Freed to serve others

Alvin and his wife, May
Wong, at their son’s OCS
commissioning parade
in 2019.

Barker Road MC Prison Ministry

Alvin’s story

Alvin was introduced to me when I was looking for guest speakers to share their personal transformative life journeys with the detainees to whom we ministered.

Alvin came from a dysfunctional family—his father was an opium addict and his mother left home while he was still a child. At the tender age of nine, he began his journey with substance abuse, starting with cigarettes and soon progressing to glue and opium. Alcohol was added to the mix when he was 14.

Often bullied by the bigger boys in his neighbourhood, he joined a secret society at the age of 11. The camaraderie among the gang members offered comfort and a sense of belonging for his “brothers” were just like him and did not judge him.

This surreal world came crashing down when he was arrested for drug abuse and confined in Queenstown Remand Prison in 1998.  A year later, he was released but was back on drugs within two months. Arrested again in 2001, he was sentenced to three strokes of the cane and 18 months at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre. In 2008, he was caught for substance abuse again and imprisoned for three months. Three weeks after he was released, he returned once again to a life of drugs.

The repeated cycle of despair and relapse brought him to a window edge where he contemplated suicide. But before he could jump, he heard a still, small voice: “If you have the courage to jump down, why not use this courage to walk into a halfway house and change your life?”

He decided to check himself into a halfway house. However, after almost a year there, he relapsed. He then went to another halfway house, where he remained for seven months but with minimal effect as he was still hooked on drugs. He then decided to return to the first halfway house.

The turning point came in 2010. Alvin realised that the path he had taken was bringing him nowhere and the cycle of substance abuse and incarceration was wearing him down, not only physically but spiritually. In his words, he wanted to “break the cycle, if not [he] would be going round and round again”.

Ironically, his weariness re-energised him with a new determination to change his life as it became clear that what he required was more than just breaking free from his drug addiction—he needed a new purpose and beginning. He then decided to commit his life to Christ for experience had taught him that human effort alone could not break the bonds that bound him.

Alvin’s life has since taken a positive turn. He was quick to share, though, that his road to recovery has not been easy. Even after deciding to dedicate his life to Christ, he still struggled with the temptations that had dragged him down. But persevere he did.

Today, he spends much of his free time ministering to those who are incarcerated or in halfway houses. He unashamedly shares his own troubled past so that others can learn from his mistakes. His powerful testimony has often served to inspire as it provides hope to many who are in their own dark places. He has also reconciled with his family and works diligently to provide for them. Last year, he was blessed to witness with pride his son’s commissioning parade at the SAF’s premier Officer Cadet School.

I asked Alvin why he puts so much effort into ministering to those in need. His answer was a simple one: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32 NIV)

The Prison Ministry

For those considering serving in this special ministry, I encourage you to do so for it is a worthy cause. Matthew 25 clearly reveals that the disenfranchised occupied a special place in Jesus’ ministry on earth. He was so burdened with the hurting that one of His final acts was to instruct His disciples to continue to love and care for those in need rather than vex over the cruel fate awaiting Him at the cross.

Prison ministry can be fraught with various challenges, and there are some things to remember when serving in this area.

First, as with all Christian ministry, remember that we are God’s instruments. We can plan and prepare to the finest detail (as we rightly should) but must remember that it is our Creator’s prerogative to determine when the hearts of the people to whom we minister will be transformed.

Second, remember Jesus’ journey even as He came to reach the lost. He seldom received thanks for work He did. He was often rejected by those He came to help. He was also abused by those He sought to minister to. These are challenges that you, too, may face as well in this ministry.

Third, do not attempt to carry the entire burden of your ministry alone. A loving and compassionate heart holds an important place in this ministry but so do specialised and professional expertise and knowledge. Do not be afraid to tap on the resources and expertise of those around you. This could include those who are serving in other ministries or even experts who have the necessary skills and knowledge to address the various issues that may arise.

Do adopt a holistic approach. Recognise that many offenders come from socio-economic-educational backgrounds that could be significantly different from your own. The rehabilitation journey may be challenging as there may be deep-rooted issues stretching back to the individual’s childhood that may have to be addressed for progress to be made.

And finally, and most importantly, pray. The efficacy of your ministry is dependent on the grace and favour of our God.

Christopher Chow chairs the Prison Ministry of Barker Road Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Alvin Chiong

Photos courtesy of Alvin Chiong