Tony Ting

From Reel Life to Real Life

Produced by Our Stories, His Glory Team

Tony Ting - Feature Image

Reading Progress:

Tony Ting’s career spans close to five decades. The last 24 years were spent as a church counsellor at Wesley Methodist Church (WMC), before he retired in 2023. It was here at WMC that God used Tony mightily in building up Wesley Counselling Services, one of the most established and sought-after faith-based counselling agencies in Singapore. Clients and colleagues have credited Tony as a trailblazer; instinctual, insightful, intuitive with a heart attuned to God and community. Tony has an uncanny ability to spot the potential in people, often before they know it. To think that Tony started off his teenage years restless, defiant and feeling empty. Tony recalls: “My growing up years were difficult and full of challenges.  When I think about my childhood, the words that come to my mind are emptiness, restlessness, defiance and escape.” His teen and early adult years were indeed a winding path full of ups and downs. But God was using this path to prepare him for the impact he would make as a counsellor not only on Wesley Methodist Church but on the counselling scene in Singapore.

Tony’s journey resembled more of a roller coaster, with ups and downs. Yet looking back, despite feeling lost or discouraged along the way, God was leading him forward in a singular direction. 

His parents had divorced when he was a year old. From 13 to 16, during his most impressionable years, he reeled from the family break-up: “I felt restless and empty. Instead of attending school, I escaped to another world. I received my ‘education’ watching second-run movies for just 30 cents each at three worlds—Gay World, Great World and New World.”

Little did Tony know that decades later, this early love of the movies would be used as a counselling therapy, as he built up Wesley Counselling Services (WCS) at Wesley Methodist Church (WMC) to become one of the most highly-regarded faith-based counselling centres in Singapore. 

The journey to WMC, where Tony served for 24 years before retiring in 2023, took more than 23 years. During these earlier years, Tony served briefly as a fledgling pastor; knocked on doors at Raffles Hall1 to make Christ known with the Navigators2; helped recovering drug addicts in Singapore and Hong Kong; and served as a professional counsellor with the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE).3 

While he was in SCORE, he helped found the Association of Professionals Specialising in Addiction Counselling (APSAC)4. Tony recognised the need for such a professional body in order to bring together, better equip and motivate counsellors working in this challenging area of addiction counselling. He has been honorary President of APSAC since its inception in September 1998. There are now over 200 professional helpers certified as gambling and/or substance abuse counsellors by APSAC. 

WCS fellow counsellor David Blakely shares: “Tony is a trailblazer, being a founding member of APSAC that has directly influenced the field of addiction counselling in Singapore. It did this because Tony, and the original leadership with him, believed and pushed for an international level of certification. We as a Christian community have been blessed by Tony’s work, and also we as a nation have been blessed.” 

It was during the first half of Tony’s career that he was able to further hone his professional skills in the different sectors. God indeed opened doors for him, as He led Tony to a role where he would make a significant and critical impact for the kingdom.

A vacancy at WMC came up with the resignation of a Wesley Counselling Services (WCS) counsellor in 1999. Feeling somewhat disillusioned after many years in public service, Tony applied. He got the job as Pastoral Team Member (PTM) and stayed on for 24 years before retiring in 2023.

Years ago, he would have felt trepidation getting into such a role. But he forged ahead to apply as he realised that “there is no better profession for me than counselling”. He fondly recalled this sign he saw in the Canadian Rockies while on holiday: “nothing lasts forever—not cliffs, not creeks, not canyons”. He also recalled C T Studd’s words: “only one life; t’will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last”. 

Tony was in his element at WCS. In his capacity as PTM, he took on multiple roles with the help of co-counsellors and volunteers. In addition to counselling, Tony also recruited, trained and supervised lay counsellors; ran training workshops for church members; and managed support groups.

In addition to all that was expected of a church-based counselling service, Tony applied his skillsets to develop specialised areas that would bless the larger Body of Christ.

Over time, he became deeply interested and passionate about developing expertise in addiction counselling, psychological assessment of persons wishing to serve the church full-time, helping churches start a lay counselling ministry and movie therapy (use of movies as a counselling tool and for training purposes). 

Looking back at his almost quarter century at WMC, Tony reflects: “I don’t know how to put into words what working in WCS has meant to me, and what a blessing it has been for me.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all the support and encouragement the church—through its pastoral staff and lay leadership—has given me. WCS was a good place to work in. It was a dream job!”

• Current WCS staff.

Tony’s job has indeed been a true calling; his love for it and passion for going the extra mile are reflected in his engagement and encounters with clients as well as co-workers. 

