Transformation Of One Of The Ten Most Wanted Men In Singapore

Testimony of Neivelle Tan

(extracted from the book "Meet Neivelle Tan" by Viola Phillips, Anderson, Indiana, U.S.A.)

Neivelle’s brush with the law began when he was just fourteen. He became involved with gangland activities after his release from prison at the age of sixteen. By the time he was seventeen he had become one of the top gang leaders in Singapore. At seventeen and half he was involved in a major gang war which resulted in the death of an opposing gang member. He was sentenced to hang for his involvement in the gang murder.

Under British law, however, no youth under the age of 18 could be hanged. So he was sentenced to be detained indefinitely at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. This was worse than life imprisonment.

Pardoned after seven years, Neivelle organised a new street gang. He began to be involved in gang robberies involving firearms. His gang garnered thousands of dollars in money and valuables before he again was arrested and slated for trial in Singapore's "high court." While waiting for trial, he faked insanity so that he would be sent to the mental hospital. Then had come that daring escape! He, with two other inmates, had overpowered two doctors, bound a guard, and climbed on to the roof and jumped over a 20-foot wall to freedom!

He was at large for almost a year and became one of the ten most wanted men in Singapore until he was recaptured. Pressured into a plea bargain and confession, he was sentenced to seven more years, plus whipping.

His pattern of being tough, merciless and sly continued in Changi Prison. Soon he had people doing his laundry, cleaning his cell. He even managed to profit through gambling and a money-lending racket.

Then had come his Nemesis. Neivelle gritted his teeth at the thought of that guard, insulting, nagging, who had tried to provoke him into retaliation—and thus solitary confinement. Eventually Neivelle had concluded that he was fated to be sent into solitary and determined to make that guard pay. He had found a piece of metal. Day after day he patiently sharpened it on the cement floor, honing it into a crude dagger. At last he was ready for the hated guard.

He waited expectantly for the man to come on duty, but the guard did not show up. The next day there was a surprise search of all the prison cells and the dagger was found. He was immediately rushed into a solitary confinement cell.

It was during this time of confinement that Neivelle began to experience the most dreadful feeling that almost drove him insane. His long period of confinement had caused his mind to succumb to "claustrophobia." A terrible disease of the mind that caused him to experience dreadful nightmares and sleepless night of fear. Fear of being buried alive in a coffin. It was during one of these nights when he was experiencing one of his worst attacks of claustrophobia that he had this miraculous experience. Another prisoner from a cell nearby had managed to smuggle some pages from a book for him to read. Neivelle found out that the pages had been torn out from the New Testament. In anger he had crumpled the pages and flung them away towards the toilet bowl in his cell.

Neivelle's eyes wandered to the crumpled pages on the floor. Frustrated and bored, he finally picked them up and began to read. An old man, Zechariah, and his aged wife (probably a hundred years old, thought Neivelle) had no children. Here was an angel telling this old man that his wife would become pregnant and bear a son! What a joke! This old lady pregnant! Smirking at the impossibility, he read on. The second story was just as incredible--a young woman was also told by the angelic visitor that she too would become pregnant! His cynical mind began to be very amused as he thought of how stupid the story was. Maybe, he mused the angel would appear to a young man next and say to him, "Young man, YOU will be pregnant!" but he continued to read on. "You shall call his name Jesus," the next line reported. Neivelle tensed. That name! What had those missionary teachers said? That if anyone asked anything in the name of Jesus, God would do it? Yes, that was it! He would do just that!

"God," he said, "in the name of Jesus, get me out of this room!"

He eyed the spy-hole, half expecting the door to open. It did not. The next day came. The door remained closed. Angry that nothing was happening he shouted at God.

"God, I won't let you off! Get me out of this cell!" he demanded.

The next day came, and the next and the next. Neivelle continued to remind God that he was asking in the Jesus' name and he expected an answer.

"God, I hold you to your promise," he declared grimly.

The 10th day - and the 11lth. Apparently God was not listening.

The 15th day of that desperate prayer came. The door opened! As Neivelle was led out he turned to look back at the cell where he had been confined. By the door was the notice: "Prisoner 7172 is to remain locked in maximum security until the day of his discharge." It was signed by the prison superintendent.

Somehow that order had been cancelled!

When Neivelle reached the door area, his fellow inmates were incredulous.

"How did you get out?" they queried, amazed.

The name of Jesus was on Neivelle's lips. But how could he say it? It would sound as silly as to say he was pregnant! To be "religious" would make him out as a "queer!"

