Family, Relationships

When an “Ah Beng” ex-drug addict and school teacher fell in love

By Gracia Chiang , 18 April 2023

He was the best man at a wedding. She was the bridesmaid.⁠ ⁠

Ezekiel Seah was a tattooed ex-offender who had been hooked on drugs since he was 15. He had been to prison thrice, and had lost his brother in a drug-dealing misunderstanding.

Hannah Loke, who grew up in a Christian household, worked as a school teacher.

At first glance, Ezekiel and Hannah seemed to have little in common.

Nonetheless, Ezekiel left an impression on Hannah when they first encountered each other at a wedding of mutual friends back in 2019.

Hannah and Ezekiel dancing down the aisle at the wedding where they met.

“The first thing that attracted me was how he had tattoos on his hands, but said grace the moment he sat at the dinner table,” said Hannah, now 30, of Ezekiel, now 38.

“I found it hilarious how an Ah Beng (gangster) can look like that but speak a language so familiar to me,” she said.

They didn’t talk to each other after the wedding as Hannah believed that the guy should be the one to make the first move.

Hidden agenda

Six months later, their newly-married friends held a thank-you dinner for their wedding helpers.

The hidden agenda was to allow Ezekiel and Hannah to meet again.

“I did not consider a relationship with her because she was an English teacher. I wasn’t proficient in English.”

At that dinner, Hannah caught Ezekiel’s eye. 

“Initially, I did not consider a relationship with her because she was an English teacher,” admitted Ezekiel.

“I wasn’t proficient in English, and I felt that communication would be a problem.”

He also had an “aversion to teachers” because of bad experiences with them when he was a rebellious teen.

But as the evening progressed, Ezekiel found Hannah to be friendly and easy to talk to. 

Far cry from the man he was

The two began dating. But Ezekiel’s dark past as a former drug offender loomed in the background. He had been released from prison four years before they met.

“Naturally, my parents were a little concerned,” said Hannah.

“We really do not know where life will take us, but every step is an adventure with God,” say Hannah and Ezekiel.

But this changed after her parents attended a church service where Ezekiel shared his life story.

“My parents heard how his life was transformed, and could not deny that God was at work ,” recalled Hannah.

As they dated, Hannah also saw how Ezekiel was a far cry from the man he once was.

“He is a man with nothing less than a 180-degree change from his previous life.”

“It was not so difficult to accept Ezekiel’s past because when I got to know him better, I realised that he is a man with nothing less than a 180-degree change from his previous life,” she said.

“One of the biggest signs of his maturity was the forgiveness he freely released to the people who had murdered his brother. I found that to be impossible by human strength alone,” she said. 

“Many people asked me if I was sure that he would never go back to drugs.

“The truth is, no one can ever guarantee what the future holds. But because Jesus has forgiven me, I have no right to hold anything against anyone.”

Finding the one

Hannah always thought she would need to know a person for at least four years before marrying him.

Ezekiel had the top two qualities she was looking for in a life partner: “Loves God, loves people.”

“But somehow, after just a few months of courtship, we were both sure that we wanted to get married,” she said.

“When you meet the one, you just know he’s the one.”

Ezekiel had the top two qualities she was looking for in a life partner: “Loves God, loves people.”

Hannah said: “I know that if someone fulfils these two things, I can entrust my life to him.” 

Said Ezekiel: “We were also on the same page about courtship – that if we were to commit ourselves to this relationship, marriage would be the goal.

Saying “I do” after dating for 20 months. Ps Don Wong, founder of halfway house The New Charis Mission, officiated at the wedding.

The couple dated for 20 months before getting married in September 2022.

Saying “I do” again

Ezekiel and Hannah were one of 120 couples who renewed their wedding vows on Valentine’s Day in a unique ceremony earlier this year. All had partners who were ex-offenders. Some were married for just a month, and others for 45 years.

The event was organised by The New Charis Mission (TNCM), a non-profit that helps ex-offenders. Ezekiel currently works there. 

Hannah and Ezekiel emceeing at the special Valentine’s Day celebrations – their first time serving together.

Pastor Don Wong, founder and executive director of TNCM, explained the idea behind the event, Trophies of Grace: “I thought it would be a great idea to give due honour to these individuals who had overcome the odds and are actively contributing to society.

Ps Don (far right) got the idea for Trophies of Grace while in Vietnam conducting a wedding for a former offender who had come through the doors of TNCM. Photo courtesy of The New Charis Mission.

“Finding a partner and settling down is a key milestone in their lives. It signifies a level of maturity and responsibility that they can lead their families.”

“Love is about acceptance, second chances and looking beyond the past. The intrinsic value of a person does not diminish because of his mistakes,” said Hannah.

Ezekiel shared the effect marriage had on his life.

He said: “God used Hannah to teach me the true meaning of love and to put others above myself.”

This story first appeared in Living Room. It is based on an article in Salt&Light by Christine Leow.

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