Max Jeganathan was less than 1-year-old when he and his parents had to flee Colombo, Sri Lanka on a cargo ship due to violent racial riots in 1983. Known as Black July, mobs of Sinhalese gangs attacked Tamils around the country, forcing thousands into exile as part of the gruelling 26-year-long civil war.

Granted refugee status in Australia, Max went on to become a successful lawyer and political adviser, and later joined Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) as an evangelist. 

For International Day of Peace (September 21), Max reflects on the injustice he faced as a people group and how he was able to forgive those who had committed such atrocities.

This powerful story of redemption was adapted from a short film that follows Max back to Sri Lanka, as he recounts the miraculous hand of God on his life.

In my first year of life, Sri Lanka had been going through a lot of civil and political unrest.

When I was just a few months old, there were either government-sanctioned or government-enabled paramilitary gangs that were going around various parts of Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka as well.

My parents had gotten word that they were potentially at risk and in danger. But before they had a chance to get away from our home, one of these gangs showed up.

Stills from the film A Redemption Narrative ft. Max Jeganathan by RZIM Asia-Pacific

My dad grabbed me and ran into the bathroom at the back of the house. While my mum was stuck in the front of the house, this gang busted down the door and came in.

Being very unhelpful as a one-year-old, or less than a one-year-old at that time, I started crying and they heard me. 

My dad was holding me, and all that he and my mum could do at that moment was to pray.

There was a bunch of guys who were under the influence of drugs. They had all kinds of equipment and were banging away at this door – this raggedy, old, wooden bathroom door with a tiny little latch.

All the principles and laws of physics would suggest that there’s no way this latch should have held out. But they banged away, and it just held. They ended up giving up and leaving.

But as they were leaving, they yelled: “We’re going to come back. We’re going to burn down the house.”

Baby Max with his parents (left); Max and his dad (right).

My mum and dad grabbed me and a nappy bag – that’s all we managed to take – and ran into the bushes at the side. A servant girl from nearby saw us and pointed to the reality that my parents were unlikely to survive the night.

She said: “Look, it’s likely you’re going to be killed tonight. At least give us your baby, and we can find a home for him or give him another chance. We’ll make sure he gets raised and protected.”

My parents somehow mustered the courage and gave me to this girl, thinking that they would never see me again.

Huddled in the bushes for the most part that night, they saw their house burned down to the ground – everything they owned, all of their valuables.

But the Lord somehow protected all three of us that night. My parents survived, and I managed to take shelter in another home.

The next day, my uncle who is a police officer and fluent in Sinhala (the majority language of Sri Lanka), managed to find me and bring me back. By the grace of God, I was reunited with my parents.

What was left of Max’s family home after the fire.

The next thing we knew, we were on an open cargo ship on its way up to Jaffna, in the north of Sri Lanka. It wasn’t until sometime after that when we got a confirmation that we were being given refugee status in Australia.

Soon after that, the Lord led us to Australia and gave us a new beginning.

When I look back on that, it became so clear to me that the Lord’s fingerprints were all over us right from the beginning.

There’s no way that that lock should have held. There’s no way that my dad and I should have gotten out of that situation alive.

The people I met in Australia and the friendships that I was able to form, the educational opportunities to study law, to get admitted to the Bar, to work in politics and with prime ministers and ministers, to sit around the Cabinet table of the Australian Government in Parliament.

Clearly what people had intended for evil, God had meant and used for good.

Max spent his childhood years in Australia (right) and eventually landed a career in law and politics. He even had the privilege to work with national leaders and sit in the Australian Parliament (left).

But there was one gap, emotionally and spiritually, that I was struggling with: reconciliation and forgiveness.

One of the real sources of that struggle was that I couldn’t understand how a people, how a government, how the men that attacked my family and tried to kill my father and I, could bear that kind of hatred, evil and darkness.

It wasn’t until the Lord showed me that I didn’t have to look very far to understand that darkness and malice. I only had to look inside my own heart and there were very clear, though very embarrassing, traces of that darkness.

I used to think it was about good fighting the evil out there, but through this journey, the Lord showed me that while the fight between good and evil is real, it’s inside every human heart. It’s not an “us versus them” thing.

That’s when it dawned on me that as far as God is concerned, as far as His perfection would have it, my dad and I might as well have been on the other side of the door with those men who were attacking us.

We’re all just a bunch of people who are broken, who need the saving and transforming love of Jesus Christ, and who can only be delivered through His cross and His forgiveness.

After having that revelation from the Lord, a few years ago I was able to come back to Sri Lanka on Ravi Zacharias‘ invitation and speak alongside him here in Colombo, 1,500 metres from where I was born.

“I’m not just a God of symmetry. I’m a God of purpose, I’m a God of redemption, and I’m a God of vision…”

As I walked up onto the stage, the Lord was very clear with me.

He said to me: “Did you know that it was almost exactly 35 years ago since I took you and your family out of this country? When I did, your father was exactly the age that you are now, your mother is exactly the age that your wife is now, and you’re exactly the age that your son, Zac, is now.

“See how I work, see how I bring these things together. I’m not just a God of symmetry. I’m a God of purpose, I’m a God of redemption, and I’m a God of vision for what I always knew I had for you and your life.”

It was at that moment that God brought it all together for me.

The words of Joseph from the Old Testament rung in my ears as I started that talk, that what men had meant for evil, God had meant and used for good.

“As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20a NKJV)

  1. Are there people whom you’re finding difficult to forgive? Ask God to help you with that.
  2. Do you struggle with believing that God has a good plan for your life and that He can redeem your past for good?
  3. Reflect on your life. Are there some ways you’ve already seen this happening?
  4. Share your story with us at [email protected]!