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“My heroin addiction gave me the best gift: finding Jesus Christ” – David Ong, president of real estate company Reapfield

David Ong is the founder and president of Reapfield Group (powered by Keller Williams), one of the more established real estate agencies in Malaysia.

A committed Christian, David is happily married to Serene and has three daughters. He is also a grandfather and has been actively involved in his church, Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) for the past 23 years. 

One would hardly be able to tell that David failed secondary school, only holds a General Certificate of Education (GCE) and is a former heroin addict who had resigned himself to a shortened life. 

“I owe everything to Jesus,” David says over and over throughout our two-hour interview. Indeed, for this man who was lost and then found, God literally saved his life. 

A drifting life 

As the only son in the family (he has four sisters), David was precious in the sight of his parents. His childhood was spent along the alleyways of Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur, a neighbourhood in the heart of the city.

His father was well-connected to leaders in political and economic circles, being an illegal bookie who introduced his family to the ‘wonderful pastime of gambling’ early on. 

“We were cultural Christians as my mother and four sisters all attended a prestigious convent school; I attended Sunday School but never really knew the God of the Bible,” David said. 

He remembers lazy afternoons when the family would be gambling in the house, only to scramble when a church missionary dropped by unexpectedly. 

“We’d be rushing to clear up the table and remove any evidence,” David said with a cheeky grin as he recounted memories from the past. 

As his father was emotionally absent, the young boy was often left to himself and struggled in school, disliking the discipline of formal education. 

‘I failed Form 3, then Form 5. When you don’t have a clear purpose in life, you end up drifting. And so I drifted, dabbling in drugs and eventually getting hooked on heroin at 18 years old in 1973,” he shares. 

No way of escape

His father was deeply affected by the revelation and embarked on a determined journey to help his son climb out of addiction.

Over the next few years, David tried everything. He first underwent methadone therapy (an opioid medically prescribed to treat heroin dependence), then tried a 10-day detox programme at the KL General Hospital, where he suffered one of the worst withdrawals in his memory. 

David’s father then consulted a bomoh (Malay shaman and traditional medicine practitioner) who confidently declared success only for David to prove otherwise. 

Out of options, the young man was then sent to a rehabilitation centre in Penang run by an ex-gangster. “It was a 40-day programme that seemed to be successful, but the methods used were violent. Anyone found relapsing would be beaten up in front of the other residents,” David says. 

Although undeterred by the prospect of a beating, David obediently completed the 40-day programme. Ironically, he came out of the centre even more connected to the Penang drug scene as most of the residents were ex-gangsters who knew people on the outside.

“And so when I came back to KL, I immediately relapsed again,” he shares sombrely. At that point, he had resigned himself to the mantra often quoted in the addiction world: Once an addict, always an addict. 

Rejecting the oft-quoted mantra of ‘once an addict, always an addict’, David now supports others on their road to recovery.

A glimmer of hope

David was sent to Singapore to stay with kind-hearted relatives for a month. One evening, he was brought to a room where five men were seated in a circle. 

They welcomed him warmly, and soon he found out that they all had two things in common: serving time in Changi Prison and finding Jesus Christ while behind bars. Throughout the evening, each man shared openly with David his past life and how God had transformed him.

“I’m grateful that they took time to share their lives with me. One man in particular, Ramalingam, was an ex-gangster chief whose story gave David hope. When he finished, he asked if I would like to accept Jesus. It was the first time I had felt hope for my future, so I decided to give this Jesus Christ a chance,” David said. 

His prayer was simple. “God, if You are real, please show me.” He immediately felt a surge of joy bubbling within and His marvellous presence. Unable to deny the experience, he accepted Christ into his life. However, when he crossed the border back into Malaysia, temptation beckoned and he relapsed yet again.

Finding Jesus at Joe’s Corner

With his father still determined to exhaust all avenues, an elder from Jalan Imbi Chapel suggested a Christian drug rehabilitation centre for men called Joe’s Corner (now closed). 

The first time he entered Joe’s Corner, David checked out after six months and relapsed again. 

His father then gave him three options: return to Joe’s Corner, enter a government rehabilitation centre or leave the house. The best choice was clear, and David returned to Joe’s Corner.

Life there was starkly simple. David slept on a mattress, kept his few belongings in a zip-up ‘closet’ you’d purchase at a pasar malam (night market) and remembers days when sometimes all they’d have to eat was plain bread. “No more jam or margarine in the pantry,” he said with a chuckle. 

It was the perfect ground for faith to grow. 

Under the guidance of caring pastors, counsellors and dedicated staff, David underwent a “transformation of life, renovation of the heart and renewal of the mind” over two years.

“When any of us suffered withdrawal symptoms, a staff member would stay with us in our room, quietly praying for us as we went through each episode,” he said. 

