In this testimony, which the church heard on Sep 25 and 26, City Harvest Church member Amos Koh and his wife Belle Mah share how God met Amos in his prison cell and showed him grace.
“My parents were divorced when I was young. I stayed with my father and grandmother after that. My father worked as a taxi driver and worked night shifts, so I hardly saw him. I was brought up by my grandma. Unfortunately, my grandma passed away when I was 11,” Amos Koh recalled.
“After she passed away, I was left pretty much by myself most of the time. My dad was too busy and when he came home, he would pass me some cash to settle my own meals. Without any parental guidance, I started to mix with bad company. I joined a gang when I was 13. Eventually, I dropped out of school when I was 15.
“By the age of 19, I was heavily involved in gangs. We ran all sorts of vice activities to make money. Like what you may see in the movies, we would collect protection money from stall owners. I was one of the ‘right-hand men’ behind the gang operations and constantly tried to find ways to get more money. I was so proud of myself because we could easily make $10,000 a month. When we do fight for our ‘territories’ or ‘businesses’, we would use custom-made samurai swords to slash rival gang members.
“But this life did not last long. When I was 22, I was arrested by the police. I was imprisoned for a 2½ years. You would think I would wake up my idea and change after that. But no. After my release from prison, I went back to the gang. I focused on earning even more money for the gang and got involved in more vice activities. Soon, I was caught by the police again. This time, the jail sentence was five years.
GETTING TO KNOW GOD
“It was then that a series of interesting and unexplainable incidents happened to me. The first incident happened in December 2011. One evening, a prison warden officer opened my cell and asked me to attend a Christmas event in the auditorium. Usually, at night, all cell doors must be locked after roll call and all inmates have to be inside their cells. Yet the officer released me out to attend the Christian event even though I did not join any Christian programme or chapel in prison before. During the prayer at the start of the meeting, I kept looking around and realised that I was the odd one out because all the rest of the inmates were bowing their heads in prayer.
“When the singing started, I don’t know what happened exactly. I don’t even remember what song they sang or what the sharing was about. I could only feel God reaching past the layers and layers of darkness in my heart. I felt the hand of God reaching out to me, telling me, ‘Son, it is time for you to come back.’
“Instantly, I was brought back to the time I first went to church when I was 11-years-old. My school form teacher had invited us to church. Guess which church it was? It was City Harvest, which was then meeting at World Trade Centre in 1990. Even though I was young and couldn’t totally understand what Pastor Kong was saying, I knew I encountered God. The presence of God was a feeling like nothing I had ever experienced before. I even asked for a Bible from my form teacher as a birthday present. That Bible is with me till this day.
“After my encounter with God in that prison Christmas event, I borrowed a Bible from a fellow inmate and read it every night before I slept. One night, a verse I was reading struck me deeply – Matthew 6:24 says, ‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.’
“I asked myself, ‘If I were to be involved in a gang clash tomorrow, who should I take orders from? Will it be my gang boss or Jesus?’ It was then I decided to make a clean break with the gang. I believed in burning the bridge so that there would be no return to my old life. Was I scared? I was. I wouldn’t know what the gang members’ reactions would be. I also had enemies outside. But the faith in my heart was greater than these fears. I really believed that whatever happens, God will protect me.
“Before I was released from prison, I fasted and prayed for two weeks. I made three prayer requests to God. Number one, God would give me back the five years I lost being in jail. Number two, God will give me a wife who will accept me just as I am. Number three, God would find a church for me to settle in. And I told God I didn’t want to be in a church that only blesses Christians, I want to be in a church that will reach out and bless the people outside of the four walls of the church.
“Amazingly, all my three prayers came to pass. Number one, I am 43-years-old this year and others would say that I look like someone in my 30s. God has restored back the years that the locusts have eaten up. I still look young. (Hahaha!) Number two, I found Belle, who accepted me as who I am, despite knowing my past. We got married, and we now have a 4-year-old daughter, Charis, which means ‘grace’.”
EXPERIENCING GOD THE PROMISE-KEEPER
Amos’ wife, Belle Mah shared her story: “I came to know about Amos’ past after we got closer. At first, I struggled a bit. I was concerned that my parents would mind his history in the gangs and prison records. But I realised that he is really a very sincere person, a changed man. I felt that if God can forgive me and accept me for who I am despite of my own past, I can also accept Amos in spite of his past.
“When I was younger, my parents were always busy and didn’t have time for me. They were also not expressive in their love for me. So, I went around looking for love through relationships, hoping to find the ideal guy. I have one boyfriend after another. So, I was also a ‘sinner’. There is really no big sin or small sin. Every sin is the same and yet, God forgives us all when we come to Him.
“From the time we got together, Amos has been very supportive towards me and my family. Four years ago, while I was pregnant with Charis, both my parents were diagnosed with cancer [months apart]. Amos helped to take care of Charis when she was born so that I could take care of my parents. He was around to support them and was a great source of strength to us. I am so glad my parents really accept and love Amos.”
“Remember my third prayer to God?” Amos continued. “After I was released, I looked around for a church to settle in. My friend invited me to City Harvest. The church was meeting at Jurong West then. It was one and a half hours away from where I stayed. I told him it was too far so I told him I will give him one chance. That Sunday afternoon, when I stepped into the Basement 4 auditorium, I felt that such a tangible presence of God. As I responded to the altar call at the end of the service and walked to the front, I felt I was home. To me, City Harvest is a church that does not just bless the Christian community but help others outside the four walls of the church. God has answered my prayer.
“God is gracious to me. After I was released from prison, I have nothing, no savings at all. But I was so hungry for God that I signed up for Bible school. God moved Aunty Shirley (Yeo, a staff in CHC) to sponsor me fully for the seven-month SOT.
“I am also very grateful to Pastor Glordia (Goh, a pastor in Harvest Kidz) connected me to a cell group led by Johann (Sim, a pastoral supervisor). Today, I help Johann to connect with others, especially those who are going through a hard time.
“Despite my prison records, I managed to find work as a property agent. With God’s blessing, I am doing well even during this COVID-19 season. I also own a bespoke clothing company that I named after myself.
“God has totally changed me and abundantly blessed me with so much. He took me from the lowest pits and gave me a beautiful family and a spiritual home. Because of Jesus, everybody can have a second, third and fourth chance. If God can help an ex-gangster and ex-prisoner like me, he can help anybody. Praise the Lord!”