Visit to Sri Lankan Mission
(Daniel Tanner from Australia recently spent three months helping in our Sri Lankan Mission and we are grateful to him for this report.)
It has been a great privilege to be able to work for the last three months with Parthee and his church here in the north of Sri Lanka. It has been refreshing and encouraging to see the great work the Lord is doing here and I now finish my visit reluctantly, but grateful the Lord has given me the chance to be involved.
The church in Vavuniya is now about three years old, and has grown fairly steadily. Around 40 attend the morning service, and 75-80 in the evening. It seems a happy and united church, and has been blessed with the attendance of several men with good families. This helps to bring some stability to the young congregation. I enjoyed my time with these people greatly and their kindness and hospitality has been exemplary. I was present for the Communion in August, where several new people joined, making a total of 24 members. It was a happy and blessed time, joining in this sacrament which speaks all languages.
I preached several times and found it both the most rewarding and difficult part of my work. I noted that some were very responsive to the Word of God, which was a great encouragement.
An excellent spiritual ministry of the church is the Sabbath School, in which the church folk are joined by about 40 children from Selvanagar – a very poor village nearby. The numbers are somewhat down from what they were, as the church refuses to attract them with games, drama, etc., on the Sabbath. The Lord is to be thanked that so many still attend enthusiastically. The effect of the Sabbath School is already very evident in their outward behaviour, which is often outstanding – in contrast to many children from such villages. I taught English to some of them and found them dear children who warmed to me quickly in spite of my strange colour of skin! These children are from a very bad background morally and religiously, so it was a joy to see them hearing the words of life. We must continue to pray that the Lord would open their hearts to receive the Saviour.
The Seminary which Parthee organises in Vavuniya currently has twelve students. The lecturers are Vijay (Parthee’s brother) and Kerey, as well as Parthee himself. The students come from various church backgrounds – some Charismatic and others Reformed. The lecturers are doing a wonderful work in bringing purer Scriptural doctrine to the churches. And it was refreshing to meet with the excellent band of pastors and students which the Lord has raised up in the few Reformed churches here, and with whom the Church in Vavuniya maintains close fellowship.
This new branch of the mission is about 80kms north of Vavuniya, and was only started last June. There were initially six or seven attending, but there are now already around 25-30 enthusiastic attendants, with more who attend less regularly.
Most of these come from a village about 25kms away, where the church sends a bus to collect them. I travelled here every week with Piratheepan, the evangelist from the church in Vavuniya, and we found the people surprisingly open to the idea of coming to church. Normally, those from a Hindu background are very opposed to Christianity, and one can sense the resistance as soon as ‘church’ is mentioned. However, the majority of the people in these villages expressed interest in coming to the church. And although only a small proportion actually come, it is nonetheless encouraging that there is such openness to the gospel.
This is in contrast to a few years ago, when they were invited to church but adamantly refused. They say they do not know why they have changed, but that now their ‘hearts are glad to come to the church’. It is difficult to explain this except as a work of the Lord’s Spirit in their hearts. It was heart-warming to see their beaming smiles as they arrived for the morning worship. Their kindness to me also could not be excelled, and it was difficult to part with these people whom I can now call my friends.
But such a new church faces many challenges. Most of the people are in profound ignorance of Scriptural truth. It was a moving experience to go through the villages, watching the friendly people; and then to consider how long they have been in darkness and dreadful spiritual bondage.
Much prayer is needed for this new mission. Pray that God would uphold those who are preaching and evangelising and that He would send his Spirit to work with them in power. Pray also that He would continue to move the hearts of the people to attend His worship and give them saving faith in His Son.
The church here also has the blessed privilege of being able to combine material help with the spiritual work. This is largely due to the providential help of Ceylon Christian Care, a Dutch charity which provides nearly all the funding for this diaconal work.
