Remember when you were 23 years old? You were young, energetic and life was just beginning with full of hopes and dreams for the future. For Teng Howe Sing all these hopes were shattered.
When he was 19 years old, he was just a simple college student. One day one of his friends asked him to help to collect a parcel from the post office. Unexpectedly after receiving the parcel he was arrested on the spot by the police. He was sentenced to death by the court when he was 23 years old and that began his life in death row. He managed to Survive 18 years of prison life because of his faith in God. Some friends and relatives tried to save him through some folk beliefs, others suggested to his parents to seek help from the feng shui master to change his luck. Still others who suggested that he change his belief to another faith so that he would have a higher chance of Survival. He never wavers in his faith.
When he was 33 years old, the Sarawak Governor granted amnesty to him. He was released from the prison when he was 37 years old. He is now doing business with his parents.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here.” The Chief Editor Wong Meng Li interviewed Teng Howe Sing. Teng shared about his journey of faith. (Q: Wong Meng Li, A: Teng Howe Sing)
Q: Can you tell us about your background?
A: I was born and grew up in Kapit. My father is a teacher and I have six siblings. We still stay in Kapit and my parents and I have Started a Small business in the market.
Q: When did you come into contact with Christianity?
A: My mom is from a Christian family. When I was young, whenever my mother took my sisters and me to my Grandma’s house in Sibu, my grandma and auntie would bring us to the Logos Methodist Church at Tong sang Road to Worship. But that was just it. While in Kapit, whenever there Were activities in the Tua Pek Kong Temple or Church my family and I would take part in the activities.
Q: When did you first experienced God?
A. When I was in primary School, one time my sister and I came to Grandma’s house in Sibu. One day I took my sister to buy candy at the tuck shop round the corner. On the way home, we lost our way. I was so anxious and almost cried. Then I remembered that God would help those in need, so I prayed to God. After my prayer, my eyes were like opened and I could find my way home with my sister. That was my first marvelous experience of God.
Q: When and why were you imprisoned?
A: I was imprisoned in 1999 for drug charges. I was 19 years old then and was a college student at MPI. That day was March 17th. After was arrested told God that | would be willing to die if I could to return to my family. On May 21, I was successful in my application for Habeas Corpus. I returned to Kapit to reunite with my family. Unexpectedly I was again arrested on July 7.
G: What Was the reason for the rearrest?
A. In fact, the police placed a temporary charge to detain me for first arrest. The police placed a formal charge against me after confirming that the content of the parcel was drug. I was jailed and sentenced to death on August 23, 2003.
Q: What was in your mind When you were sentenced to death?
A. Frankly speaking, I did not expect that I would be sentenced to death because the lawyer told me that I won’t be sentenced to death.
In fact when the Judge passed the verdict I did not understand the verdict because of my poor English. I came to realize of my death sentence only after the court police showed the cut-throat sign to me. And then the court police held me down fearing that would go amok. Actually nearly went crazy at that moment. Didn’t my lawyer tell me that I would not be sentenced to death? Why? Why? However when seeing that my mother nearly fainted, I knew i should not cause trouble and should not cause more trouble to my mother. So I restrained myself. At that time I felt so weak that nearly collapsed, I could not accept my fate. Out of wealth, friendship and lover, the thing missed most would be my parents, I was just 23 years old and I had not repaid my parents for their care and love….
I was also doubtful whether God is really controlling this world? I was just 23 years old, yet God wanted to take my life? I really could not reconcile with all these facts and refused to enter the death row. I struggled for several hours before submission.
Q: How did you become a Christian ?
A: That happened after I was sentenced to death. One day my mother visited me and told me that the Principal of Methodist Pilley Institute (MPI) wanted to visit me. I thought that my mother was joking with me because Mdm Judy Wong was the new Principal. When I was studying in MPI, she hadn’t joined MPI. Why would she want to visit me since She did not know me?
On the afternoon of One visitors’ day, I met my mother and Mdm Judy Wong. I could not help but cried.
