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Ravi Philemon with his grandson, Asher. When Ravi was 34, doctors found a tumour in his jaw. At the time, it seemed he was in danger of not living long enough to see grandchildren. But God intervened. Photos courtesy of Ravi Philemon.

Ravi Philemon grew up in a devout family that believed in an ancient Asian religion. People often visited his home to have their palms read by his grandfather.

When Ravi was just 13 years old, he volunteered his body to be pierced as part of a religious rite.

“I liked the deity and wanted to do it as a form of sacrifice,” he said.

13-year-old Ravi having his body pierced in a religious rite.

Ravi had grown up without a father since his teenage days. His father had abandoned the family due to mounting pressures from debt and alcoholism, leaving his mother no choice but to take up three jobs in order to bring up her three children singlehandedly.

Being the eldest son, Ravi saw himself as the head of the family when his father left. Whatever he said was the final word.

So, when his mother accepted Christ when he was 17 years old, she dared not break the news to him, fearing his ire. Instead, she quietly brought his two younger sisters to church with her every Sunday.

Ravi caught wind of it shortly after. He had not only noticed their disappearance on Sunday mornings, but also saw his mother bringing home a Bible and cassette tapes filled with Christian songs.

A praying mother

Furious at their betrayal to what he thought was “the faith that they were born in and the faith they would die in”, he not only tore up their Bibles and broke the cassette tapes, he also bought a padlock to lock them in the house on Sundays so that they could not go to church. 

“My mother was upset at the fights we were having, but unknown to me, she continued praying for me,” said Ravi.

He was serving his National Service then, and would deliberately stay over in camp – even on weekends – to avoid the family tensions.

Ravi in uniform while doing his National Service.

But he found that he could not run away from his problems.

It seemed that everyone that mattered to him would ultimately leave him. His father walked out on his family. His girlfriend broke up with him while he was in the army. Even his secret society gang, which he joined for the sense of belonging, eventually betrayed him.

“I needed clarity and guidance so I began to seek God,” said Ravi. His friends heard about his ongoing 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.

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

However, he felt that 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. His friends observed that he stopped praying and no longer frequented places of worship.

The situation came to a head when Ravi found himself sitting all alone in a dark room in camp one night. It was the weekend, but he was not out with his friends.

Instead, he sat on the top bunk of a double-decker bed all by himself, with a razor in one hand.

“I was getting ready to slit my throat and die that night,” said Ravi.

Yet beneath the darkness that he felt within and without, deep down, he believed in God.

So he shouted into the still air before him: “If there is a God, speak to me now … if it’s later it will be too late.” 

The room was so dark that he could barely see his own hands. Ravi was ready to use the razor on himself.  

The loud and reassuring Voice

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

“The voice was loud and commanding, yet also firm and reassuring. It was all around me,” he told Salt&Light.

“I could not have imagined it. I knew over 300 other gods but I did not know anything about Jesus,” he added.

In an instant, his life changed.

Startled at hearing the voice, fear crept into him.

“It was not 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.

He also felt extremely “dirty” in the holy presence.

“My mind was running a movie playback of all the moments that I had sinned, whether it was when I was smoking, being 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 cried the whole night long.

When morning came, Ravi could feel a Presence with him.

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

The year was 1986 and he was 18 years old then.

The episode marked a major turning point in Ravi’s life.

On fire 

In that instant, Ravi’s life changed.

From feeling rudderless due to the lack of a father figure, Ravi now had God as his guide through life. He also felt a newfound sense of purpose as he began to embark on an exciting journey of discovering God, his Father.

He told his mother that he wanted to go to church. On fire for God, he began learning more about Jesus – His life, death, resurrection and second coming.

Ravi worshipping God in church.

He also weaned off smoking, drinking and swearing over the next few years. It seemed impossible at first, as he had been a heavy smoker who had easily gone through two packets of cigarettes a day.

Yet when God spoke to him one day of not defiling his body as it was a “temple of God”, Ravi was convicted and managed to quit cold turkey.

Upon hearing about his conversion, his relatives were upset and shunned him. They advised him not to be “a fanatic”.

By then, he was leading a cell group at his mother’s church. He later followed a pastor who started another church – Jesus The King church – and became a deacon there. It was a missions-oriented church and he often went on short-term mission trips. 

Ravi’s first mission trip to India in 1995.

Ravi also studied for a diploma at the Singapore Bible College while working as a special needs teacher.

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. He was also ordained by the Pentecostal Evangelical Mission of Singapore in 1995 and served as its honorary secretary from 1996 to 2004.  

Ravi celebrating the first anniversary of the church that he founded with his elders and leaders.

As he grew in his faith, Ravi started to learn how to hear God’s voice beyond the explicit, audible voice that he had once encountered.

The dream that led to his wedding

Once he travelled out of Singapore for the first time for his best friend’s wedding held in Penang, Malaysia.

As he took the train there, he heard the Holy Spirit whisper into his heart: “On this trip, you will meet someone very special.”

“I talk to Him and He speaks to me. I know my Father’s voice.”

He did not think much about it but later found himself instantly attracted to the sister of the bride when he first saw her.

