After enduring a number of traumatic experiences as a child, Hannah turned to drugs, alcohol and smoking. After encountering Jesus, she began a new chapter and now serves God, both in Singapore and East Timor.
At the age of seven, my parents filed for divorce. I had little parental guidance and preferred being in the company of friends at HDB void decks instead of attending school. My father had primary custody of me, but he was mostly focused on work to earn a living; because of this, my grandmother was left to look after me.
When I was ten years old, my father discovered I had been stealing money from his wallet. I had also been skipping school, and as a result of these incidents, he decided to send me back to my mother’s home. My mother took me in but even though she was stricter than my father, I found ways to continue stealing money and skipped school to hang out with my friends.
A major change happened in my life a year later when my mother decided to re-marry. My stepfather treated the both of us very well and I was happy with the new life that we had in what began as a loving, close-knit family. A few months after the marriage, my stepfather started picking me up from school and it was then that he began molesting me. I did not stop him, thinking that if I did, I would get into trouble and no longer be allowed to be a part of this family. So, I allowed the torment to continue. At eleven years old, I did not know what was ‘wrong’ but these incidents made me feel very uncomfortable. I was in a dilemma, thinking that if I told my mother, I would lose everything. Soon, he began raping me.
At thirteen, my mother became pregnant with his child. I wondered if I might be treated badly or be asked to leave once the baby was born. Secondary school brought on a new set of problems. I went out with a bad crowd, got tattoos, smoked and took drugs. I was longing for acceptance from these friends as I felt I was no longer loved by my family. My mother had a new daughter to care for, and she would threaten to send me back to my father whenever I misbehaved. The abuse by my stepfather, by now had been going on for three years. I hated the idea of returning home after school each day.
Christmas Eve arrived - a time when most families would spend quality time together. That day, my stepfather attempted to abuse me again but I locked myself in my room, staying up all night, wondering why there were families enjoying this day together while I was left crying alone, in pain. Eventually, I decided to call a friend and told her the entire story. She conveyed this to my mother - but my mother did not believe me. I was speechless. It hurt to think that she was in love with a man who could harm her daughter, and even more so, that she doubted me.
Eventually, she realised I was telling the truth. My mother, sister and I moved back to live with my grandparents. However, I decided to run away from home soon after as my family began to blame me; they said I had become too close to my stepfather. Hearing these things made me feel that I had indeed destroyed my mother’s new family unit. Under the weight of all these burdens, drugs were the only things that helped to ease the pain.
By the following year, in secondary two, I was deemed beyond control and sent to a remand home for girls. Although I made many friends there, I did not have any freedom. I was determined to do well to get an early release. While I was in remand, my grandfather became seriously ill and I was not given a chance to see him before he passed away. His death gave me a new perspective to life – I realised how important my family was, and all they wanted was to see me live a purposeful life.
After leaving the Girls’ home, I had to serve 18 months of home probation. During the first six months, I returned to school, did well and although I continued smoking, all drug use ceased. I felt that a change of environment would be good for me and asked my mother if I could go and live with my father. He had remarried and his new home environment seemed better than before. My stepmother was a divorcee with two children, a son who was a year older than me and daughter who was two years my junior. My new home life was good until I suffered yet another trauma, when I was molested by my stepbrother.
Once more, I felt like a failure for not standing up for myself. I ran away from home, resumed taking drugs and eventually stopped attending school.
One day, my godparents contacted me to find out how I was. I told them what had happened and asked if I could live with them. I then lodged a police report against my stepbrother, and he was convicted and sent to a Boys’ home. However, my father caught me taking drugs and reported this to the probation officer. I was sent to the hostel of my choice, one whose mission was to “love the unloved”, the Andrew and Grace home.
This home was a comfortable place to live in. Pastor Andrew and Grace treated all the girls very well. We called them Ah Pa and Mummy Grace, and I felt like I had anextended family I could rely on. We had daily devotions and chapel once a week. Pastor Andrew was a strict but loving father; he would discipline us when needed but we knew that he loved us and wanted us to learn from our mistakes.
Despite the positive environment, I still carried emotional wounds, and began to cut my wrist as I did not know any other way to express the pain in my heart. Each time I was angry or feeling emotional I would cut myself. Eventually I decided to run away from the home, lying to Pastor Andrew on the phone that I was going back to look for my mother. He replied that if I returned, he would give me another chance. When I returned, late that night he was at the front reception, waiting for me, and instead of reprimanding me, he said, “no matter how painful this journey is, you will always have a father waiting for you.“ He accepted me back home.
I returned to school, feeling that I had been given another chance to do things right this time around. I promised myself that I would make the best of it. I studied hard so I would not disappoint Pastor Andrew. None of my teachers thought I would do well but I proved them wrong, completing my ‘O’ levels, and even scoring an ‘A’ grade for Principles of Accounting.
At the Andrew and Grace home chapel, different Christian groups would come in to share with us from the Bible. After six months I started questioning, “Could this good news be true? Is there really a God who heals?”. During the various chapel sessions, there were opportunities to respond and receive Jesus into my heart, but I found it very difficult. I thought if I raised my hand to say yes, the other girls would think that I was a weakling. One day, I prayed, “God, you must do something to change my life if you are real.”
Around this time, a group of people had come to run Alpha for us, and I found the time of small group discussions very interesting. A lady, Auntie Jolene was our mentor, and her patience and love created trust amongst us. While I initially resisted, I was eventually able to share my feelings with the group and each week, I learned something new about Christianity.
We went to the Salvation Army for the ‘Alpha encounter weekend’, and this was when I had an encounter with God. During one of the sessions, our small group leader prayed for us. I sat, listening silently with my eyes closed. Suddenly, I felt a warmth come over me and saw an image of Jesus walking towards me. He lifted me up and embraced me. It was an embrace of a father that I always longed for but had never experienced. I finally said to God, “Okay, I believe you.”
In the following years, I experienced a mixture of ups and downs, but finally, in 2013, I knelt at the altar and cried -- the first in a long time. The last time I cried was when my mother had doubted me. This time, I cried out to God and said, “I’m sorry I took You for granted.” Once again, I encountered God and was now willing to let go of everything to follow Him. At Covenant Presbyterian Church, I found a family, God’s family.
In 2014, I felt the Lord calling me to East Timor. Before this trip, I was serving at the Andrew and Grace home with “Beautiful People”—a group that reaches out to youths, teaching them important life skills. I had found my calling – I knew that I wanted to be a social worker, helping people to find a better path for themselves. While I was preparing to go to East Timor, I surrendered myself to God, asking Him to make me an ambassador for Christ.
I now serve in the East Timor community as a cell group leader, teach in schools and serve with the village ministry. Whenever I am back in Singapore, I work in Grace Mission, helping youths with autism and special needs. Our work is in the production and distribution of hydroponic organic vegetables. I am thankful that God has healed me of the pain from my past, and directed a clear path for me. I used to be afraid of men after the trauma caused by them. However, the Lord has healed me of that fear, and I now have healthy friendships with the brothers in my community. I am finally able to live a life that I had always longed for, but feared I would never have. With God, I now know that all things are possible.