To Death and Back
by Yeo Toon Joo
20th December 1996

I used to be a hard drinking, womanising, Godless man of the world. I did all sorts of sinful things, despite having been taught what was right and wrong by my strict and upright parents and in church as a boy. Although I had, as a teenager, accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour, I rejected Him not long after I started work as a journalist and discovered the world of wine, women, and song.

Even though some church friends tried to draw me back to the church, I rejected those overtures, preferring instead to indulge in pleasures of the was too much of a sacrifice to return to a holy life.

In 1970 I married a Roman Catholic. And although I was baptised as a Roman Catholic, I did not believe in the Catholic faith, and doubted that there was such a thing as salvation through Jesus Christ, eternal life, and even that God existed.

Even after I had left journalism (in January 1976), I continued to drink, everyday. If I was happy I drank. If I was depressed I drank. It got so bad I used to fall asleep at the wheel of my car, drunk. I crashed my Toyota Cressida so many times over a three-year period that when it was eight years old, it looked new: so many parts had been replaced!

Amidst my pursuit of fleshly desires, I often experienced a sense of emptiness. I had lost my anchor in life. I often questioned the purpose of life. It seemed meaningless. For years I wondered what was the meaning of life, and this nebulous thing called happiness.

I had found prestige and power in life. I had been a leader of men - more than 2,000 at one stage - was head of a large department, No. 2 editorial man in a newspaper organisation, speaker at international conferences, had my name and picture in newspapers, and had access to rich and powerful men.

As a PR practitioner with my own consultancy, I have also earned good money, more than most Singaporeans. I had several country club memberships. In the estimation of today's young, aspiring executives or young upwardly mobile Singaporeans, who are still counting their pennies and paying instalments on their cars and condos, I would have been described as successful. "I had arrived!"

I tried many things to find pleasure - and satisfaction. I drank and I had other women. I had some highs in life. But I felt empty. I was not truly happy. Or, if I was, that happiness was fleeting. Something was missing.

At the end of each day, each week, and each year, I could not resolve one important thing: what was all that about? There had to be a better reason for living, a real meaning for my existence, and an explanation for my mortality.

I read essays by the humanists. I even started to read up on Buddhism. When I went to church with my family, I would sometimes look at the priest and wonder: what if that poor misguided fellow, who had given up all the pleasures of life that I was merrily indulging in, died only to discover that there was no God, no heaven, no hell, and no eternal life for him? What a waste!

One day something happened to me that made me change - from a Godless, hard drinking, womanising, empty person into a happy, assured, fulfilled person and firm believer in God. Not only in God but a personal God, someone who knows everything about me and cares for me.

It gave me not only meaning in life but a higher plane in life and living, and a new and great joy in living. God showed me what is life, and that death is nothing - to those for whom He has unlocked the secret of life. God let me experience death - to understand life. He let me die, not once but twice.

In 1989 and 1991, I had to undergo surgery. The first occasion was to remove a tumour in my scrotum. While under general anaesthesia, I suddenly found myself floating above a group of people huddled over the operating table on which my body lay. Then I found myself in total darkness. I saw a bright patch ahead flying towards me. Then I was sucked into that dark tunnel. At that point I lost consciousness.

It was a scary experience. But I dismissed it as a dream - and watching too much TV. The tumour turned out to be benign. No cancer. Just a bad dream. I thought no more of it.

Two years later (in November 1991), I again underwent surgery: for chronic sinunitis which had turned septic. While unconscious in the operating theatre, I was awakened by voices: I found myself at a boozing party, in a dimly lit garden. I wanted to leave, but someone said: 'Come on, one for the road.'

I heard myself protesting that I had to get home to my family, but someone kept saying: "Have one more for the road." It was like the many party situations I had been in. I stayed for another drink.

That became my last 'one for the road'. Because I stayed I found myself unable to get back home to my wife and two daughters. I found myself driving home in total darkness, but not able to make headway and get home. I felt as if I was driving in infinite space but there was no sense of having a body or a real car.

Then I found myself at another boozing party. I was going through a series of tormenting playbacks of my sinful life: first I was enjoying myself and getting high on booze at some party, and then something bad would happen; I would experience regret but not be able to change it or get back home.

It occurred to me then that I was never going to get back. I suddenly realised that I was dead. As if to confirm that fact, I heard a cold voice. It said: "You are dead." Somehow I knew that the voice was the devil's. It dawned on me that I would spend eternity in unending and unhappy playbacks of my past sinful life. I was in hell, and hell was worse than the lake of fire. The torture was mental, and eternal.

