After a prayer meeting at the Church of Prayer Mission on the morning of 16 December 2021, Kalithas Selvakeerthi told his pastor, Ravichandran, about an important decision he had made: he was resigning as chair of the community development committee to enter full-time ministry in the church. “If the church is open and I am not there, it means I am either in jail or dead,” Kalithas had often said.
Kalithas cared deeply for his community, just as he cared for God’s people as an elder in the church. He routinely checked on families in the community and brought food to those in need. Even local Hindu leaders noticed and respected his acts of compassion.
“Brother Selvakeerthi got many things done for the benefit of the community,” said Seelan, a Hindu leader who worked alongside Kalithas on the community development committee.
Kalithas knew that living out his Christian faith in a majority-Hindu village could carry a high price, but he loved the church and believed in the power of the gospel to change lives.
A Fisherman and a Fisher of Men
Kalithas had different priorities before coming to faith in Christ. As a young man, he made money by selling kasippu, a strong liquor, on the black market. He eventually married after meeting a woman named Ketheswary, whom he met in a village he was visiting on business. However, his involvement in the illegal liquor trade led to a battle with drug and alcohol abuse.
One day, Kalithas was confronted by a Christian evangelist, who urged him to leave his sinful lifestyle and place his faith in Christ. Kalithas and Ketheswary understood that following Christ meant not only leaving their Hindu religion and losing the support of their families, but also leaving the lucrative black market trade.
After giving the evangelist’s message serious thought, Kalithas placed his faith in Christ and gave up the illegal sale of liquor to become a fisherman.
Kalithas and Ketheswary were the first believers in their village, and Kalithas soon began sharing the gospel and inviting neighbours to come to his house for prayer. In 2001, the couple started the village’s first church in their house. Today, the village has four churches and about 500 believers.
Kalithas had a particular concern for local youth, showing them that life with Christ was far better than a life of addiction to kasippu and drugs. Over time, his ministry work had a noticeable effect on black market trade in the village, prompting threats from local dealers.
“He fought to save the young generation from all kinds of addictions,” Seelan said. “He was devoted in this, and many who were running this business were angry with him.” Seelan also said Kalithas once declared that though he might be killed for his work, he would not stop fighting for the hearts of the younger generation.
The Fatal Blow
Religious tensions between Hindus and Christians simmered just below the surface in Kalithas’s village, occasionally boiling over in attacks on Christians. Kalithas, however, did not make a distinction between Hindus and Christians when it came to his work. He showed great compassion for many Hindu families, even those that he knew were involved in the black market trade that he opposed.
After the prayer meeting at which Kalithas announced his intention to enter full-time ministry, he was home with Ketheswary when they were startled by something battering the metal gate outside their home. When Kalithas went to check out the noise, four men broke through the gate and doused him in kasippu. They then surrounded him and began to beat him mercilessly. When Kalithas fell to the ground, one attacker grabbed an iron crowbar and struck Kalithas on the head. Before the attackers fled, Ketheswary identified one of them as a man who had recently received a food parcel from them.
Shocked and frightened by the attack on her husband, Ketheswary summoned her son-in-law to take Kalithas, who was unconscious, to the hospital. Doctors eventually concluded that his head wound was too severe to treat. Kalithas, who never regained consciousness, was kept on life support as family and friends gathered to console one another and see Kalithas one last time. He died two days after the attack.
“His loss is a big blow to this village,” Seelan said. “We cannot fill this vacuum.”
Mourning with Hope
The loss to the village cannot compare with the suffering of Kalithas’s family, as Ketheswary now has six children to support on her own while dealing with her grief. VOM has provided the family with food and living expenses, which Ketheswary said has brought her new hope.
Still, she continues to wrestle with questions about why God allowed her husband to die. Her Hindu relatives have taunted her with other questions: “Your husband was killed in a lowly way,” they said. “Are you still going to believe in your God just for the sake of believing something?”
“I believe in God,” Ketheswary replied, “and I will meet Kalithas in heaven. I have never considered turning back from my faith or my God.”
All of Kalithas’s children have struggled with a desire for vengeance, but a visiting pastor from India helped them gain a biblical perspective. “He taught us about forgiveness,” said Joshuba, Kalithas’s eldest daughter. “God helped me to release [the bitterness] and healed me. By God’s grace, I have forgiven them.”
Pastor Ravichandran expressed certainty that the life and death of his friend Kalithas, as well as the outpouring of love and support from the global body of Christ, will have a lasting influence on the village. “The community has seen how the Lord has been faithful to this family and taken care of them,” he said. “This has opened a door to testify to many of them.”
Kalithas’s life stands as an example for his family and church to follow. “As a husband he was faithful, as a father he was faithful, in the local church he was faithful and committed,” Joshuba said. “My father lived a life pleasing to God before the community, church and family, and he paid a high price for walking in [God’s] path. I urge everyone to live a life worthy of the calling.”