Cary Lim, 42, serves full-time at The Hiding Place, a home for the rehabilitation of drug addicts, ex-prisoners, alcoholics, gambling addicts, homeless orphans, inhalant abusers, wayward teens, young offenders, troubled youths and those in need of help.
I was born in a kampong in Serangoon North. My house was a temple as well as a gambling den where a lot of people would come to gamble illegally. So I grew up in this environment where there were a lot of drugs, and I saw a lot of things. This was in the 80s.
I knew how to gamble from a very young age, like 10 years old. Eventually at 12 years old, I quit school because I didn’t like studying and couldn’t study. I didn’t take my PSLE. I just quit and went out to work as a hawker and at construction sites.
I started to earn money, but all the money would go to gambling and loans. At 13, I began to try drugs like marijuana. I tried different drugs now and then, but I never got hooked. Things were like that until I went to the army.
After army, I worked at another construction firm. The pay was not bad, but working in that line, I came across a drug that was very popular at the time – ecstasy. My manager and colleagues all took it. In fact, my manager was the one who recommended it to me when I partied with them.
At first, I thought this drug was just a tablet. I thought it was just a pill I could control like the others before.
So I took one – and it ended up controlling my life for the next 10 years.
Soon after I got addicted, I quit my job. I just didn’t have the mood to work. Every day I just partied. When I had no money, I would find ways to find money. Eventually, when ecstasy couldn’t satisfy me, I added on other drugs like marijuana, ketamine and methamphetamine into the mix – desperate to get higher.
So for 10 years, I lived a miserable life. Every day when I woke up, my first thought was to find money so I could buy drugs. When I had no money, I would go and borrow from illegal loansharks. They were also gamblers, so I had the connections to let the money roll and buy drugs.
By 2007, I was completely broke. So I decided to sell drugs. I got caught in no time and was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison and 10 strokes of the cane.
I thought prison life would change me, but it didn’t. Because in there, I still was involved in a gang and other illegal activities.
I was working in the laundry department where inmates earn quite a lot of money. In one month I could earn $100 to $200 – in prison, this was considered one of the highest-paying jobs.
Working together, my friend and I decided to start a betting group as we were able to get soccer results inside. But in just one month, we lost over $3,000. My friend ran away. He requested a transfer from the department, and I was left to bear the costs.
At the time I asked myself: “Why even in prison I still cannot change?” I concluded that drugs couldn’t satisfy me, nor sex, women, money or gambling. There was a void in my heart nothing could fill.
After this incident, I lived like a dead man. I came to a stage where I couldn’t even trust anybody. No hope, no future, no education. Next time go out want to do what? I figured I would just go back to my old life.
But a miracle happened about a year before I was due to be released. I was doing exercise in the yard one day when the speaker blared overhead: “Christian counselling standby”.
I had attended Christian counselling in prison before, but after I began working in laundry, I stopped. So they cancelled my number from the classes. I would have to re-register if I wanted to attend.
In my heart, I heard a voice asking me to go. I couldn’t describe it at the time, but now I know it was the Holy Spirit. I just followed the voice and joined the queue. My friend in front of me warned that I would get charged because I hadn’t registered, but I stayed in line and was miraculously able to attend the counselling session.
They were running the usual programme that day, but during this worship session, my heart just felt very… warm. So I decided to re-register my number and another miracle happened.
The people in charge told me I had to wait for a few months before I could attend. But the very next week, they called my queue number and said I could go. I don’t know how my number jumped to the front, but that was what happened.
From that point on, I never stopped attending the counselling sessions in prison. There, I learnt to pray and read the Bible. God also placed a lot of Christian brothers beside me, even in my prison cell. They taught me about Quiet Time, how to pray and how to give thanks for food.
And so I learnt from them.
About one month before I was due to be released, I started to become very serious about my life.
In the past, I didn’t care about my life – die also never mind. But now I began to think about what I should do when I got out. Now that I was a Christian, did I still want to go back to my old life? Or did I want to continue the journey of faith and know Jesus more?
