Once a wanted man and drug addict, now a prison counsellor and pastor
“I consider myself to be the biggest trouble-maker, out of the eight children my parents have,” Peter Soo, 62, admitted candidly.
“Even at a young age, I didn’t like to stay at home. I would go out very early and come home late. I would join the street kids in Geylang and roam around. I did whatever they did –steal fruits from other people’s houses, steal brass padlocks and aluminium plates to sell, even set fire to cables to burn away rubber to steal the aluminium wires inside.” His first real “part time job” was taking orders for a noodle seller on tricycle to earn more money.
Toying with fire
With the money that he had accumulated, Peter spent every cent on food and cigarettes. He started smoking when he was eight, introduced by the street kids whom he hung out with. His nearly lifelong addiction to gambling also took root in primary school, with a simple guessing game called “barrack”.
“I liked the excitement of gambling, so when I got older, I went to look for more ways to gamble. From ‘ding tiong’ to ‘chup diam’ to poker cards… I just really liked the thrill,” he divulged.
Peter’s trouble with the Police started when he was 15. He got into fights and people got hurt. When he was 17, he joined the secret society—friends whom he met on the streets, who promised him loyalty and security. Friends who stood up for him when he got bullied—or joined him to bully others. “At that point, I joined because of the excitement. I was not afraid of anyone, because I knew I had buddies,” he added.
The descend into addictions
His very first puff of heroin was introduced when he enlisted in the army, by the “hokkien bengs” (dialect for gangsters). Out of curiosity, he tried the drug. “When I didn’t take the drug, I had a kind of uneasiness… like body ache, bone ache. Very uncomfortable. I would get agitated very easily. But once I took one more puff, everything would cool down…” Peter explained. And that was how the drug took over Peter’s life.
The law finally caught up with him in 1977 and Peter was put away in a rehabilitation centre. Over the next few years, Peter was in and out of rehabilitation centres several times – during which his family did not give up on him, and took turns to visit him.
He was eventually put into prison, for gang-related rioting. In 1982, at the age of 25, he was wanted in Singapore for a gang clash, so he escaped to Hong Kong. But over in Hong Kong, he got into even more serious gang clashes—now with weapons—and had to escape to the US. How did he get enough money to get to the US? “I had to rob, steal and even beg to get enough money to run away then,” he explained.
One would have thought that being a wanted man would have given Peter a “good shake”, but over in San Francisco, he also joined a gang with other immigrants, did drugs, and even played with guns. After yet another gang clash, he had to run back to Hong Kong for refuge.
The turning point
At this lowest point in his life, Peter met a lady who had faith in him. He couldn’t believe it himself. But they tied the knot in 1985, and he said that was when he “calmed down a bit and learnt there is such a thing as consequences.”
But being away from gang clashes did not mean Peter was free from his other addictions – he soon found excitement in gambling, which took the form of currency trading. He made millions, which fuelled more gambling trips to Genting, Macau, Korea—even as far as Las Vegas.
Entangled in a vicious cycle, Peter soon went bust from betting on horse racing, soccer and poker. He even ran two illegal gambling dens. Eventually he accumulated a mountain of debt from loan sharks, friends and relatives, which amounted to more than half a million SGD at one point. They also had to sell their private apartment and downsize to a three-room flat.
In despair, and feeling like he had let his wife down, Peter wanted to end his life. By that time, his wife had accepted Christ, and had been pestering him to visit a church. Once, she invited her cell group to their home for house-warming, and her pastor from Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) took the opportunity to pray for Peter, who said the Sinner’s Prayer.
“I was not ready to receive the Lord, but I was ready to accept that I was a sinner,” he said. It turned out that his wife’s best birthday present for him that year was his salvation. At the following Sunday service in FCBC, Peter knelt at his seat “crying like a baby”, even before Worship started. “There and then, my crying was meaningful,” he recalled. “All the unbearable things were cried out and God lifted a heavy burden off me.”
A new creation in Christ
From there, things took a turn for the better.
He started longing for Fridays to arrive so he could attend cell group. Barely three weeks after receiving Christ, he felt a strong urge to serve in church – so he did, and started with ushering. His gambling addiction stopped, and even though he still owed the loan sharks a lot of money, they did not hound him. He started to look out for proper jobs—and eventually learnt how to be a real estate agent from someone who offered to train him from scratch. It was his first real job.
“The money I earned felt different,” Peter shared.
Through his church, he started to volunteer in a place all too familiar to him—Changi Prison. In fact, he met some of his old gangster pals inside, who were shocked that Peter came back to prison but this time round, as a volunteer counsellor. The change they witnessed in him was so drastic and unthinkable that some of them accepted Christ, and others, when released from prison, went to FCBC to check if it was the same Peter Soo they had known back then as gangsters, who stood at the pulpit preaching about redemption and hope.
By then, Peter had become a pastor taking care of the Hokkien Ministry and Prison Ministry in FCBC. He also volunteered with Prison Fellowship Singapore since 1998, until recently when he took on the role of a full-time staff at PFS, heading the Through Care Ministry team.
At home, God also blessed Peter and his wife with a son—even though initially they were told that they could never conceive. Their son Billy is now 25 years old. By this time, Peter and his wife are sure that there is nothing impossible for God.
“If I were to be very frank, I was really a very horrible person. Some of the things I did in the past were so sick, so bad, it can make me vomit now. But God has forgiven me, and even allowed me to glorify him,” Peter concluded, the tenderness beneath his steely front betrayed by slightly damp eyes as he recounted. “God is so merciful.”