Jennifer Heng, lead pastor of Good Gifts City Church, has a story of redemption so powerful that it had to be shared in a book, Walking Out Of Secret Shame.
By Theresa Tan
The product of a dysfunctional family, Jennifer Heng’s life looked headed for tragedy as she found love in the wrong places and was forced to have not one, but two abortions. Her subsequent encounter with the Lord and the incredible way He transformed her life is the inspiring heart of her book, Walking Out Of Secret Shame. Hers is a testimony that will no doubt touch the hearts of many young women, and also the hearts of parents, a true tale of the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.
Heng talks to City News about her life and her book.
What prompted you to write this book?
The journey of writing this book began in 2009 when I was youth pastor at Church Of Our Savior. That year, I felt that the theme for the year for the ministry was to be “Transformation”, with particular reference to 2 Cor 3:18. At our annual leaders’ retreat, I wanted to inspire and share why and how the Lord spoke to me about this theme. I labored over it for some time, thinking of how to “teach” transformation. Finally, I realized that transformation is not a theory. It needs to be real, a story. And I realized that there’s no better way to “teach” transformation than to tell a story about real, godly transformation, and that I was to share my story.
Till then, I had never shared my story in full to the youth. I was advised a few times that it might be inappropriate to share it with young people, so I held back and only shared snippets, without the “gory details”. However at that leaders’ retreat, I decided that I was going to share my story in full, because only then will the youth catch my heart for godly transformation.
In the next few months, the thought of writing a book about my story wouldn’t leave my mind. I was so frustrated because I didn’t really want to do it.
What triggered the decision to go ahead?
The breakthrough came when one night, I was “haunted” by the idea of the book again, and I told God, “God, if you really want me to write the book, show me the face of the person I need to speak to, in a dream tonight!” I must qualify, I don’t normally have “God dreams”, so this was really like laying out a fleece for God.
That night, I dreamed! I saw the face of a woman appear before me like a photograph. I recognized her immediately—she was the boss of Armour Publishing, and she attends COOS. The next day, I made an appointment to see her, and after a quick discussion, it was decided that Armour would publish the book. That was the point of no return!
What sort of challenges did you face writing the book?
The biggest challenge I faced when writing the book was my family. Up to that point, I had never told my family about the abortions or me getting beaten up by boyfriends. I think they knew, but we never talked about it. In particular, I was very worried about how my mom would take it. I didn’t want to dishonor her in any way, but I knew that in writing the book, I would have to reveal things about my family which can be taken the wrong way if I’m not careful. I was also not sure how she would respond to the news of the abortions. I didn’t want to hurt her or my sisters. I was also concerned about how my relatives would respond to this story and my family.
But in the end, my sisters and mum were very supportive. In the beginning, it was very tough for them, especially my mum. But I believe that now, she’s okay with what I had done. I think much of her pain was that she felt she wasn’t able to help me when I was going through the pain when I was younger. And all this stems from the fact that she loves me. My stepfather was also a great source of help and support for us.
It’s really on a case-by-case basis, because the background for every unwanted pregnancy is different. Most of the time, I avail myself as a listening ear, and as someone who’s been down that road before. I have found that this in itself gives great comfort to the women because they realize they’re not alone, and that someone does understand.
After hearing their story, I’ll usually share my story, about how the abortions affected my life in ways I could never imagine. We all think “it will never happen to me” but when it does, our life falls apart. I just want to present a different perspective to the situation they’re in. I’m not there to force them to keep the baby. But I believe having a different perspective is important so they can make better decisions.
Of course, I do share about the option of them raising the baby, or giving the baby up for adoption. If they need help with telling their parents, I sometimes accompany them when they break the news, and also help the parents and family members process what is happening.
One thing I know—no woman ever wants to abort her own baby. But circumstances and fear can be so overwhelming that she feels there is no other way.
I can’t say that all the women I’ve spoken to decided to keep the baby. Once I cried with a woman who decided that she was going to abort her baby because the doctor suspected birth deformities. I’ve talked with girls outside the clinic, trying to persuade them to change their minds, but eventually I watched them walk into the surgical room. It was painful and sad. But there were also others who found hope and strength to go through with the pregnancy. In these times, I rejoice and celebrate their courage and strength.
Many women faced with an unwanted pregnancy usually don’t know any other way out other than abortion—what are the alternatives?
The two main options are, of course, to choose to raise the baby yourself, or give the baby up for adoption. Sometimes younger women find that they’re not sure what they prefer, and so the child is temporarily fostered to another family for a few months till they decide what they want to do with the child. This foster family can be someone in your extended family or referred through MCYS (Ministry of Community, Development, Youth and Sports).
Raising the baby has other implications. Are you going to get married? Does the father of the child want to get married? Who are your caregivers? What is your source of income? Where are you going to live? These can be difficult decisions to make, especially when you’re under stress and pressure.
But it’s part of the journey. It’s easier to avoid the difficult decisions by aborting the baby. But if you already set your mind to keep the baby, everything else can be worked out, even if it means a season of hardship. I know young mothers who have defeated the odds and become amazing mothers, all because they would not entertain the thought of aborting the baby. Over time, their family and support system became stronger and an indispensible source of help and love.