He saw admiration in the eyes before him. His pride soared.

"I threatened the superintendent into letting me out," Neivelle told his audience.

Yet down inside Neivelle felt convinced that Someone bigger than a prison superintendent, some Superhuman Power had worked in his behalf. He was certain that a miraculous answer had been given to his prayers. Why would the superintendent change his mind? Why would he risk allowing an "incorrigible" inmate who was a security risk to associate with the other inmates? The name of Jesus was again the only convincing answer to those questions.

The relief of that relative freedom was tremendous. But soon the monotony of prison life returned. No one came to visit him, not even his mother who previously had never failed to come and visit him.

Finally a letter came from his brother: their mother, hospitalised with cancer, had been given only two weeks to live.

Yearning to see her one last time, Neivelle asked to be allowed to visit her. His request was denied.

Memories rushed in - his mother in the harsh days of the Japanese occupation giving her rations to him and his brother. When Father had frightened his sons with horror stories, it was Mother who came in the night to calm their fears. It was Mother who had loved him through all his troubled years, Mother who had been too indulgent with her lawless son.

Full of remorse, Neivelle wished for opportunity to say he was sorry and to beg her forgiveness.

Soon word came from his brother that Mother had died, screaming and reaching out for her absent son.

Shame for his shabby treatment and indifference to his mother overwhelmed him. Added to this burden was the recognition that now there was no one who cared for him--no one.

"When I get out, who will receive me?" he moaned.

With nothing to live for, the despairing youth wished to die. Grieving, despondent, he pondered suicide; but how could it be accomplished? He finally decided to swallow a whole cake of carbolic soap. As he was pondering how he could do that, a line from an old hymn drifted into his mind, "The Lord is my shepherd." The rest of the words he could not recall.

He turned to a New Testament left in his cell by the Gideons. He searched for Psalm 23, one he had memorised in his boyhood at the mission school, but now mostly forgotten. Quickly he thumbed through the pages of the Testament, then again, turning the pages a bit more slowly, but his search was in vain.

Frustrated, he hurled the book against the wall of his cell. Disconsolately, he picked up a cigarette. Remembering that prisoners often hid split match sticks behind the spines of books, he began looking for the Testament which he had earlier hurled away. It lay open on the floor, open at the Psalms!

He began reading the verses of the 23rd Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd ... Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear. for Thou art with me...."

"For thou art with me!" Those words gripped him as though they had been spoken aloud.

Neivelle began to tremble, sensing a Presence with him in his cell. As he sank to his knees beside his bed the Holy Presence enfolded him. Overwhelmed, humbled, his spirit melted in the realisation that Someone cared, loved him, even more than had his mother. Tears came, the first he had shed since boyhood.

"God, just take my life and do what You will," he sobbed.

It was a total surrender--no mere turning over a new leaf. The man who had asserted destructive power now accepted the lordship of a Greater Power.

A wonderful newness came to him that evening. And joy! Gone were thoughts of suicide, gone was the hopelessness.

The next morning he began reading his New Testament. From then on, all his free time was given to reading his Testament.

Other inmates teased him; some called him a "Holy Joe" and a religious fanatic. But their words did not daunt his spirit. His serenity was undisturbed. No longer was he ashamed of a relationship with God. For he had learned that God loved him. This was a relationship he prized. Now it seemed natural to him.

The change that came into Neivelle’s life was not a temporary one. It was a permanent one. Neivelle is today still serving God. After his release from prison in the early seventies, Neivelle worked for a while as an accountant in a Departmental store. Later he gave up his well paid job to join the Singapore Bible College. During his course of study he met Anne, then the secretary to the Dean of the Bible College. They got married and were blessed with three children. After his graduation, Neivelle was invited to serve with Rev. Khoo Siaw Hua, the prison chaplain, in the prison ministry. Later he served with Rev. Henry Khoo, son of Rev Khoo Siaw Hua, at the Reformative Training Centre. Since then, his main ministry has been to street kids, drug addicts and those who were following the same path to destruction that he did. He has been the mentor of many who would have destroyed their own lives.

Today Neivelle is the founding pastor of the Church of God (Evangelical). He has been instrumental in pioneering several congregations in Malaysia and Indonesia. Gifted as an evangelist, Neivelle has travelled widely to many parts of the world to preach the same Gospel that saved him while he was in prison.

Rev Neivelle Tan and his Family