Family, Health, Meaning of Life, Relationships

His dad left, his girlfriend broke up with him … But Ravi Philemon’s life changed during one lonely night in National Service

By Janice Tai  , 4 September 2023


When Ravi Philemon was just a teen, his father walked out on his family due to mounting pressure from debt and alcoholism.

Later, while he was in National Service, Ravi’s girlfriend left him. Even the secret society gang he joined for a sense of belonging betrayed him.

Ravi believed that everyone important to him would ultimately abandon him.

Ravi believed that everyone important to him would ultimately abandon him.

Things got too much to bear one weekend night in the army camp, 

Instead of going out with friends, 18-year-old Ravi sat alone in the dark on the top of a double-decker bed.

He held a razor in his hand, and thought about his messed up life.

Betrayal of faith

After his father left the family, Ravi’s mother took up three jobs to feed her three children.

As the eldest son, Ravi saw himself as the new head of the family. Whatever he said was the final word.

So when Ravi’s mother became a Christian when he was 17 years old, she was afraid to tell him. Instead, she quietly brought his two younger sisters to church with her every Sunday.

(Their family had been devotees of an ancient Asian faith. People frequently sought out Ravi’s grandfather to read their palms.)

Ravi padlocked the gate on Sundays to prevent his mum and sisters from going to church.

Ravi soon noticed their absence on Sunday mornings and connected the dots. 

Feeling betrayed by their desertion from “the faith they were born into and the faith they would die in,” Ravi ripped up their Bibles and destroyed their cassette tapes of Christian songs.

He padlocked the gate on Sundays to prevent them from going to church.

“My mother was upset at the fights we were having,” recalled the 54-year-old politician.

But unknown to him, his mother continued to pray for him.

“God, are you there?”

To avoid the tension at home, Ravi deliberately remained at the army camp, even on weekends. 

But he still couldn’t run away from his problems.

Ravi Philemon

Ravi during his National Service days.

Feeling abandoned by his girlfriend and others who mattered to him, Ravi said: “I needed clarity and guidance so I began to seek God.”

Ravi’s friends heard about his spiritual quest and took him to different places of worship. He explored various faiths, and was so desperate that he even stepped into a church.

However, he felt his attempts at reaching out to God were all “one-way communication”.

“I came to a point when I decided that there was no God,” said Ravi. He stopped praying and stopped going to places of worship.

Not like the fear of ghosts

Then came that fateful night in 1986 when Ravi sat alone on the top of the bunk bed in camp, razor in hand.

He yelled into the air: “If there’s a God, speak to me now … if it’s later it will be too late.”

Ravi was ready to slit his throat and die that night.

The room was so dark, he could barely make out his own hands.

“If there is a God, speak to me now … if it’s later it will be too late.”

Almost immediately, he heard an audible voice boom: “I am the God you are looking for. I am Christ Jesus; there is no one else but Me.”

Recalled Ravi: “The voice was loud and commanding, yet also firm and reassuring. It was all around me. 

“I knew I couldn’t have imagined it. I knew over 300 other gods but I didn’t know anything about Jesus.”

Startled by the voice, he was filled with fear.

“But it wasn’t the kind of fear that you feel when you see a ghost.

“It was the kind of fear you have when you realise you’re in the presence of Someone great, mighty and awesome,” said Ravi.

Ravi also felt extremely “dirty” amid the voice’s holy presence.

“The voice was loud and commanding, yet also firm and reassuring.”

“My mind was running a movie playback of all the moments I had sinned when I was smoking, getting drunk or swearing.

“Those were ‘normal’ habits and no big deal to me in the past, but that night I became aware that those were sins,” said Ravi.

He wept the whole night. However, he felt different in the morning.

“I felt so comforted that God understood all that I was going through and He was holding me through it all,” he said.

In that instant, Ravi’s life changed.

A new Father

Once adrift due to his father’s absence, Ravi found a renewed purpose. He began a journey to learn more about God, his heavenly Father and guide through life.

He told his mother that he wanted to go to church, and began learning more about Jesus.

Over the next few years, Ravi also weaned himself off cigarettes, alcohol and swearing.

Ravi also weaned himself off cigarettes … At first, it seemed impossible as he smoked two packets of cigarettes a day.

At first, it seemed impossible as he smoked two packets of cigarettes a day.

But when he heard God tell him not to defile his body as it was a “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), Ravi was convinced and successfully quit cold turkey.

When his relatives heard that Ravi had become a Christian, they were upset and distanced themselves. The warned him not to be “a fanatic”.

But Ravi’s faith only grew. He took on more leadership roles in church and also went on short-term mission trips. He also obtained a diploma from the Singapore Bible College while working as a special needs teacher.

Ravi’s first mission trip to India in 1995.

In 1993, Ravi founded and pastored his own church – House of Praise – that grew out of his flat to become one of the fastest growing Tamil churches at the time.

More than overcomers

Reflecting on his life, particularly the moments in camp when he heard God’s audible voice, Ravi recognises how swiftly one’s life can change.

Ravi entered politics and contested in the 2015 election as a Singapore People’s Party candidate. In 2020, he set up a new political party, Red Dot United (pictured), intending to contest in the next General Election. Ravi also runs his own content creation agency.

“We think life is like a gentle graph and things happen gradually. Actually, in just a moment, life can suddenly change.

“But the God we serve is an anchor for us when we deal with these sudden changes. We can come out of challenges as more than overcomers if we focus on Him and are led by the Spirit.”

This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.

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