Thomas Vijiyan, 47, is a former drug addict whose life was transformed by God’s love; it is a story of relentless love and renewed purpose. Today, he is the home leader of Rumah Petros, a halfway home run by Malaysian CARE serving discharged male prisoners.
Thomas Vijiyan is a Kepong boy. Born into a middle-class family, his father worked with the World Bank and his mother was a homemaker. And as the only son (he has one sister), he was the pride of his parents.
“Growing up, I was very pampered so I hadn’t really known any hardships. I was a mummy’s boy, had a car and knew how to enjoy life. I was really arrogant and self-centred,” he says.
After Form 5, he declared he wanted to study medicine and eventually went to India in 1996 to pursue his dream. It was there that his life began to spiral downwards. In retrospect, Thomas says, it all started because he was suddenly given complete freedom without having the maturity to manage it well.
With complete freedom, Thomas turned to partying, smoking and drugs, eventually getting hooked on heroin
“My dad was a very strict and dominant character, so I didn’t have much freedom at home. So, when freedom was given to me, I couldn’t control it. In India, I fully exercised my freedoms. I started partying and smoking to destress, progressing to marijuana and other designer drugs. Finally, I ended up getting hooked on heroin; it became my drug of choice.”
A bright student, Thomas sailed through the first two years of medical school without a hitch. Drugs for him were purely recreational, his escape route when the pressure got too much.
But in the third year, just as he was about to begin his clinical training, his addiction took over. He struggled to focus in class and began failing semester after semester. This continued for five years, and as his parents were unaware of his addiction, they fully supported his decision to remain in the programme.
It was in 2005 that Thomas realised he wasn’t getting out of this pit, and so he broke the news to his parents and returned to Malaysia without completing his studies.
Broken and ashamed, his efforts at overcoming the addiction proved futile and he sank into depression
When Thomas came home, he wasn’t in a good place. His addiction had taken everything away from him: his girlfriend, studies and dream of becoming a doctor. And when his relatives found out about his addiction, they began to distance themselves from him, causing him to sink further into depression.
“I never expected to become a drug addict, so to lose my studies, relationships, friends and everything broke me. And coming from an Asian culture and Indian family, the loss of face was an immense challenge for my parents.”
For five years, his parents tried to help their son by keeping him at home and helping him to manage his addiction on their own. It turned into an on-off struggle — several months on drugs, a few months off. It was a vicious cycle and there seemed no way out.
In 2010, Thomas fell into deep depression and began seeing a psychiatrist. Perhaps it was God’s loving hand at work, for the psychiatrist advised Thomas and his parents to try a Christian drug rehabilitation centre in Hulu Langat, Selangor.
Thomas entered Christian Care Centre at 35, and there he discovered the transformative love of Jesus
At the time, Thomas identified as a Hindu but remembers being confused at times over his faith. His father was Hindu and mother was Catholic, but he says they were more free-thinkers in the way they lived. Growing up, nothing was really real for him when it came to faith and religion.
When the psychiatrist suggested Christian Care Centre (CCC), a rehabilitation centre run by Full Gospel Assembly, his family was desperate. As nothing had worked so far, he enrolled in the two-year programme.
“When I first started at CCC, I was still a Hindu. However, seeing the lives transformed and all the testimonies of those around me made me start asking questions. Who is this Jesus and what product are they trying to sell?”
But the change he saw in other recovering addicts who knew Jesus was undeniable, receiving healing for their addiction and finding renewed purpose. And so, six months after he stepped into CCC, Thomas decided to give Jesus a chance.
From a fierce bulldog to a joyful guy at peace with himself
The transformation was immediate and permanent. After his leap of faith and accepting Jesus into his heart, Thomas found the strength to let go of his past, recover from his addiction and brokenness, and even forgive.
One day, his pastor mentioned, “When you first came in, your face was like a bulldog, so fierce. Now, you can smile and joke and are so joyful.” This statement, Thomas remembers, was a huge revelation for him.
“That’s when it hit me, how the Holy Spirit was working within me. Every time I worship, I used to cry but as time went on, when all my burdens were lifted, I grew more joyful. I realised how much I’d changed, and that’s when I decided to give my life to serve God.”
It was also at CCC that he was given his Christian name — Thomas — more for practical reasons than anything as everyone struggled with culturally different names, he says good-naturedly. Since then, the name has stuck.
“Lord, I want to help those who are struggling with what I went through.”
His motivation to help others in similar situations, he says, was birthed from seeing his parents’ struggle. “They felt so helpless, trying to help me overcome my addiction,” he shares. After successfully completing his two-year programme at CCC, he stayed on for two more years as a volunteer until 2014.
At the end of his volunteering stint, the now passionate ex-addict felt it was time to enter a new season. He began praying and looking around for job offers in a similar field — helping those who’d fallen into hard places.
He came across Malaysian CARE, and the organisation’s objectives hit home. One of their focus areas is serving individuals living with HIV, those struggling with drug addiction and prisoners. Thomas dug a little more and found a job opening at Rumah Petros, Malaysian CARE’s halfway home for discharged prisoners.
He applied for the position as staff member and received an offer. In January 2015, he began working at Rumah Petros and today is the Home Leader, overseeing the home’s administration and day-to-day operations.
At Rumah Petros, discharged prisoners are given a fully-sponsored stay for several months to assist integration back into society
Malaysian CARE together with the help of volunteers, visits prisons on a weekly basis to extend religious based classes and programs that focus on character development and resilience building. If a discharged prisoner is keen to join the halfway home, a Rumah Petros staff will pick him up when he’s discharged and conduct an assessment.
