04 Jan 2019

Community - People

The Calling to be a Prison Ministry Volunteer

Singaporean Jess Hong has been based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA for 18 years. In 2014, she decided to volunteer with her local prison ministry, where she continued to do so for the next three years. She shares more about her experience, and what had the greatest impact on her as she volunteered for this initiative.



Jess Hong (Image courtesy of Jess Hong)


We understand that you were previously involved in a prison ministry. Tell us more about that, how you got involved and what you did as a volunteer.


I volunteered with Yokefellowship Prison Ministry in Allentown from 2014 to 2017.  I got to know about the ministry through a local pastor, whose church shared space with mine for our Sunday services. It’s a ministry most people would shun and wouldn’t want to visit due to its lack of success or glory.  However, I took the plunge because I felt a calling to get involved and visit the women in prison.


The ministry was an eye opener for me.  The workers were few, but the work was plenty and tough. I felt fearful and inadequate when I was serving in prison, yet determined, because that was where I felt called to be. 


What impacted you most about volunteering for this initiative?


Seeing the transformation of the people I connected with. I can say that I gave myself emotionally to the ministry when I got to know a woman prisoner, Jane (not her real name), and her mum. Jane was in and out of prison, deep into drugs and her mum, Lily was at her wits’ end.  I got to know Lily in 2014 and that was when I became personally and emotionally involved with their journey.


At the time, Jane was in and out of prison for heroin addiction and other drug related charges. I went to the prison with a co-labourer to visit her weekly for two years, counselling her of her lifestyle and drug addiction.  After her two-year sentence was up, she was out of prison, but her addiction habits continued and went from bad to worse. She was even involved in multiple car accidents, and my co-labourer and I would have to head out in the middle of the night with Lily to pick up her car or bail her out of trouble. 


In July this year, Jane almost died of an overdose.  She was admitted into the hospital with only hours left to live and was on life support for 10 days. The doctors’ prognosis was that she had only 10 days to live, but she miraculously pulled through. During her month’s stay in hospital, we continued to visit her, show care and concern while she was drifting in and out of consciousness, and I even cried and laughed with her.


Thankfully, she was well enough to be discharged but will still need a major heart valve surgery in the near future. Through this whole episode, I saw an amazing transformation with her, particularly in her outlook on life. I hope she will continue to do well. Hearing her story and just walking with her was an honour for me.


The four-year journey with Jane and Lily was truly one big roller coaster of a ride. I even think I’d lived out the life of a drug addict, without actually taking drugs myself!




Jess (second from left) with Jane (right) at her baptism
(Image courtesy of Jess Hong)

Though you have ended your tenure as a volunteer with the prison ministry, are you still volunteering in the community in any other way?

Yes, I am always looking for ways to volunteer.  Aside from finishing up with my ministry degree, I am also currently busy with proposing to set up a third culture ministry with my local church community. I hope to include the social ‘outcasts’ and to disciple those whom society forgets, overlooks or neglects. My passion and outreach has always been about them, and I hope to do my small part to assure them they have value and worth in the eyes of others.


What advice do you have for other overseas Singaporeans who wish to contribute to their community?


I would say get out, roll your sleeves up, get dirty and go do it.  You don’t have to be rich or wait for an opportunity to knock on your door.  Go out, find an organization that you can or want to help. You should get uncomfortable, get out of your own comfort zone, put thoughts in to actions, and not just think of helping.  When there is no opportunity, create one!  Most importantly, in all that you do, do it from the bottom of your heart, not for any glory or self-gratification. I can truly say volunteering is not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination, it is full of emotional ups and downs. It is quite often unappreciated, but every now and then we get a glimpse into the benefits of our contribution, that makes it worthwhile!


Jess with a fellow prison ministry volunteer
(Image courtesy of Jess Hong)



SG Cares is a movement to support Singaporeans’ goodwill. It is about sharing inspiring stories, forging partnerships and growing opportunities for volunteerism. You may be far away from home, but Singaporeans overseas actively contribute to good causes, whether in your current community, or those back in Singapore.

Do you know an overseas Singaporean who deserves a special mention? Let us know here.


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.