Adoption is the other choice. Singapore has very strict procedures for adoption. So it’s unlikely your child will end up in a “bad” home. But the adoption procedures can feel very daunting for parents wanting to adopt. I hope that the government will review the process and policies to make it less cumbersome (while still having the same degree of protection for the children) to adopt.
You pastor your own church today. Please tell us more about it.
Pastor Derek Hong, who was the senior pastor of Church of Our Saviour where I worked and ministered, had always encouraged me to start a church. However, I was always too “chicken” to do it. COOS was so comfortable and I had a sense of success of achievement there. I didn’t want to leave!
It wasn’t until early 2010 when talk about starting a new church became more concrete. I must confess—I didn’t have a profound word of revelation or hear God’s voice booming from heaven. I simply felt that if I didn’t step out of the boat at that point, I would never do so. I like new things and adventure so starting a church was definitely new and adventurous!
So with about 30 people, we started to pray and plan for the new church and held the first service of Good Gifts City Church on Dec. 17, 2010.
All around us there are people dealing with secret shame: whether it is an abortion or adultery or a past life as a drug addict or dealer … like you said in your book, often you felt God was too good and Christians were too good for you to really open up to. How can a Christian come to the point that you did, when releasing all your hurt, pain and past to God transformed you such that your past no longer has a hold on you?
A supernatural encounter with the love of God was the thing that really set me free. While it was not something I could have “manufactured”, it was important that I desired change and freedom. Remember, I waited almost 10 years before I got my first breakthrough. Some people are in a lot of pain for many years and wonder why God doesn’t “zap” them. I believe God does, but beyond the “zapping”, there is also a journey of healing that’s necessary.
Forgiveness is key. The parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35 talks about this. When we don’t forgive, we are tormented in our minds and souls. We hold on to the anger, pain and hurt. It can be hard to forgive; so many are trapped in pain. But I received so much freedom when I began to forgive the people who have hurt me. It took many years to lay all of that down. There were times it was very painful.
There were times I had to forgive over and over and over again. The cross of Jesus Christ ensures us that there is justice in our lives. Many people don’t forgive because they think that by forgiving, the injustices in their lives are not being addressed, and so they don’t forgive as part of “punishing” the other person. Truth is, the only person being tortured is you. When Jesus Christ died, he bore all our sins and iniquities on Himself, and that includes all the injustices that you have in your life. When we forgive, we are aligning with the finished work of the cross.
Learning to forgive yourself is also a huge part of walking in freedom. It’s the same principle, but for some reason, we can be so hard on ourselves. It’s not making excuses for your wrong actions and decisions when you forgive yourself. Confession and repentance is about agreeing with what God says about you and your sin. We forgive and receive forgiveness from God, then we turn from what we used to do wrong, and keep going in the way God wants us to go.
If you need help with this journey, go look for someone you trust who can walk with you. It could be your parents, pastor, leader or friend. There are also ministries that can facilitate the healing journey. It may take time, but as long as you keep walking through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23), eventually you’ll be out of the valley! Don’t set up camp in the valley!
As Christians, how do we help those who are hurting come to this point of overcoming their past hurts and learning to forgive themselves?
I know this is a cliché, but if you’re a Christian and someone who is hurting deeply has come to you for help, a good question to ask yourself is, how would Jesus respond to this person? Then do the same. Of course this is with the assumption that we have a right view of God through Jesus Christ.
Remember that people who are hurting deeply or have done great wrong in their lives are already overwhelmed by negativity, guilt, shame, pain, hurt, anger, regret and fear. We don’t need to remind them of any of the above. When we speak with them, affirm them of who they are. Don’t undermine or negate their emotions. And when we pray, pray solutions. Pray and ask the presence and love of God to fill their hearts.
I find that being gentle and accepting is a no-fail approach. Be gentle with hurting people. Jesus was always kind and gentle with those who were hurting. Love is the greatest weapon against the enemy. Yes, we can cast out the demons, but we must always invite the love of God to take over.
Stand with them. It may take time, sometimes months or years, for people to walk out of the darkness. The situations are usually complicated. So we need lots of patience and love. It may feel like a roller-coaster ride at times.
Of course, don’t judge in your heart. Most of the time, when we are hurting, we will think that other people are judging us even though they are not. So all the more, we need to watch our hearts and ask God to help us if we struggle with judging the person or situation.
Encourage them to be connected with a community of believers. One of the things that helped me in my journey was having a group of friends and leaders whom I knew I could call on. I didn’t call on them much, but just knowing they were there gave me great comfort and strength.
Most of all, pray. Prayer engages the spirit. Prayer connects with the heart of God. Prayer truly changes things! I know that my journey to freedom was covered in prayer. I didn’t know it then, but I know now, that it was impossible that I walked through all that on my own. I believe that even the prayers said years ago, by people I don’t really know, by my pastors, friends and leaders, were key in how I walked out of the darkness.
Walking Out Of Secret Shame is available at Kinokuniya and other good bookstores, as well as on Amazon.com.