From a gambler to a business owner, from being a chain smoker to working out twice a week, Cheng Chiang Heng’s life has been completely turned around by God. He shares his incredible story with us.
Cheng Chiang Heng, 65, owns two interior design firms, Area Infinity, and Area Square, and he has recently ventured into carpentry services with ARSQ Carpentry. The happily married father of two and grandfather to two, Cheng is a faithful member of City Harvest Church and has been a cell group leader in City Harvest Church for the past 17 years.
Those who know him or who have engaged his renovation services, Cheng—or Uncle Cheng—to the younger generation, is not only an honest contractor who produces quality work, he is also generous with his services and often has his clients’ best interests at heart.
It is hard to imagine that this friendly and active man was once a chain smoker, a heavy drinker and a gambler. His bad habits caused his family many heartaches and almost tore them apart.
THE LIFE OF A GAMBLER
Early in his career, Cheng worked for a multinational company in Hong Kong doing regional sales and marketing. There, horse racing was all the rage. “Everybody would go to (race course) Happy Valley on Wednesday nights and Sha Tin on Saturdays,” he recalls.
When he returned to Singapore in his late 20s, he sought out the local horse racing scene. He had earned a fair share of money in Hong Kong through his job and trading on the stock market. With that capital, he bought and reared race horses.
“Back then the horse racing scene covered Singapore and Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh. Every two weeks, there would be a race and I would bring my horse to wherever the race was held that particular weekend.”
He explains that prize money for winning the race was not much. The real business that horse owners were involved in was gambling. “When you own a horse, you build connections. Also, you know your own horse’s condition and form, and you know the trainers and the jockeys. If your connections are strong, your chances of winning are bigger,” he shares.
His bets began at a few thousand dollars and grew into hundreds of thousands. On top of that, he had to pay about $2,000 a month to maintain each of his horses. “As you make money, you want more and more. It’s greed—gamblers are very greedy,” Cheng says.
Every weekend, he would be following the horse racing schedules, traveling from city to city to gamble. Before he knew it, he had become addicted to it and started neglecting his family.
“Back then we just had a son. On weekends I would be at the race; on the weekday nights, I would be entertaining in nightclubs, drinking with the bookies, trainers and jockeys. That was the lifestyle I led in my 30s. I didn’t spend much time with my family. My wife and I almost got a divorce,” he admits.
“The first 10 years, I did well. But eventually, I lost a lot of money and had to sell off all the properties I owned,” he says. Even after selling off everything he had, Cheng was still knee-deep in debt: he owed a million dollars to banks, friends and even loan sharks.
GETTING TO KNOW JESUS
“Thankfully, I got to know Jesus when I was 43 years old,” Cheng says with a wide smile. At the lowest point of his life, Cheng went to seek help from all the gods that his friends recommended. “Gamblers are superstitious. People told me that if I went to this temple or saw this medium it will give me luck, and I would go,” he remembers.
One day, his son, who was attending City Harvest Church, told Cheng about God and invited his father to church. “I went. There, I felt a lot of peace,” he remembers. Cheng was then introduced to Nicholas Goh, who became his cell group leader. He started attending church services regularly.
“I didn’t know anything about God or the Bible but since that day, I attended church every Sunday,” he says. He professes that he is a person who likes to challenge others and he issued God a challenge: if God could help him, he would show up at church every week. He had heard people in church saying, “With God all things are possible” and “God is a true God and He can help you”. Being desperate, he came humbly before God for help.
Over the next two years, he slowly gave up gambling. “Before I knew God, I tried to give up gambling a few times, but every time I had a bit of money, I would gamble it away,” he says.
“God turned my life around completely. I worked very hard with His principles in mind: no shortcuts and always doing things with integrity. I changed my lifestyle and gave up all my addictions which includes gambling, smoking and drinking. I started exercising regularly and even today, I go to the gym two to three times a week.”
Looking back, Cheng realised that God had been working in his life even before he received salvation. While he was working in a tobacco company, Cheng smoked up to 60 cigarettes a day. One day, a Christian client invited him to church and asked if he had any prayer requests. Not comfortable with sharing anything too personal, he simply told her that he wanted to quit smoking and she prayed for him.
A few days later, while he was about to enjoy an after-meal smoke, he heard a voice telling him, “Throw that stuff away.” He says, “I didn’t know what was happening, but I just crushed the whole packet and threw it away. Since then, I have never picked up another cigarette. After coming to church and learning about the Holy Spirit, I now know that it was Him who spoke to me that day.”