“Our programmes are based on Christian values and we have character building classes integrated into the schedule. We teach them living skills in-house such as cooking, self-care and gardening. Some don’t even know how to do their own laundry.”
The halfway home for men is a transition facility, providing a safe space for discharged prisoners to stabilise and integrate into society. It can take up to nine individuals at any time; there are currently five men living there.
“Each client is assigned a case worker who oversees his progress and development. We focus more on daily living skills in-house. If a client shows interest in learning a skill, such as welding or even furthering their studies, we channel to community resources,” he shares.
In this line of work, the joy of seeing a restored life is what keeps Thomas going through challenging times
“A real highlight is seeing a smile on a client’s face; it’s really a great moment. Many come in with brokenness or in other vices, facing rejection from family and society, so they carry a lot of sadness inside. When they stabilise and reconcile with their family, the smile we see on their face when they leave the home is really true job satisfaction. On the day they walk in, they’re hopeless. But when they walk out, they’re joyful and full of hope.”
However, the job also comes with seasons of discouragement. Some of their clients’ families refuse to offer their support to a client, which Thomas says is key to successful integration into society.
Another issue is of course, relapse. When a client falls back into old ways and habits, it can be very discouraging for the Rumah Petros team simply because they have invested so much effort and time into the client’s life. But along the way, Thomas has discovered a Biblical truth.
“I’ve learned that my work is simply to do my best and let God do the rest. Now, with that mindset, I don’t feel so discouraged. My job is to plant the seed, it’s God timing for the rest. That has been very freeing.”
To struggling addicts, his advice is simply to not lose hope
Thomas is clear on this: once someone is in addiction, it’s the drugs that are in control. The key, he says, is to acknowledge that one has lost control and needs help to overcome the addiction. “We cannot bluff ourselves, thinking we’re in control because we really aren’t,” he says.
When asked if he sees the current support system as adequate, Thomas believes Christian rehabilitation centres are effective but in general, after-care is lacking. “It’s very institutionalised now – helping them kick the habit but not really focusing on helping them integrate into society. So many relapse into their old ways once they leave centres because they have lost the structure.”
For Christians struggling to overcome addiction, he encourages them to fix their eyes on Jesus and take it one day at a time. For those who do not follow Christ, his advice is to not lose hope and reach out for help.
He makes all things beautiful in its time. Today, Thomas is married to the love of his life and soon-to-be father of two
When Thomas was at CCC, he had four prayer requests: to work and progress in life, help others like him, get married and have two or three children. He really wanted to live a restored man, and claimed God’s promises over his life.
As he sailed past 40, however, the last two answers seemed nowhere in sight. With a laugh, he admits he was quite bitter with God and questioned why marriage seemed to be more of an impossibility than ever. “I began to prepare for singlehood in old age, even calling my CCC mentor and saying I’d return there to work and live upon retirement,” he says.
But suddenly, it happened. In 2018, a friendship with a Malaysian CARE colleague, Rachel (who was working in special needs at the time), turned into something more and they got hitched in 2020.
“It was an ‘I tackle you, you tackle me’ — that kind of story lah. We were just friends and suddenly the relationship developed. Today, we have a daughter who’ll be turning one soon. And the next one is already on the way because Rachel said, “You’re getting old, we better hurry it along.”
Thomas says this is the love and faithfulness of God on full display. He keeps his promises and never forgets. “I really want to give glory to God here,” he says.
Without his addiction and brokenness, Thomas would not have found Jesus
Looking back, Thomas shares a powerful truth born out of experience: without his addiction and brokenness, he would not have found Jesus Christ. God really made him face himself with all of his arrogance and self-centredness, breaking and remoulding him as a potter does with clay.
When he first accepted Christ, his father threatened to disown him. But Thomas held unwaveringly to the faith he professed, and several years later, his father sat him down and gave him the blessing to be a Christian. “It’s truly a testament to the transformation in my life. I cherish that moment and I’m still praying for my parents’ salvation.”
He cites 2 Chronicles 20:14-17 as his favourite passage in the Bible. As the Israelites faced a mighty army, the Lord spoke through Jahaziel to King Jehoshaphat, commanding him not to fear or be discouraged because the battle was not his, but the Lord’s.
But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”2 Chronicles 20:17
“His plans are perfect, why do I need to think so much? I can just stand behind Him and follow Him.”
Thomas Vijiyan is a Kepong boy. He dreamed of becoming a doctor, getting married and living a successful life based on earthly standards. But God had a bigger, better plan — a plan that gives true meaning to a once broken life and a freedom that cannot be found in this world.
“Jesus is really my hope and the One that has given me a new life and renewed my purpose. I have surrendered everything to Him. All my planning, now I just give to Him. In the past, I used to plan and it didn’t happen. But now, it’s just “Lord, You lead me and I will follow.” The plan He has for me is the perfect one, why do I need to plan and think so much? I can just stand behind Him and follow Him. Life has become so much less stressful.”
To learn more about Rumah Petros and other transformative work Malaysian CARE is doing among vulnerable communities, click here. To make a donation and support MCARE’s work, click here. And if you’re looking for support in overcoming addiction, here are 5 Christ-centred places for recovering addicts in the Klang Valley.
All photos provided by Thomas Vijiyan unless noted otherwise.