Given that Tony himself experienced the fallout of growing up in a broken home, he is very much pro-marriage, and have, in many instances, contributed to saving marriages. One client attests: “One of the reasons why I wanted to become a member of Wesley is because I was tremendously blessed by Wesley Counselling Services. My husband and I met Tony Ting in 2015 when our marriage fell apart. When we first met Tony, I do not think I was a believer. He then was the only Christian I spent time and shared my thoughts with. He was the only calm in my tumultuous days. Tony is professional in his approach with my husband and I, and he does not push Christian values on us even though he is working for the church. Through his conduct, care, concern, kindness and generosity, Tony represented Christ thoroughly and he reminded me of how great God is and rekindled my desire to know God again.

“Today, my husband and I are still together and happier than before. We have worked through our difficulties and we would not be where we are if not for Tony.”

In an appreciation note to Tony on his retirement, a couple wrote: “You have been an incredible blessing to me for two of the toughest moments of my life—the loss of my son and during my battle against cancer. I thank the Lord for your life, for your heart of compassion and love for others, and for the words of wisdom spoken into my life. You have helped me in many ways and I have received much from our sessions.

“Thank you for being a healing balm in our journey and always reframing our perspective from surviving in the world to flourishing in the LORD. It means a lot to us! God bless.” 

Retired pastor Rev Melvin Huang, who was posted to WMC as PIC the same year (1999) Tony took on his job, said: “Tony has done much to help many at Wesley. But his ministry extended beyond.”

Those who have served closely with Tony in this ministry of care, compassion and love  give us precious insights into his gifts, skillsets, trust and belief in people. 

Tony took in Yap Siew Ling as an intern for her practicum in the midst of her Masters in Counselling. After her internship and a short stint as lay counsellor, Tony invited her to be a full-time counsellor in WCS. Siew Ling recalls: “Tony has the uncanny ability to spot the potential in people even before the person knew or exhibited it. It is like how Jesus saw Nathaniel’s potential in John 1:47.  He saw strengths in me which I didn’t know existed. He gave me opportunities to unearth and develop my strengths through my role as a lay counsellor and full-time counsellor. I am grateful that I was given the room to develop myself. While he recognised the weaknesses in people, he chose to focus on their strengths and how they could value-add to the ministry.  He believed in people and this is reflected in his words and actions.”

• Tony and his counselling fraternity – past and present.

One very key area which Tony contributed to at WCS was building both capacity and capability. He has done this through a pool of volunteer lay counsellors who are each trained in-house to provide counselling services that are, by and large, comparable to those provided by professionals. On average, the 30 lay counsellors working with three full-time counsellors provide counselling and support to over 200 clients annually. 

Lui Yanzhen, Lay Counsellor for eight years with WCS who was supervised by Tony when she first started out, notes this strong trait of Tony’s: “One thing I have learnt from Tony is the belief that it is never too late for change. Anyone, at any age or stage of life, has the capacity to grow and learn and be transformed by God.”. 

Yanzhen appreciates Tony’s valuable and vast experience base when it comes to imparting skills to others, and she appreciates his “challenging the lay counsellors to develop wider and deeper perspectives on the issues raised. … His guidance was especially valuable when we encountered more complex cases, and Tony’s sharp and layered insights—honed through his vast experience and deep knowledge—helped us to think beyond the superficies of the presenting issues and reach the root and heart of the clients’ situations”.

Knowing Tony’s love for sayings and quotes, in her tribute to Tony in the farewell album, Siew Ling wrote: “Henri Nouwen said: ‘Rembrandt and van Gogh followed their vocations from the moment they recognised them. They didn’t bend over backward to please their friends or enemies. Both ended their lives in poverty, but both left humanity with gifts that could heal the minds and hearts of many generations of people.’

“Thank you, Tony for persevering in your vocation of lay counselling ministry and movie ministry like Rembrandt and van Gogh. I am one of the many blessed recipients of your gifts.”

Caroline Ong, Ministry Coordinator who joined WCS in 2008, has worked with Tony for 15 years. She remembers Tony for his wisdom and kindness. “He is firm and concise in his ability to make decisions. We appreciate his ability to formulate life lessons using movies as a platform. We learnt a lot from him.”

David Blakely also describes Tony’s investment in people that have been years in the making—he should know! David, who first connected with Tony in 1995 over a phone call, and has worked with him for about 15 years now shared: “Tony will spend time with people and will have a great sense of that person and their readiness. Tony is loyal. Bonds built remain strong. … During my time away from Singapore, one precious moment was when Tony made the time to visit me in Colorado. We spent a few days together, where I was able to share my work and life with Tony. Tony’s loyalty can be seen in relationships he built 40 years ago that continue strong to this day in work, ministry and friendship.” 

• Tony and David in Colorado.

Hear what another lay counsellor with WCS has to say about Tony as mentor:

Gordon Tan, Lay Counsellor, Wesley Counselling Services

On Tony’s interaction with people and his relationship with his clients, David adds: “More than one volunteer has shared about how Tony’s persistence has given them the courage to step out in a manner that he believed they were capable of, even when they themselves had doubts.”