GOD BROUGHT HIM RESTORATION
“When I lost all the money I earned and got into debt, I wanted to give up living. I really struggled—it was so terrible, and I had no idea how to pay back the money,” Cheng shares. The situation was so dire that Cheng quit his job because he could not concentrate any longer.
“At church, I learned the principle of sowing and reaping, and about the building fund and tithing. The first thing I learned was Malachi 3:10,” he says. In that scripture, God told His people to bring their tithes to Him and He promised to bless them. “I told God, ‘God, you know I have zero now, but I commit myself to give you a certain amount every month as my tithe.’”
At that point, Cheng had only $3,000 left in his bank. It seemed so insignificant compared to the mountain of debts he had. “I didn’t know who to pay that money to so I gave it all to God in a building fund—the full $3000,” he recalls. “When I did that, the peace of God came.”
He wrote down a list of his debts and committed it to God every morning. He told God that no matter how long it takes, he was committed to repaying his debts. Cheng learned to humble himself and work hard. He sold his luxury car and started driving a van. “The day I had to sell the car, I went to Kallang River to cry. From driving a big car, I had to downsize to a van—how was I going to face people?” he shares candidly.
Soon, miracles started to happen. “There were people who wrote off half of what I owed them, even the banks. People always talk about a ‘debt-canceling God’—that really happened in my life,” he says. Within four years, he had cleared all his debts.
God went beyond what Cheng could imagine and started to restore his wealth. Cheng was able to buy private property again eventually, and he could also afford an office space where he started his first company. At his job in sales, he had learned to plan retail spaces and was good at studying traffic flow. Armed with his experience, he partnered his cell group leader’s wife, Lilian Cher, to start Area Infinity, which offered renovation services for retail spaces.
While his business mainly focused on renovating retail shops, Cheng also did a few residential renovations for private properties. On the rare occasion that he was contracted to work on an HDB flat, he would pay a licensee to apply for permits.
At the end of 2019, Cheng asked God for a new vision for 2020. The Holy Spirit reminded him that he was qualified to apply for a license to work on HDB flats. That December, he applied for the licence and was granted it in February 2020. The pandemic hit shortly after, and retail stores were hit badly by the lockdown. That meant that there were no commercial renovation jobs for Cheng.
“Looking back, it could only have been God. I had no idea that there would be Covid and a lockdown,” he shares. With his newly acquired licence, he could shift gears and work on residential renovations in both private properties and HDB flats.
Cheng then started Area Square, offering residential interior design. This took his business in a new direction. “Initially when I started, my clients would come to me with a concept and we would do the contracting work. But in my industry, many companies are providing interior design services on top of contracting work. Since 2020, we started providing the whole package,” he explains.
ARSQ Carpentry, launched in February 2022, is the newest addition to Cheng’s business. “I started this company so that I can control the quality and pricing of the carpentry work we are giving our clients,” he explains.
With the expansion of his business comes the challenge of manpower. “God has been showing me how to grow in my business, now I’m believing that the staff will come this year.”
RESPONDING TO THE GOODNESS OF GOD
There are many things that God has done for Cheng, but the best of all is the restoration and salvation of his family.
Shortly after he received Christ, Cheng’s son left the church. As Cheng continued attending services and learning about God, he developed the desire for his family to come to Christ. He would try bringing his wife and daughter to church, but by then, his gambling lifestyle had strained his relationship with his wife. His cell group leader also encouraged him to continue praying and committing his own life to God. Cheng took his advice and held fast to God’s promises that when one is saved, the whole household will be saved.
One year later, Cheng invited his family to a service at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. There, his wife and daughter received Jesus into their hearts. His wife told his cell group members that she had seen the change in Cheng and decided that God is real. Later, his son came back to Christ. Today, his whole family attends CHC together.
Because God has done so much for Cheng, he responds to God’s love by serving in his house. For the past 17 years, he has been serving as a cell group leader. When God first called him into the ministry, He gave him Isaiah 41:10, which reads “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God was true to His word and He has been helping Cheng consistently all these years.
“Never once have I needed to postpone a cell group meeting—it’s really a miracle. Whenever I’m caught between being involved in ministry and something else I have to do, God always works it out nicely for me. That’s why Psalm 84:11 is my favourite verse. It’s really true: God has always given me grace for me to go through tough times.”
To those who are doing well and prospering, Cheng advises them to always remember Deuteronomy 8:18: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” “Always stay humble, honour and thank God. Also remember the people that journeyed alongside with you, supporting and encouraging you,” is his advice.
To those who know God and yet are still struggling with old habits, Cheng says, “Do not give up. Continue to trust and believe in God that the breakthrough will come.”