So I prayed to God, and one day during my Quiet Time He showed me a verse, 2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
This verse spoke to me. It was like a hammer that woke me up – flee the evil desires! Because even though I was a Christian, my mind often flashed back to the life I used to enjoy. There was still an old path from my previous life that I was tempted to return to.
I asked God: “You want me to go where? How to continue to pursue things like righteousness, faith, love and peace?” Amazingly, around this time, my Christian brothers began to tell me about a “halfway house”. They explained that a halfway house was a Christian home with programmes where people who want to change, quit drugs and have their lives transformed can go to.
So I prayed, “God, if you want me to go to this place, and want me to continue pursuing all these things – You just lead me.” After praying this prayer, I felt peace in my heart. So I decided I would do it, and went to find the person-in-charge of the Prison Fellowship. She interviewed me and recommended me to The Hiding Place.
Right before release, I faced distractions and temptations.
My mother wanted me to buy a flat for her as she had just sold hers. Then my childhood friend came to visit me, telling me he would support me when I came out so I could be a soccer bookie again. It felt like the devil was ka-cheowing (disturbing) me!
I had no peace after listening to all these “offers”, and God reassured me that The Hiding Place was where I should go. So I made a decision: I told my brother that I wanted to move into The Hiding Place straightaway. I told my mother and brother that I needed to go to this place to continue to know Jesus more.
I checked into The Hiding Place in November 2011. The journey was not easy. I went through a lot of struggles because of my anger, bitterness and jealousy. I was not happy for the first year. For the first six months, I constantly clashed with the others there and offended them. It was hard.
At one point, I was accused of doing something wrong by a staff. Everyone knew I wasn’t in the wrong. I was furious after that. I was about to pack my bags, say “bye bye” and go home.
But my friend, Jeremy, who was sleeping in the bunk at the time, had a dream that I was packing my bags and about to go home. When he woke up, he said: “Cary, I just had a dream that you are leaving.” I was shocked that he knew. He continued: “Don’t make rash decisions, just cool down and pray.”
When he said that to me, I knew it was God intervening. So I just went to my room and calmed down. As I was crying and praying to God, this verse – which I had come across four times that same week – came to mind.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
I was lying in my bed when this happened, and that was when I finally noticed what was on the poster beside my bed – an eagle soaring. For so many months I hadn’t realised this, I never read the verse. Seeing it was like hearing God speak. So I decided to stay.
Time passed, and God moulded me along the way.
He helped me through my anger, bitterness and jealousy. Living with other people, I became more patient, more gracious, more understanding.
Becoming a new man took me five years. And this year, I even attended Tung Ling Bible School!
I only learned English at the Hiding Place. I couldn’t even understand my teachers at first. But in the last two years, I’ve started to share my testimony with various local churches – in English. I’ve also returned to prison to minister to the brothers and encourage them that we have hope.
I didn’t have the confidence to do all these in the past. But staying in a spiritual environment has equipped me.
In my whole life, I’ve made a lot of choices, most of them wrong ones.
But the one right choice I made was not going home when I was released from prison and going to The Hiding Place instead. Until now, I’ve never regretted it. And God has shown His faithfulness in my life.
I was a nobody, nothing, yet God has used me in His ministry. These are things I would never have dreamt of doing.
I committed to The Hiding Place for three years. But as I was thinking about the future, God spoke to me and reminded me that serving Him is not like serving out a contract. He told me that serving Him is a whole life thing – it’s an eternal thing. From then on, I surrendered my whole life to God.
Finally, if I could turn back time and talk to a younger version of myself, I would say: “Don’t waste your life. Cherish the people who love you and are beside you. Cherish the moment.
“One day Jesus will find you – just like how Jesus found me in prison.”
Residents at The Hiding Place do not have to pay for their programme stay, and one of the ways the Christian home raises funds is through the sale of its homemade pineapple tarts. For more information on how you can support the ministry, visit their website.