Though he only spoke to her twice during the wedding, he managed to get her address and they became pen pals.

Later, God told him to make his feelings known to her. Ravi was hesitant as he feared that any rejection might make things awkward between him and his best friend as she was his sister. Nonetheless, Ravi obeyed God and confessed his feelings to her in a letter.

“I also asked God, ‘If this is really of you, would you speak to her that I am the one for her?’” 

Her reply came in record speed in the mail within three days, and he broke out in cold sweat as he gingerly opened her letter.

She agreed to be in a relationship with him, and explained that she had had a dream of herself dressed completely in white and getting married to him.  

“It turned out that the night she had had the dream was the same night that I had asked God to speak to her if I was really the one for her,” he said.

Ravi and his wife on their first date.

Ravi, now 54, would also go on to have his own dreams, including a dream that the baby in his wife’s womb was a girl.

At the time, his pregnant wife treated her yet-to-be-born baby as a boy, as she had yet to get over her grief and anxiety over miscarrying their first son.

Months later, during a visit to the gynaecologist, the doctor asked them if they wished to know the baby’s gender.

“I know the baby is a girl,” Ravi confidently answered. The doctor was shocked and asked if he knew how to interpret the screen before him. It turned out that he was right.

“I have a relationship with God. I talk to Him and He speaks to me. I know my Father’s voice,” Ravi replied.

Ravi preaching in church in the 1990s.

He heard from God through a myriad ways – reading the Bible, having dreams, or hearing a still, small voice in his heart.

And there would be one more time when he would hear the clear, audible voice of God.

When he was 34, Ravi noticed a tiny lump appearing in his jaw area. The doctor prescribed him antibiotics to quell the swelling of his salivary gland and suggested he go for day surgery to cut out the lump if it did not recede.

Ravi did not think much of it and did not do anything for a year. By then, the lump had grown to the size of a 50-cent coin and it could be moved around his face.

When Ravi finally decided to go for surgery to remove the lump, it was an eight-hour operation as the tumour was found to be growing inwards over major facial nerves.

A distressing diagnosis

As a drugged-up Ravi was slowly regaining consciousness after the operation, he sensed that someone was staring at him.

He opened his eyes and found the doctor gazing at him.

“Is everything okay?” Ravi asked the doctor.

“Ravi, I have healed you. The knife will not touch you anymore.”

“You mean you can close your eyes?” the doctor asked incredulously. He was surprised as he thought Ravi would not be able to close his eyes for the next few days. He anticipated that Ravi’s  face would be drooping and his speech slow as some of his nerves might have been affected by the surgery.

None of those side effects happened.

However, after the tumour was sent for biopsy, he soon received the news that he was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer of the lymph node. Given that the lymph nodes were affected, the cancer could spread to the rest of the body quickly.

Ravi was given three options: 1) further surgery to ensure that all cancer cells were removed 2) radiotherapy and 3) chemotherapy.

“I knew I didn’t want to go for surgery as my first operation had been very painful and had caused me many sleepless nights. I didn’t take up any option but asked for a review with the doctors in three weeks’ time,” he said.  

During those three weeks, his whole family entered a season of prayer and fasting.

Ravi was not afraid of dying, but he was worried about the impact of his illness on the family. He was the sole breadwinner and his two children were still young then.

Ravi and his family. From left to right: His son Jeremy, grandson Asher, son-in-law Tyson, Ravi, daughter Jewel, wife Catherine, daughter-in-law Joshna and mother Ruth.

The day before Ravi was due to see a panel of doctors at the National Cancer Centre, he stayed up past midnight to pray at the balcony of his flat.

It was then that Ravi heard the same audible voice that had spoken to him more than 15 years ago, saying: “Ravi, I have healed you. The knife will not touch you anymore.”

Ravi knew then that he was healed.   

The next day, his mother accompanied him to the medical appointment, as his wife was too fearful to go. He went through a battery of tests and was given a clean bill of health.

“I was the one who did your surgery and I can see the scar outside, but on the inside it looks as if no surgery was done,” noted his surgeon with surprise.

“Jesus healed me,” Ravi declared matter-of-factly to the panel of doctors sitting before him.

More than overcomers

Ravi would go on to have more adventures, including entering politics and contesting in the 2015 election as a Singapore People’s Party candidate.

In 2020, he set up a new political party, Red Dot United (RDU), with the intention to contest in the next General Election.

Ravi’s recent Chinese New Year Mandarin orange distribution with Red Dot United.

“It is important for believers to be in all spheres of influence and inspire others to a life of Christ. I am passionate about socio-political and community issues, and I believe this is a sphere that God wants me to be in,” said Ravi, who also runs his own content creation agency.

Looking back at his life, especially the two episodes when God spoke audibly to him, Ravi has become acutely aware of how our lives can change in an instant.

“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.”


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About the author

Janice Tai

Salt&Light senior writer Janice is a former correspondent who enjoys immersing herself in: 1) stories of the unseen, unheard and marginalised, 2) the River of Life, and 3) a refreshing pool in the midday heat of Singapore.