ‘God has finally answered my prayers. For 18 years, I’ve been praying that the Lord would talk to you.’

“She was laughing and crying.”

Right then, Leon prayed.

“I looked at the ceiling and said, ‘My mum said your name is Jesus and that it was You talking to me. Show Yourself. I want to know who You are.’”

The hard work of healing

One of the first things Leon did after that encounter was to make things right with Lyra.

“I went on my knees and begged her for her forgiveness,” he recalled.

“I held her hands while she sat on the bed. She gave me a big smile and said, ‘All is forgiven.’

The first thing Leon did after he accepted Christ was to make things right with his wife Lyra. They renewed their vows in July 2018 (pictured), after 25 years of marriage.

He found out that his wife had packed her bags after the CNB incident.

“But my mum told her, ‘No, we need to pray.’

“No human being could have changed her heart.”

His mum shared about Jesus’ love with Lyra, and took food to her and spent time with her.

Lyra became a Christian.

“Only God could have done that,” said Leon.

“No human being could have changed her heart.”

He didn’t think that they would last one year together, much less 30.

Now she is his greatest supporter of the work he does for God. 

Pastor Leon Stewart

Today, Leon is a senior pastoral staff at St Paul’s Church.

But he didn’t change overnight.

For the next three years, he worked with mentors in church because he had “so many addictions – drugs, violence, porn, gangs”.

He also went for healing and deliverance sessions, often with cigarettes still in his pocket.

“Every time they prayed over me, I would throw up. I could feel something leaving my body,” he said.

As he reclaimed his life, he also worked to restore his relationship with his mother.

Prophecy comes true

In 2003, Leon and his wife were at a teaching session by a visiting pastor. 

He was “at the lowest point of spirituality”.

The speaker called him forward and told Leon that God had made him “a very precise arrow”. The speaker prophesied that he would be working with “people who had never thought they would be part of the church”.

“You will be astonished by what the Lord is going to do in you and through you.”

“He also said, ‘You will be astonished by what the Lord is going to do in you and through you. God will give you divine ability and a renewed passion.’”

As the pastor spoke, Leon and Lyra fell to their knees trembling and weeping.

Leon did not understand everything, but the demonic thoughts fled in that moment.

In the years that followed, Leon saw how the prophesy came true bit by bit.

He met Rev Lorna Khoo, then the chaplain of Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS), and was invited to join PFS as staff.

“The prophecy suddenly came back to me: People who never thought they would be part of the church.”

Leon Stewart

Ps Leon (fourth, right) with colleagues from Prison Fellowship Singapore.

Later, Leon was asked to work in a church, first taking care of church facilities and then the youth ministry.

Ps Leon (second from right) with his mother Angeline, wife Lyra (second from left), children and son-in-law (centre, back).

He still volunteers with PFS, journeying with men on death row.

“I see God’s hand in my life from the time the prophecy was given. The prophecy has been fulfilled.”

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

If you would like to know more about Jesus, click here to find a church near you.


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