I realised then that what the bible had said and what I had been told about God, sin and hell were true. God did exist, so did the devil and punishment for those who refused to believe in God.

I asked that cold voice: "You mean there is God after all?" The voice replied: "Yes."

I wanted a second chance - to get back to life - but could not. I protested: "It's not fair, it's not fair." The voice said: "Your value system does not apply here." God, I realised, could not help me anymore. I was lost - forever. I was terrified.

I lapsed into my series of memory playbacks...I was conscious of what was going on, but powerless. My mind was alive, but I had no body, no will or control.

Then I heard a voice over me saying "He's dead." I felt a pair of hands turning my head from side to side. I saw my limp body, and my head slumped over a church pew, and my wife and two daughters standing behind. I tried to communicate with my family, but could not. They could not feel my presence. I could not get through to them. I was in another dimension.

Then I felt myself being sucked into infinite space and darkness and the eternal series of playbacks. I could hear, feel miserable, but was impotent. The most horrifying thing was the knowledge that I was condemned to spending eternity floating, and experiencing agonising and taunting flashbacks of the life I had left.

Then I felt someone touching my right arm as I struggled to get if I was awake. But it was again an illusion and I relapsed into the uncontrollable spiral of death. Again I felt a hand holding my arm. I opened my eyes and saw that it was my wife's. I was unsure, fearing that it was yet another illusion. But this was real. I had got back. I was awake, and alive!

My wife, Rose, was holding my arm and she said I was muttering in terror: "It's not real! It's not real!". I was afraid that that awakening was yet another illusion. Rose tells me there was a look of terror on my face as I kept repeating "It's horrible!"

I was greatly affected by the second out of body experience. I thought a lot about it, and wondered whether it was some kind of warning from God over the way I lived. However, I did not change my life style. I continued to drink and do what I had been doing.

I confided in some friends, asked one or two medical people about it, but they could not give me any satisfactory answer. Some people tell me I was merely hallucinating. But I know it was real. I saw it, felt it, and remember it vividly. I even had flashbacks of those experiences at least three more times - while awake!

One night I was driving out of my country club's dark car park, after a day's golf and the usual beer drinking after the game when I found myself in a similar situation: all was dark, there was the same droning vacuous sound as if I was in infinite space, I felt myself floating...bodyless, removed from physical reality. I was terrified. I thought: was that what a dying person goes through just before he dies? Was I about to die? And be sucked into that eternal series of painful flashbacks of a past life of partying?

I panicked. I did not want to die, not just yet. I was not ready to go. There were too many things unsettled. I needed more time. In great fear, I pleaded with God not to take me then. I prayed "God, not yet, not yet!" and begged for a little more time. Suddenly, that sensation left me, and I was back to reality. I drove home, relieved, but chastened. I resolved to believe in God and to do something about my sinful life.

What is the meaning of those unusual experiences of mine? I believe God in His infinite mercy allowed those things to happen to me to save me. He was giving me a final chance. I needed no more convincing that there is God, and hell for sinners. I talked to my Christian friends and, together with one, prayed to God for forgiveness for my sinful life. I invited Jesus Christ back into my life, and felt a great burden being lifted from me.

I began to worship God daily and to read scripture again. For a year a Christian friend discipled me, and led me in bible study each Tuesday. Never have I read a book as wonderful and full of a wisdom that cannot be human, or inspired by man.

I joined the Christian Business Men's Committee. Last year, I rejoined the Brethren church I used to attend as a boy, and am now serving in it in a small way, leading sometimes during worship service and in adult bible study. I have also become an officer in The Boys' Brigade and spend Saturday afternoons helping to train children in discipline and lead them to Jesus Christ.

I have received so many beautiful revelations and blessings from God, even in my business and work. Life now has real meaning. At last, I can understand life and our purpose on earth.

I have realised to my great regret the years of closeness and joy with God, and with my family and loved ones I had missed because I had rejected God and had been out wasting my time with doubtful friends and pursuits (I don't know why I could have been so stupid!).

My life has become so much richer...and happier. I gave up beer completely more than four years ago, though I have the occasional wine. I am now a calmer, and more loving husband and father, and an unbelievably patient boss (though that old impatient me is still there!).

God has given to me and offers freely to everyone else who does not have a closed mind, a more joyful and meaningful life on earth. We only have to accept Jesus Christ as our saviour and follow His teachings to be welcomed into His kingdom, to become part of His family.