One of the specialty areas which Tony developed and built is a psychological assessment of candidates wishing to go into full-time ministry in the church. This assessment would be for persons who plan to be pastors as well as Members on Trial (MOTs, or newly qualified pastors going through the process before being fully ordained), missionaries as well as other church staff candidates. 

To date, many Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) and Chinese Annual Conference churches, including WMC, have used this assessment for candidates as well as for career guidance. 

Tony affirms the importance of the psychological testing of persons heading towards pastoring as a profession. “We should not be appointing persons to do a job that puts them in a disadvantageous position—it does not do the individual nor the church any good—it’s a lose-lose situation we should avoid.” 

Tony also attributes the growth of WCS to the resolute leadership by the Pastors in charge (PICs) he worked under at WMC. These leaders only speak well of him. 

“The test results played an important role in the process of selection. It provided insight into a candidate’s personality, giftings and possible pathologies. Tony briefed the Board of Ministry on how to interpret the results.” – Retired pastor Rev Melvin Huang, PIC, WMC 1999–2012.   

“Tony would always be accurate about his estimate of how a pastor would fare as a pastor—he has built a credible ministry.” – Rev Stanley Chua, PIC, WMC 2016–2020 and current President of TRAC.

“His analysis was sharp and his insight validated by the subsequent interview we had with the candidate. It was impressive to see Tony so good in his work, yet also exercising grace and kindness in the way he shared his views.” – Rev Raymond Fong, PIC, WMC, 2021–present.

As mentioned earlier, Tony spent many of his formative teenage years watching second-run movies at the amusement parks in Singapore. “God used my experiences at the movies to prepare me ahead for the work I‘ll be doing; my teenage movie-watching lay the foundation to use movies as a platform to reach out to others in my work.”

He translated these experiences from the many movie storylines and themes to counselling therapy. Between 2010 and 2023, together with co-counsellors, Tony conducted close to 30 workshops on some 20 themes––from resilience to addiction to gambling to recovery from grief. 

So his childhood escape to the cinemas was in fact a training of sorts, something that has stood him in good stead. Tony views movies like any other platform––art, drama, etc.––that can lead to purposeful learning and become teaching tools to inspire people to better understand themselves and others. 

• Movie workshop advertisement posters.

• Tony facilitating a movie workshop.

In his words: “Movies can be more than just entertainment; they can be therapeutic––helping viewers see themselves, their relationships or struggles in a new light and from a different perspective. Through talks and discussions before and after the viewing of a movie or movie clips, participants can experience emotional release or relief and gain valuable insight, inspiration and motivation for change.”

Where (and how) does he get inspiration to tackle the themes in his workshops? His years of experience with clients and their struggles is a treasure trove. Some are evergreen: resilience, gratitude, changing for good, praying for pre-believing loved ones, etc. Some are seasonal or occasioned by the times or prevailing trends in society: gambling addiction, suicide, sugar menace, etc. With suicide, for example, Tony shares that raising awareness is essential because suicide can trigger a contagion. According to Tony, a media report on suicide may strengthen the resolve of someone who wants a way out of pain and misery to do likewise.

Tony has run the theme of resilience multiple times in his series of workshops titled “All I Need to Know about ___, I Learned it at the Movies”. 

He arrived at this theme from counselling sessions where he saw clients finding resilience to overcome difficulties. He concluded that these experiences may be relevant to others, choosing to see that “God created a resilient spirit in them to overcome the odds”. 

This is, to Tony, what makes the counsellor in him tick, for he feels “we have a responsibility to be a supportive, loving and an outreach arm to the suffering”. This is catharsis for himself too––with each client he helps, he is releasing himself from those childhood years of pain from his family breakup.

Here’s how Tony uses movies as therapy. For example, with a couple who quarrelled all the time, upon discovering they were keen movie-goers, he recommended that they watch the movie “12 Angry Men”, which centered on a jury deliberating and debating if the accused was guilty of murder beyond the shadow of a doubt. 

The best takeaway lessons for the couple from this movie was that there were five conflict resolution methods, namely competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising and collaborating, and they were over-using competing and under-using the other four methods to resolve their differences. 

Over time, they were more open to using more couple-friendly methods such as accommodating, compromising and collaborating, resulting in a vast improvement in their marital communication and relationship.

Looking back, Tony recalls the many encouragers, enablers and good Samaritans who came forward to guide and help him.  

A well-meaning neighbour made a ruckus one morning outside the gate of his home. To avoid further embarrassment, Tony dressed quickly and accepted the invitation to church. And so at 16 years old, he heard the gospel for the first time at a church service. He heard of how Jesus Christ suffered in agony to pay the price for his salvation and the eternal punishment he would have to face if he rejected Him.

