Interview with Isaac Ong
Written by: Lee Wei Jie (Photo by: Alex Wong)
I first met Isaac Ong when we served together at a youth conference last year. Prior to this, I knew him as the “man bun guy” who had done radical things during his lifetime. From caring for the marginalised to joining the singing competition (The Final 1), it was clear that he led a vibrant, dynamic life.
I recently spoke to Isaac to learn about the interesting stories that coloured his life. As I dug deeper, I couldn’t help but feel his love for God. He would always make choices with God in mind, even when this meant he needed to take the more difficult path.
It has been almost two years since you were a finalist on Singapore’s singing competition, The Final 1! What was the experience like for you?
It was incredible. I was apprehensive at first as I thought that these competitions were a bit “dodgy” and no one really watches them. But God reminded me of the dream He had put in my heart when I was 14 years old: to be a messenger of love and hope through media. So, just an hour before the deadline, I submitted my video, and long story short…I made it to the Top 4.
It was a crazy and good journey — made many amazing friends, and best of all, I got to worship God on national television. Sure, they were secular songs, but I could not find myself singing to anyone but to Him.
That’s why every time I performed on the show, I raised my hands in worship and looked to the ceiling. There were moments where after singing on stage, I would go to the toilet and cry, not in sadness, but because I could feel His tangible presence on me; it was so powerful yet sweet, that I would just cry. I cry all the time.
What has been the highlight of this journey?
One of the most memorable experiences was when I got eliminated and had to go through the Wildcard Round in order to get back into the game. We were required to sing a non-English song, and I was almost certain I wouldn’t stand a chance.
But I gave what I could — I found a random song on YouTube that “clicked” in my spirit, and learnt it despite me not understanding what it was about. When I was learning the song and trying to google its meaning, line by line, I found out that the song was actually written by a Christian composer and it was dedicated to God! It was perfect.
The song was《我愿意》(I’m Willing), a song made famous by Faye Wong. It’s about how you are willing to lose everything, even your own name, for this person you completely love and adore. I remembered just singing my heart out, telling God that I’ll lose it all — my life, everything. After I sang, His presence was so thick on me I could not hold back my tears for a good 20-30 minutes. It was so shiok.
How has joining the competition clarified God’s vision for you?
The experience was a huge validation for me. Since I was 14, the door to the media industry has been closed shut. After God had put this dream in my heart, I’ve pursued it with everything I’ve got; going for hundreds of auditions, sending out hundreds of emails. But over the last 15 years, I’ve only done 4−5 jobs.
Every time I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and quit this media pursuit, someone would come to me, not knowing who I am, and prophesy about this media dream and about reaching out to the masses.
Through my experience in The Final 1, I was reminded that God never forgets. When I was 14, the specific vision I saw, was me playing Christian music at a radio station. 15 years later, I sang “How He Loves” on 98.7FM.
I’m glad that I never stopped believing. I’m nowhere near the accomplished dream, and some might wonder, “But, Isaac, it’s already been 15 years!” I still have moments of doubt and frustration, but I know that there’s a time and season for everything; there’s no place I’d rather be than at the centre of His will. If He wants me to wait, then I shall be found waiting.
What have you been up to ever since?
The Final 1 experience opened doors for me to work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, where I’m involved in music, art, and dance programmes with the Singapore Girls & Boys Home. I was invited to share about my dreams after the show, and one talk led to more talks, and eventually became a full-fledged programme on helping youths-at-risk with their lives and loving on them.
This opportunity has also enabled me to sing at many churches, pubs, festivals, and events. Every time I’m invited, I’ll always sing two of the songs I love the most: “Good Good Father” and “How He Loves.” It has been beautiful to be able to “lead worship” and pour your heart out beyond the four walls of the church.
I’m also trying to finish up school, running my business, preparing for Festival Of Praise X (the youth wing of Festival of Praise), and leading the campus ministry in my home church.
Could you share more about your business, Colours Global?
The heart of Colours Global is to uncover the social conscience of artists, creatives, businesspeople, and thought leaders of this generation and beyond. We enable companies and individuals to use, grow, and pass on their greatest passions for the betterment of people residing within broken places.
Our radical moments include offering free rides to strangers islandwide in 2011; and giving out ice-cream to our foreign worker friends to build the bridge between Singaporeans and them, helping to break the stereotypes that may have formed after the riot in Little India. We have also organised long-term collaborative projects, such as conducting workshops in Girl’s Home Singapore, and restoring communities through educational outreaches in places like Batam.
Social Justice seems to be very much on your heart. What does it mean to you?
Personally, social justice is about loving our neighbour. It is about us daring to love on the least of these — the very people forgotten or damned by society. This is our responsibility because God has called us to proclaim liberty to the captives, heal the broken hearted, comfort all who mourn, give them beauty instead of ashes, and the list goes on. It is not about us just talking, singing, or even tweeting about love, but us bringing Love and Light to the darkest of places.
My heart breaks especially for those who are victims of social injustice. My dream is to see God’s love evident in every facet of society, and for everyone — from the famous to the faceless, from the rich to the poor — to have a love encounter with Jesus.
I heard about your Valentine’s Day act on the streets of Geylang a few years back. What was the heart behind it?
The week before Valentine’s Day, I looked at my hands, and asked myself, “Isaac, what have you got and what can you do to love people this week?” Chinese New Year had just passed, and because I’m half-Chinese, I had my share of ang paos (red packets). I also had no Valentine date, so I thought about doing something random — to love on people, instead of being depressed that I was single and alone!
While praying, God showed me the sex workers in Singapore. On Facebook, I asked friends to chip in and bless these women; we wrote cards and baked cookies. With my ang pao money and the money we collected, we bought roses and prepared goodie bags to give these ladies all over Singapore. On our first year we gave out 300 roses and on the second, we gave out 1,500. During the third year, we raised over S$2,000 to support Tamar Village’s work, and on the fourth year, we gave 100 roses! It was a powerful time of blessing and bringing some joy to the streets where these women work at.
Some have asked, “Why do you do this? Why not bless people that actually have noble jobs like teachers and nurses?” Thankfully, while we often look at these people on the outside and judge them for what they do, Jesus does not. He looks at who we are. What He has done on the cross defines us, so these ladies are daughters of the Most High. I would like them to know that!
We extend love to where love is needed the most. We are not policy-makers, or people with enough power to bring permanent change, but with what we can do, we must. Judging will not turn the hearts of man; love will.
What do you hope to achieve in your life?
My life has not much earthly worth. I’m unaccomplished, financially unstable, and the work I do is unconventional. On many occasions, I get really scared, and often I’m so tempted to just settle down and do what’s “safer.”
But I know that God is leading me to something and somewhere, even though I’m still unsure what exactly it is. He just shows me enough for the next step. When I look ahead, I do not see where the path leads. But when I look behind, I see a path that shows of God having been faithful. So I press on.
At the end of my life, I hope that I would have done everything God had desired me to do. When I approach Him, I hope He will hug me and say, “That’s my boy! I’m so proud of you.” This would make my life so worth it.