One book changed everything

Kesavan with his wife
Kesavan with his wife

In The Hour That Changed My Life, Kesavan Balasingham describes how he sat on the bed of his prison cell just months away from graduating with a degree in technology.

Head in his hands, heart in his gut, the 19-year-old asks, "How could this have happened to me?"

Kesavan was about to graduate from college in the spring of 1999 and already had an offer of employment. His plan was to start working, buy himself a condo and get married by the time he was 25.

Then his best friend was physically assaulted and admitted to hospital, motivating Kesavan and his friends to plot revenge.

"There were about a dozen of us and a couple of cars involved in our action plan," he says. "We were not going to let them get away with this."

They really had no action plan and no training or licenses for the guns they carried.

Yet when the phone call came one night alerting them of the assailants' location, they gathered and a car chase ensued.

"The gunshots were echoing in my ears," Kesavan describes.

"A gun had gone off accidently in our car and had injured my hand."

But it was over in a few seconds, and while one person was arrested Kesavan managed to get away.

It was only the next day he heard on the news how two men had been injured in the shootout and one had not survived.

Two weeks later Kesavan was arrested, placed in the Toronto Detention Center and charged with first degree murder and two counts of attempt to murder.

"You'll probably get out when you're 45," his cellmate assured him.

Kesavan says he just wanted to wake up from this nightmare but by the next day he was already losing his mind.

"I came to a place where I wanted to read," he recalls.

"You have to understand that I hated reading. I only read as much as I needed to do to pass my courses. But that day I just felt that I needed to read."

In the second hour that changed his life, Kesavan opened up the only reading material available to him, a dark brown Gideon Bible, and began to read.

"From the first reading there was a sense of calmness in me," he says. "I didn't know why this happened and was too embarrassed to ask anyone. But I enjoyed this calmness so I kept reading.

"My cellmate said, 'You know, man, you read this book a lot. Are you okay?' I would answer, 'I think I'm fine'."

This is what Kesavan learned as he read:

"We are left without any hope, and no matter how much good work we do, we can never attain eternal life and heaven. Our right standing with God is never because of all the good work we do.

"I realized that even if I never got involved with gangs and violence and kept a good reputation in my community that I am still a sinner in God's eyes."

This does not look good for anyone, Kesavan thought. But as he kept reading he learned something else in Romans chapter 5 verse 8: But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

“I felt free even while in prison”"On one hand, I realized that I was helpless to fight against sin and hopeless regarding my eternal state," Kesavan says.

"On the other hand, the Lord Jesus offers the free gift of eternal life. I was being convicted of my sinful and rebellious state."

Two months into his prison sentence, Kesavan asked for forgiveness for the things he had done wrong and believed Jesus had the power to save him.

Over the nine years he ended up spending in prison before he was released on parole, Kesavan moved to several different institutions, completed theology courses, led Bible studies and prayed for his fellow inmates.

"You know, I felt free even while in prison," he says. "This radiated from Christ that was living in me— it was a true new freedom."

After his release, Kesavan studied at a Bible college, eventually becoming a pastor. He married the love of his life in 2010 and now has two children.

"I remember that moment when I sat on my bunk in my cell in Millhaven Institution where I would start to serve my prison sentence," he says. "I felt worthless, and I prayed, 'I do not want to wake up. I do not want to live anymore. Please God do not wake me up tomorrow morning.'

"God gave me a verse, Psalm chapter 119 verse 175: I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord. I am so thankful to God for not answering my prayer that day. That verse has become my life verse. Maybe you would like to claim it as your life verse, too?"