God has taken away my worries over tomorrow. I am no longer concerned over whether I will have money or not, or how things go in my business and daily life: He always makes things work out right, because He does that for everyone who loves Him and have faith in Him. If, at any time, I should feel anxious over a slack in business, I pray to Him, and something good usually happens. He always answers my prayers, when I pray according to His will. I have had some dramatic experiences since I prayed to God to forgive me and give me life, and began to strive each day to live a saintly life.

Everyday, as I read the bible, His Holy Word, I learn about God and about life. I receive such joy - and heavenly wisdom. I hear His voice, and feel His loving presence, a love that no human being - not even our own earthly parents - could ever match. He has given me happiness and confidence that no worldly experience can ever give.

I believe wholeheartedly in God, His goodness, and love for me and everyone else who is prepared to accept His love. I also know He hates sin, and punishes sinners in a frightful way. But He is a merciful God, prepared to forgive even the most 'hopeless' sinner. I am an example of that wretched person who refused to believe in God and who now has an unshakeable faith in Him.

Living daily as a Christian, in love with God, and striving to be holy, is not a dull and boring experience. It is a very, very happy and interesting life! God understands our aspirations, our hurts, our doubts, our anxieties, our most secret desires - and sinful thoughts. After my frightening and subsequent wonderful experiences I decided I would devote my life to serving God, and telling others about Him and His love, and His free gift of salvation.

I am no longer afraid of death or dying. In July 1995, my orthopaedic surgeon Dr K H Seow of Singapore General Hospital showed me an MRI scan of my body with what the radiologist described as 'widespread metastasis'. When Dr Seow told me that I had advanced cancer of the bone, I had a shock but was not as worried as he.

When I left his room, I went to a corner and prayed. I first asked God 'why?' and then prayed: 'Praise the Lord!' But I believed that God knew best. I knew that I only needed to trust in Him. My doctor and family were more worried than I.

Again I went into hospital. This time for chemotherapy. And further tests. My pastor prayed for me, my wife, relatives, and Christian friends prayed for me. I prayed, too. I asked God, if He wanted me to do His work on earth, why was I being allowed to die from cancer, so soon after I had surrendered my life to Him, and requested Him to heal me, physically and spiritually. But we do not tell God what to do. So I also told Him that whatever happened, His will be done, and I thanked Him for being so good to me.

What saddened me was what I saw in the Hospital's oncology ward: the other cancer patients who were emaciated and pale, and had the look of death in them. I thought, in a number of months I, too, would look like that. Most depressing was my realisation that I would not be around to see my two daughters graduate.

One morning in hospital, while awaiting the results of further tests before beginning chemotherapy, I had my quiet time with God. I read my bible and prayed. I must have fallen asleep. For I had a dream. I saw my doctor walking up to my bed, and smiling. He said: "Mr Yeo, your bone scan shows no cancer."

That woke me up. I realised I had dozed off, and in my wishful thinking and hope, had dreamed that the MRI scan that had shown extensive cancer all over my bones was a mistake. Minutes after, my doctor walked in, smiling - just as he had appeared in my dream. "Mr Yeo," he said, "your bone scan shows no cancer. You may go home."

My doctor looked a little puzzled when I did not appear elated. I merely showed him the universal OK sign (GESTURE). His news did not come as a surprise - for God had already told me minutes earlier I had no cancer.

No one can explain how the widespread cancer that first appeared on the MRI scan could disappear within days. I do not question how that came about. I just believe God had a hand in it.

When I tell people my experiences some find my story incredible, and think I am just a colourful story teller with a wild imagination. Some, who do not question my story, still will not accept that there is God and He loves us and is concerned about our happiness and our soul, and how we live. Many resist the instruction from God that we need only accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Master, to experience the joy of knowing God and receiving His promise of eternal life. Some persuade themselves that life will go on, they still have time to think about such things, and they may ignore God. People think they are all right and can leave such matters of their spiritual life and God till later. The fact is there may not be any time left.

Some of you may be familiar with the story in Luke chapter 16 of the miserly rich man and the beggar Lazarus who used to pick up crumbs of food at the rich man's gate, and what happened to both of them after they died. If you are, you will remember that the rich man who had a good life materially on earth went to hell, and the beggar who led a wretched life went to heaven. While in hell, the rich man pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his (the rich man's) brothers so that they would not end up in hell like him.

The reply he got was "... if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:31)

There is documentary proof that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and has told us in no uncertain terms that unless we believe, we will lose our soul. He has also told us about God's gift of eternal life and paradise, which we may have right now, if we believe in Him and open our hearts to Him. Yet I and so many of us refused to believe.

Today I believe. Today, I know with certainty God lives and there is life after death: I have been there - and back.