After that she visited me once every 2-3 months. She would talk to me and prayed for me but never talked about the gospel. As we were not related in anyway, her regular visit really touched me as she had to wait for hours under hot Sun. I knew that she was a Christian and I believed that Holy Spirit sent her to visit me and let me saw Christ in her. From then began to understand the Christian faith.
Furthermore, the Chairman of Board of MPI Mr. Chang Jih Ren also visited me with Judy when I was a death row. He encouraged, supported and helped me and really benefited a lot. I sincerely thanked them. Without the two of them, probably I would not see Christ and later believed in the Lord.
Q: Please talk about your struggle in prison and your spiritual journеу.
A: After being sentenced to death, I had two opportunities to appeal and if I failed the two appeals then only the Judge would execute the sentence with no definite date. Many prisoners were called to serve their terms unexpectedly. They never returned. This psychological pressure was indescribable. One of my ex-friend developed mental disorder because Of this.
I also suffered from depression. I began asking other inmates in death row how to commit suicide. After becoming a Christian, I knew that it was sinful to commit suicide, but I still prayed to God asking God to take my life in my sleep, so I would not have to open my eyes to face the World.
I also wrote to the Rev. Tie and Rev. Thomas Lau asking them whether the pledge that I made during my first arrest that “I would be willing to die if I could to return to my family” caused me to be unable to escape death sentence…. that time I was very depressed, I had to hold a Bible every night before I slept, until I had a dream.
In that dream, my friend asked me to go to a place full of corpses, to help him to handle these corpses. When we were handling these corpses I saw myself among the corpses. I remembered 2 Corinthians 5:17 that says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” I came to realize that my old self had already been dead and was a new born.
So I prayed to God asking God to use me if He wanted to. I quitted all the bad habits in that effect. cut off all things of the past. I forgave all those who had hurt me, including the one who had not been honest to me by asking me to collect the parcel. After all everyone has to look forward and live a new life.
Then I began to read madly, acquiring more knowledge from books, newspapers, magazines and everything. The pastors and friends who often came to visit me would bring books for me. The Wardens in the death row even granted me special permission to bring more books into my cell for reading at night.
Q: I learned that in that period of waiting you experienced spiritual trials?
A: Yes, I was then studying the Lay Preacher Course. The inmates laughed at me if I could be a preacher after I died. Friends and relatives also proposed to my family to look for a feng Shui master to see whether the feng shui of my ancestral graves were OK. There were also friends and relatives who asked me to cut my hair and nails so that my family members could bring to the magic-man to cut off my bad luck.
There was even a warden who proposed to me to follow their faith so that the Chief Warden would help to apply to the Head of State for amnesty. That made me very angry and refused them. During this period, my parents also faced a lot of pressure and though they wavered, I firmly refused as I belonged to the Lord and was no longer afraid.
I only mentioned these challenges to God and no one else. And miraculously I was granted amnesty in 2013.
Q: When you were no longer on death row, was there any change in your life?
A. After moving to the ordinary cell, I became very busy. It was because the wardens arranged a lot of physical training for me. I was so tired after the training every day that I had no time to continue my Local Preacher Course. And I had to work. Because of my performance I was selected as a group leader, then I was the first Chinese to be elected as a leader of the prisoners and became the representative of 200 prisoners.
Q: Elected? So the leaders Were elected?
A. Yes. There was a Warden who told me not to Stand for election because no Chinese had ever been elected. But others encouraged me to stand for election because they thought that I was fair and just. I did not think much. I just told them that if God wanted me to be elected, I would be elected, I did not force my way.
Q: Now that you have been released from prison and reunited with your family, what is your future plan?
A: I was released on December 21, 2016. I do not have big plan for my future. Certainly I will witness for Christ, but I do not know how to do it. Hock Ing Methodist Church in Kapit has invited me to witness at the evangelical rally on May 19. I do not have any plan to enroll into theological training for the time being. As for my family, I am the man of the house and may get married, after all my parents are over 70 years old now.
Interviewed by Menglei Recorded by April Translated by KT Chew