“That night, after a long emotional and spiritual struggle, I became convinced of my sin and need to be forgiven. I invited Jesus as my Lord and Saviour by uttering a simple prayer taught by the preacher. That night I became a Christian.”

A church member, William Fu, presented him with a Bible, saying, “Tony, you don’t have a Bible––here, keep this as your daily companion.” Upon graduating from Bible school, William presented Tony with a question and an angpow: “Do you have something decent to wear to your graduation? This should be enough for you to get a suit so you can graduate with nice attire.”

All the time spent at the cinemas as a teen did not do Tony’s studies any good. In fact, he would not have made it past the O-Levels if not for the people around him who stretched out their hand to provide tangible help. One such person was a church member, Ms Wun Oi Chan, a senior science teacher at Marymount Convent School. She gave Tony Maths and Physics tuition free of charge. They would have walk-and-talk sessions round the estate in between tuition, and on the walk, she would encourage Tony to open up and talk about his struggles and to see the light behind the dark clouds. Today, Tony does the same with some of his ex-clients, ex-colleagues and friends––physically and metaphorically.   

• Current day Tony and Wun Oi Chun.

Another good Samaritan Tony remembers fondly is the late Dr Tow Siang Hwa. Tony later found out that Dr Tow, an obstetrician-gynaecologist, had used his professional fees in exchange with a patient to buy Tony a ticket to Hong Kong (HK) where he had arranged for Tony to go for training in addiction counselling, and on the HK end, arranged for someone to receive him upon arrival and see to his getting around. In Tony’s own words, “Dr Tow took over to ensure that the addiction training and internship went as planned”

• Dr Tow who propelled Tony into the counselling profession.

Tony learnt a valuable lesson from the many kind souls who helped him at critical points of his life and whose goodwill acts impacted him forever. “Never stop doing the little things for others which may well be the biggest part of their lives. I choose not to take for granted the little things people have done for me––that has made me who I have become. People have come alongside me so I need to go alongside others.” Big acts, small acts, Tony remembered them all. Hence, he is rightly paying it forward.

Movies in the olden days typically end with “The End”, followed by a credit roll. Tony’s retirement in 2023 may well mark the closing of his chapter at WMC, but he expects that there will be sequels. 

At the time of writing, he has just trained six lay counsellors for the Chinese Annual Conference5 (CAC) to run the ministry in their churches. He will continue to help supervise these trainee counsellors (as he has done with countless lay counsellors with WCS) and their clinical sessions. He will also continue to undertake psychological assessment of pastors headed towards MOT, something he has done for a long time now, and expertly at that, going by the PICs whom he has worked under.

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from”, Tony applies T.S. Eliot’s  quote to his retirement:

“Though I have stepped down from my post after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 70, there’s no retirement for me. It is just starting a new chapter in my earthly journey. Come to think about it, as Christians there’s no retirement to our calling from God. We cannot retire from our spiritual journey.”

• Farewell lunch for Tony – the banner (“The difference you have made”) says it all.

Tony sometimes uses the rainy day letter6 as therapy with his clients. Here is his own: 

“Congratulations for coming this far in your earthly journey, notwithstanding all your past unfulfilled dreams, disappointments and regrets like not having a happy and normal childhood, letting people down, not finishing your PhD, etc. But let me also remind you that along the way you’ve tasted of God’s goodness and ever presence and divine providence in your life. So, as you commence the last chapter in your life, no matter how long or short it may be, let it be the best chapter of your life to complete your race worthy of His high calling for you.”

End Notes: 

1 Raffles Hall is a students’ dormitory in the then University of Singapore’s Bukit Timah Campus.

2 Navigators is a ministry headquartered in Colorado Springs, USA, set up in 1933 to share the gospel of Jesus; and to help and disciple persons to grow in their relationship with Him. The Navigators look to fulfill their call based on 2 Timothy 2:2 (RSV), “And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Today, they are a global organisation with over 1,200 ministry locations that have served more than 150,000 persons in 2022.

3 SCORE has now been renamed Yellow Ribbon Singapore.

4 APSAC is a member board of International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC), an international non-profit organisation that promotes public protection by developing internationally recognised credentials and examinations for prevention, substance use disorder treatment and recovery professionals.

To address the high burn-out and attrition rates among addiction counsellors, APSAC was set up to promote and regulate professional standards of competency among local practitioners in the addiction counselling field. It is committed to providing support, networking opportunities, advanced training and certification of professional competency for members to assist them in becoming more effective counsellors.  

5 Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) is one of three annual conferences of the Methodist Church in Singapore.

6 A rainy day letter is an example of therapeutic letter writing—expressive writing therapy based on open and uncensored thoughts, feelings and emotions. These letters will never be sent. Specifically, one writes such a letter, or is advised by a counsellor to do so, to help oneself when one goes through dark days.

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