He also remembers weekly small group meetings, where each resident would sit in the middle of the circle and others would point out weaknesses or areas for improvement. The exercise was nerve-wracking, but it broke prideful hearts. 

“What I learned in that season was that faith and repentance must go hand in hand. When you repent, you’re determined not to go against the flow of the Holy Spirit. It’s brokenness,” he said.

Entering real estate 

Having overcome his addiction and armed with faith, David stepped back into the real world in 1979. He only had a General Certificate of Education (GCE), so he tried different jobs — clerk, car salesman and even opened a renovation company. 

But it was in 1983 when God led him into the field of real estate. 

“My neighbour was putting her house up for sale, and she asked my mother if we knew any real estate agents. I connected her with one in my church. The house was sold, and I received RM3,100 in referral fees. I remember thinking wow, this is good money,” he said. 

Intrigued by the industry, David started Reapfield in 1984 with a partner. But with no training or experience, the first few years were a struggle. So he joined an established realtor for two years to learn the ropes and reactivated his company in 1990. 

In 2019, Reapfield partnered Keller Williams Realty International.

Think big, start small, grow deep

Today, Reapfield is one of Malaysia’s more established real estate companies, and in 2019 partnered Keller Williams Realty International, an American technology and international real estate franchise.

What sets Reapfield apart is its three core values, which have remained unchanged:

  • In God, we trust 
  • In family, we cherish 
  • In business, we excel

“I have to run this company for Christ. How can we not trust Him for the best. We’re not the largest player in the country, but God told me, “I’ll teach you how to leverage.” He taught me the power of association and the posture of the heart,” David shared. 

What has been the highest point of his journey so far? Without skipping a beat, David replied, “Knowing Jesus Christ.” For this successful corporate leader, his relationship with Jesus is what matters most. 

As for the lows, they have mostly revolved around people management within his business, dealing with greed, betrayal and leadership. But we are all sinful beings in a fallen world, he said gently.

“And the lows have to be there to contribute to the highs. Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors. Through discouraging seasons, we either become better or bitter,” he added. 

And a key to living victoriously, he points out, is having a mentor or discipler in your life. 

Evangelism without discipleship is cruel

In 1994, David was introduced to the late Dwight Hill, a Singapore-based American with the Navigators (an international para-church organisation). 

For the next four years, Dwight discipled David in the Word of God and practical faith. It was life-changing, and for years afterward, David was always looking for his next ‘Dwight Hill’. 

“I only stopped when the Holy Spirit said to me, “Why don’t you stop looking for a Dwight Hill and become a Dwight [to others]?” 

It was a loaded question that convicted him to the core and now, David is a passionate advocate of discipleship in the local church. 

He leads a men’s group in the Life-on-Life Missional Discipleship programme at his church, where disciplers walk with a small group of men/women for three years. His wife, Serene, serves alongside him. He is also supporting other churches’ discipleship programmes.

“I believe bringing someone to Christ and then leaving them to ‘figure it out’ is very cruel. Look at Jesus. He spent three years with his disciples, doing life together. If it’s only instructive and directive, it won’t work. Living out the faith is more caught than taught, His disciples learned by watching their Master’s life,” he said eagerly. 

Not forgetting his past, David also oversees CES Breakthrough Drug Rehabilitation Centre, a centre for recovering male drug addicts in Bukit Tinggi, Bentong.  

David oversees CES Breakthrough Centre, a safe space for recovering male drug addicts.

A heart of gratefulness

For David, life has been a journey of mountaintops and valleys low. Looking back, he knows he owes everything he is today to a good and gracious God. 

His personal vision statement is taken from the Westminister Shorter Catechism: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. 

“Heroin [addiction] gave me the best gift: finding Jesus Christ. If He had not saved me, I would not be here today. I lost it all, He gave it all, I received it all,” he said soberly. 

David regularly takes prayer and gratitude walks around his residential area, thanking God for a restored life, a wonderful marriage and loving family.

“I’m so grateful to God. How can I ever be ungrateful to Him? You know the story of the 10 lepers, where only one returned to thank Jesus for healing him,” he said. “I want to be that one, the one who returns to give thanks — and not just in words, but in the way I live.”

David with his wife, Serene, and three daughters.

It is a godly, attractive life that David Ong leads today. From an aimless drifter and heroin addict, God broke the chains of his past and exalted him to a position of influence and impact. To many, he has achieved it all. 

But David refuses to be distracted by “counterfeit glories”, as he calls them. He yearns to live simply in gratitude to His Saviour and to lead others into their God-given destiny. 

Until the Lord calls him to his heavenly home, David’s eyes remain fixed on his chief end: to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

This article was first published on Salt&Light.

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