Ezekiel Seah and Nicholas Ong both started taking drugs in their teenage years. No matter what they did, they could not break out of the habit, until God came to show them a better life.
Drug addiction is one of society’s greatest scourges, destroying lives all across the globe. Even in Singapore, where trafficking drugs can earn you a death penalty, street drugs continue to be available. Drug addicts find it hard to quit—but are they unable or unwilling to quit? What makes overcoming drugs so hard?
“The hardest thing to deal with was the friends,” says Nicholas Ong, 31. “If I’m trying to quit drugs but my other friends are still taking drugs and I mix with them, I’ll go back to it eventually.”
For Ezekiel Seah, 36, the trigger is a lack of purpose in life. “When I cannot find purpose in life and I don’t understand what life is about—that makes it difficult for me to get out of drug addiction. It was only after I knew God that I realised that there is so much to learn in life, and that life is not just about living for myself. Once I could understand the purpose of life and the purpose that God has for me, I was able to go through a rehabilitation programme.”
Ezekiel and Nicholas, both City Harvest Church members, walked through drug addiction in their own lives, but share a similar story in many ways. They both fell into bad company at a young age, and started taking drugs to escape reality. Soon, they found themselves doing all kinds of illegal activities just so they coudl get their hands on the substance that would give them a moment’s pleasure.
EZEKIEL: “WITHOUT A CHANGE IN MINDSET, I COULD NOT CHANGE MY LIFE”
Ezekiel started taking drugs with his older brother, and they would stop at nothing to get their hands on drugs. “Besides doing illegal activities, we also asked for money from our family members, or took items from home and sold them at Cash Converter,” he recalls. Once, the brothers even conspired to steal their mother’s mobile phone. “My brother talked to Mother to distract her while I ‘borrowed’ her phone. I pretended to talk to someone on her phone as I walked out of the house.”
Ezekiel and his brother brought the mobile phone to a dealer in Geylang where they pawned it. “They gave us cash for the phone and if we returned the cash within a week, with interest, we would get the phone back,” he explains.
However, Ezekiel did not have the money after a week. In the end, his mother had to redeem her own phone from the shop.
Ezekiel joined a secret society at the age of 13 and started taking drugs at 15. He knew that his life was in a mess, but he did not feel that he had any power to change things.
“Sometimes I would be miserable, squatting in a corner all alone,” he remembers. “Even with drugs, I was not happy, and I found everything meaningless. Drugs gave me an avenue to forget everything, even if it was just for a while.”
He was caught for possession and consumption of drugs three times; each time, his sentence got longer. “When you’re in prison, you automatically have to stop taking drugs because there isn’t any inside,” he shared. But without a change of mind, the moment he was released from jail the first time, Ezekiel went straight back to taking drugs.
“During my second sentence, I saw the need to change,” he shared. He had been caught together with his brother, and they were both sentenced to three years and two months’ jail. They pleaded with the judge to grant them a two-week extension to spend with their family since it was near the Chinese New Year. Their request was granted, but the moment they stepped out of the courtroom, the duo went looking for drugs again.
“Ten days after we were sentenced, we got involved in misunderstanding over drugs, and we found ourselves surrounded by men with knives. They attacked us, and my brother died on the spot,” Ezekiel shares. After that horrific incident, he told himself he had to change.
“My family didn’t even blame me for my brother’s death,” he relates. “But I knew that I had taken away my parent’s son, my sister-in-law’s husband and the father of my niece and nephew. He was only 27 when he passed away.”
However, change still did not come easily for Ezekiel. After his second jail term, he went back to his old life. “Why we cannot change is because of our mindset, environment and friends,” he explains. “Even though I did not go back to taking drugs right after my release, I still did all kinds of illegal activities. My life didn’t really change much.”
Before long, his drug habit resumed and he was caught a third time. “I was very angry with myself. I felt that it was inhuman of me to go back to drugs after losing my brother because of it. I was very depressed and wanted to commit suicide because I thought that I’d come back to square one no matter how hard I tried. If you had asked me at that point, did I want to change, the answer was yes, but I didn’t know how to.”
NICHOLAS: “I HURT MY PARENTS SO DEEPLY, BUT I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO CHANGE”
Nicholas found himself in bad company in secondary school, and he never managed to graduate. He was sniffing glue and smoking in school, and was expelled from school at the age of 15 for his problematic behaviour. “Back then, I was very happy,” he recalls. “I didn’t have to wake up early and find reasons not to go to school anymore.”
With his newfound freedom, Nicholas fell deeper into the world of drugs. He tried every different type of drugs “for fun” and soon started dealing drugs to feed his drug habit. This went on for years; even when he was serving National Service, he found ways to sell drugs to his fellow bunkmates.
In 2011, Nicholas was caught for possession and consumption of drugs. It was the first time he realised where the path of drug addiction could end for him. “I knew that this was not the life I wanted to live,” he says. “Even though I was in the Drug Rehabilitation Center, it felt like prison. There were eight of us in a room, we had to sleep on the floor with no pillow, no air-con and no fan. Also, the food was bad.”
He realised he wasn’t just hurting himself. “Every time my parents visited me, they had tears in their eyes,” he relates. “I knew that I’d disappointed them, and that they shouldn’t have to go through this heartache. They loved me so much.”
While in DRC, Nicholas promised his parents he would change his lifestyle. “But on the day of release, I forgot all the promises I made,” he admits. He also realised that with no formal education and working experience, it was impossible to find an honest living. Two weeks after his release, Nicholas went back to the only trade he knew—drug-dealing.
