From Idolator to Christ – From Church Planter to Prisoner

The Great Commission Fund

From Idolator to Christ – From Church Planter to Prisoner

The following is an introductory letter from a pastor from South India, John Palani Velu. It was a part of his reporting that allowed him to be supported by the Great Commission Fund.

My Name Is John Palani Velu. I was born on the 13th of May, 1958, in Thuduppathi Village in the city of Erode, Tamilnadu. Erode has a population of 676,000 and is known for turmeric cultivation and textile manufacturing. It is known as the Yellow City because of the turmeric. There are three languages commonly spoken here: Tamil (82%), Telugu (10%), and Kanada (5.5%). The educated also speak English as a commercial language.

John Palani Velu and Wife

I was born to a passionate idol-worshipping Hindu family. My father’s name is Mr. Arumugam, and my mother’s name is Vishalakshmi. I was the firstborn and have a younger brother and two younger sisters. There are six members in our family. My family faithfully worshipped at the Sri Peria Mariamman Temple (see page 6). She is the Hindu Goddess of Rain. In Tamil, Mari means rain, and Amman means mother god-dess. She is believed to bring rain and cure diseases. Our life was very miserable as my father was the only person working. He was a Handloom Cloth Worker earning daily wages, which amounted to very little and was insufficient for us to run the family. We had no proper food or education. My mother suffered with epilepsy from a very young age. Due to this issue, she was not able to work. Because of our pov- erty, we were not able to give her proper medical treatments, and besides this, the hospital was located 15 km away (9.3 miles) from our village. My father had no means of transpor- tation or funds to hire a rickshaw.

One day, my mother’s health condition was uncontrollable, and her epileptic seizures grew severe. That day, she expired at the age of 45. I was 25 years old at that time. Because of my mother’s death, my father became an atheist who never believed in any God. Since her death, I haven’t seen him worship any idol. He had put all his trust in them, and they all failed him. But I was very much interested in worshiping idols. This desire caused me to travel to the so-called Hindu ho- ly places to pray and burn incense to the gods, and I used to wear ankle chains (salangai) as I danced in worship of them.

A salangai (photo below) is a musical instrument tied to the dancer’s ankles. Its sound is much like the cymbals on a tambourine. Its purpose is to enhance the pleasure of the god or goddess as the devotee dances before their idol/image—a worshipper may dance for up to twelve hours without pausing. As I had no restrictions from my parents, I used to be ex- tremely devoted to my idols, even from the very young age of 15 or 16 years old, and I continued this practice for almost 25 years.

When I was 17, one of my neighbors offered me a Bible. I felt their offer was very strange and did not accept. But one day, after the completion of wor- shiping idols, I went to that neighbor and requested the Bible. When I started to read the Bible, I was so intrigued that I read the whole Bible. I felt a great peace in my heart, and I had a vision that I did not take seriously at that time.

I thought all gods were the same and continued to live my life as usual. My thoughts were only on my life and my future. I began to play drums on the roads to entertain those going to and fro, and as the years passed, I gradually developed an interest in acting in the movies. When I was 27 years old, I married Saral Vijayalakshmi on the 15th of July 1985. She was also from a Hin- du family background. I continued to work like my father, as a hand- loom cloth worker as this was the sub-casted that I was born into, and my wife worked as a cook for two to three families per day and there- by used to earn little money. After five years of marriage, we settled in Bangalore in 1990. We came to Bangalore (the outskirts) to work hard and earn money. We had been married for 38 years but had no children. After coming to Banga- lore, we rented a house for 150 rupees for a month (about $2). My wife continued to work as a cook, and I found a job as a security guard, and our lives moved smoothly. But as the days went on, we found it diffi- cult to run the family with the small income we earned, so we started borrowing money from others, becoming debtors. As the days went on, that became a habit, and we ended up with the financial crisis.

It was at this time a Christian sister visited our home regularly and used to share the Gospel with me and my wife. One day, we both decided to attend the church. I had experience writing scripts for dramas, so with the help of this sister, I started to write a few songs to glorify the name of the Lord Jesus, even though I was not yet His follower. I was inspired by the Bible stories she and the pastor would tell us of the love of God, His power and mercy. I had never imagined such a god could exist.

As we attended the church regularly, we learned that Jesus Christ is the only true Living God. My interest in the Lord grew as I started to get involved in church activities by hearing the Bible taught and making friends with the believers. All this happened when I was 40 years old. That was when I remembered my vision when I was 17—twenty-three years had passed. Then, one day, while I was in church, I heard the voice of the Lord in my mind saying, “My Dear Son, I called you at the age of 17, But you rejected my voice. But now I am calling you again for the ministry. Are You Ready to Serve Me? “

As I heard the Lord God speaking to me, these verses came to my mind: Mathew 4.17: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at Hand.” And Isaiah 60.1: “Arise, shine that the light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” These verses encouraged me to repent from all my sins and ac- cept Christ as my Savior. When I shared all this with my wife, she start- ed to believe. We both prayed with the pastor’s help and got baptized on the 1st of June 1997. We had been given names at birth that reflected our family’s Hindu faith, but now that we were followers of Christ, I changed my name to JOHN PALANI VELU, and my wife’s name also changed to Saral (Sarah) Vijaya- lakshmi. Immediately, we both got involved in the ministry, visiting people and praying for the sick. God answered our prayers and healed them.

Later, in the year 2000, I started to attend Bible College. I was trained systematically for about three years. After completing the Bible Course, I was able to serve the Lord in a Christian hostel at a church. We felt delighted and served the Lord there for about five years. Later, in 2008, God gave me a burden to start a church. I accepted the call of the Lord and pio- neered a church. Many people started to attend, and we encouraged them in God’s Word. Many repented and accepted Christ as their Savior. In the same year, my father ex- pired. The ministry went on for about eight more years. In those years, we experienced a lot
of disputes from the Hindu radicals who hindered us from serving the Lord in that location. We both start- ed to cry in the presence of the Lord about whether we should remain in the church. During all these problems, I was arrested and imprisoned, but by His grace, the next day morning, I was released. Praise be to God.

The police warned me not to share the Gospel to anyone here afterward. But I could not keep quiet, so I started to visit my friends and pray for them. As the days went on, I again felt led by God, and I started churches in different places and trained many youngsters in the ministry. Years passed, and finally, in 2020, my wife was not feeling well. We journeyed to the doctor and found that her knees lacked calcium. Now, she is not able to walk normally. She is also affected by diabetes and high blood pressure, for which she has medication.

During all the problems, my wife and I are serving the Lord. Please continue to pray for us and our min- istry. And thank you for adding us to the Final Fron- tiers church planters list. This gives us great encour- agement to know that we are not forgotten and are part of such a large family of God’s servants.
Formerly, Erode was about 88% Hindu and 12% Mus- lim, but today, the Hindu population has dropped to 83%, the Muslim population remains at 12%, and the number of Christians has grown from 0% to 5%.

Thank your for helping us make an impact for Christ among our people. You cannot imagine how encour- aging it is for us to receive your monthly support, to know that we are not forgotten and are part of such a large group of Great Commission Believers.

Learn more about The Great Commission Fund


  • Jon Nelms

    The Rev. Jon Nelms is the founder of Final Frontiers. Called to missions at the age of eleven, he has been winning souls since he was twelve. Jon was a street preacher, pastor, church planter, and missionary before founding Final Frontiers in 1986 at the age of 30.

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