“I thought, ‘I’ll just sell the drugs, but I won’t take them’,” he shares. “Soon, my buyers started asking me if I’ve tried the drugs. I told them I couldn’t take the drugs because I had to go for a urine test every week.” That was when his friends taught him how to avoid getting caught during the urine test. Very soon, he was taking drugs daily again.
Three months later, Nicholas was caught for the same offences again. He was so afraid of going back into the prison that he ran away from the police and his family. A few months later, he was caught again. This time, he was sentenced to four years and two months for 26 charges, including theft, impersonation and assault, besides the drug offences.
“This time, I knew I had to change, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even dare to make any more promises to my parents.” One day, his brother, whom he had introduced to drugs, visited him in prison and told him that he had stopped taking drugs.
“He told me that he saw my Mum in tears as she wrote her letters to me. He knew that she wouldn’t be able to carry on if both her sons were in prison, and that was why he stopped everything,” Nicholas recalls. In one of her letters, Nicholas’ mother wrote a proverb in Chinese, which expressed, “When a child wants to repay his parents, they are no longer around.” That was a wake-up call for Nicholas.
“I started thinking that if my mother was sick while I’m in prison, I couldn’t even bring her a cup of hot water,” he shared.
THE WAY TO BREAK FREE FROM THEIR OLD LIFESTYLE
Both Ezekiel and Nicholas saw a glimpse of hope when they heard the testimony of a former addict.
“During my second jail term, I joined the Christian counselling programme. I knew I had to try something if I wanted to change my life,” Nicholas says. “A man called Johnny from The New Charis Mission shared that he was a gangster and a drug addict in the past, but God changed his life. Not only that, but God blessed his life and use it to bless other people.”
Through that testimony, Nicholas saw what God could do for him. “God blessed Johnny with a career, house and a wonderful family. Sitting there, I thought, ‘If this God can change his life, He can change mine too.’”
That propelled Nicholas to start praying and asking God to change his life. “I just wanted a normal life and to not go to prison anymore—and I would be very happy.”
Nicholas started reading the Bible and discovered God’s promises. “But it had to start with my desire to change my life. When I started reading the Bible, I found many Bible verses that spoke to me—I would always remind myself that I’m a new creation in Christ,” he reveals.
In Ezekiel’s case, he was initially sceptical about the testimony he heard from a former drug addict. “But other inmates told me how terrible that person was before he knew Christ—even the prison wardens couldn’t control him. But after he got to know God, everything changed—the way he spoke, the way he encouraged others—his life really changed.”
Like Nicholas, Ezekiel found solace in reading the Word of God. “I don’t know why, but ever since I asked God to change my life, I started having the desire to read the Bible every day,” he says. He also went through intensive counselling with The New Charis Mission.
CHOOSING TO REBUILD THEIR LIVES
“After my release, I choose not to go home but to go to The New Charis Mission, a halfway house,” Ezekiel explains. It was a tough decision to make. “The day you get back your freedom, you have to go to another restricted place, and it’s a whole new environment to adapt to. Yet in my heart, I just felt that this is the place that would help me and that God wanted me to go.”
The journey of rehabilitation was not an easy one. “One of the most difficult things to do is really to trust God with my future,” Ezekiel admits. “There was a lot of uncertainty when I first joined New Charis. Although I’d heard testimonies of how people changed when they stayed in this place, I would think in my mind, ‘I don’t have a definition of change’. I also had thoughts like, ‘What if this time around, I cannot succeed and I disappoint my family again?’”
He was also discouraged looking at his own situation. “I saw that all my friends who are my age had already started their families. Some of them have careers, some have cars, some have businesses that are doing very well, and here I am just starting this journey of life. It was difficult for me to see how far the rest have gone in life—I really needed to trust God.”
Through it all, God was with Ezekiel. “One of the verses I still hold on to is Jeremiah 29:11, that God has a plan for me, to give me hope and a future. Another thing that I really hold on to is my calling. Whenever I feel that ministry is tough, God would remind me that my calling is irrevocable. He has saved me through all this, and what He wants me to do now is to use whatever I’ve gone through to help people.”
Ezekiel is now a staffer at The New Charis Mission, in the Residential Rehabilitation department. “I’m very thankful to God that even though I have no qualifications, I’m able to serve Him, sharing my testimony in many different countries. Currently, I’m also studying at TCA College, pursuing a degree in theological studies. All these could only happen by the grace of God,” he says.
Nicholas made the same decision to enter New Charis upon his release from prison. “The programme was nine months long. I didn’t want to go at first, because I didn’t want to lose my freedom for another nine months. But I was surprised that even my family encouraged me to go. So I went, because I really didn’t want to go back to my old ways.”
That decision proved to be the right one. After his programme, Nicholas stayed on another four years. “During my five years at New Charis, I was able to serve the elderly. I was able run programmes in schools and share my life story during assembly talks. I also got my prison pass and I now serve in the prison as a Christian counsellor.”
Nicholas got married last year and he and his wife are receiving the keys to their new home this year. Just a few years ago, Nicholas could not even find a job because he didn’t complete secondary school, but this year, he was hired as a project coordinator in a construction company.
“Now, I have many things that I never imagined I could have,” he marvels. “God saved me and blessed me. Having been through it all, I really believe that with God, people can stop being addicted to drugs and go back to a normal life.”