The majority of the work is done in Selvanagar. Besides the Sabbath School work, the church also runs a Pre-school here. This provides the children with a headstart in basic education, training in general good behaviour and also provides meals. All is done with a constant aim for their spiritual blessing. Some of my best little English students were former pupils in the Pre-school and their excellent behaviour sometimes astonished me – it was so far beyond what I have previously seen in such small children.
Another project in the village is the digging of a well. This on a dry plot of land belonging to a man who has been attending the church faithfully with his family. It is an expensive but much-needed project, and this man will now be able to grow crops for a living, as well as use the water for essential household needs.
Some assistance is also given by the church to school students. This is to cover basic tuition and some other costs such as pens, exercise books, etc. Further help is being given to a few students by friends both in Sri Lanka and overseas.
Regular support is also provided for two disabled children, with extra help frequently provided for others, both in Vavuniya and Mullaitivu. I witnessed how terribly some disabled people suffer and am thankful that God has provided merciful helpers in the church here and elsewhere, who care deeply for these people.
Beyond the tremendous help of CCC, extra assistance is constantly given for widows, the disabled and for students. This is provided personally by the pastor and other members of the congregation and by individuals overseas.
One of the happiest tasks during my stay was to forward assistance to some needy widows and their families from the church. I knew that one family especially was in need and it was painful to see them suffer. So it was a rewarding experience to give the help provided by friends in Australia. We must continue to care for our needy brothers and sisters who have to suffer so much (1 John 3:17-18).
I found it touching to see the immense gratitude with which this help is received. And it occurred to me that Western governments have partially robbed the church of one of its greatest privileges – helping the poor.
During my stay, I taught English classes regularly at the church in Vavuniya, in Selvanagar and at Mullaitivu. Many were excellent students – some with considerable talent – and showed me a level of respect to which I am not accustomed! I would have liked to have had more time to help them develop their skills, yet they worked hard and I did see considerable development in confidence, as well as in vocabulary and grammar.
My three months’ stay not only gave me a closer look at the wonderful work the Lord is doing here, but also gave me a fascinating glimpse at Sri Lankan life in general. I can never forget travelling by motorbike down the little lanes of villages I never would have seen as a tourist and then being warmly welcomed under the palm trees outside the often tiny houses of the villagers.
Indeed, their kindness is often not shown in exactly the way we might expect. The culture is generally not infused with that delicate politeness which has developed in the English-speaking world. Often, their Tamil phrases are translated directly into English, with startling effect. Where we would say ‘please take a seat’, I am told to ‘sit’. And instead of our long, drawn out farewells, coupled with hopes of return, etc., I have often been surprised when my friends here abruptly tell me in a monotone voice, ‘I am going – bye’. And they are gone!
This abruptness, together with an apparently aggressive tone of speech, can be disconcerting initially. But it quickly becomes an amusing superficiality of a culture that I found to be deeply hospitable and welcoming. The kindness shown to me and the care taken of me have been remarkable. Even those with little money did all they could for me.
I found also that the culture has some excellent qualities which are sadly lacking in the West. Instead of the terrible disrespect and disobedience often evident in Christian families in our churches, I saw that authority here is greatly respected. It was also pleasant to see how appropriately the Christians dress. The sight of all the folk in the church is so much more becoming for Christians than what we are often forced to see. In these aspects, the Christians here put us to shame, and we must humbly learn from them a better way. These are essential elements of a Christian character, the neglect of which we so easily ignore, but which our God sees and does not ignore.
The church land in Vavuniya is held on a five year lease, and they are now two years into this. Recently, the land was divided, leaving the church with only half the amount of land. So the purchase of another block of land is now an urgent but expensive necessity. Pray that wisdom would be given to those purchasing and that the hearts of many would be made generous to assist in this difficult project.
Above all, pray for the spiritual ministry of the church – for Parthee, on whose shoulders rests such great responsibility and who could never accomplish such work without the help of our Almighty God. Also Pray for Piratheepan and Maran, who frequently preach, and are involved full-time in other work in the church.
Pray that the Lord would bless His own people in the church here, making them shining lights to those around. Pray also that He would send out His Spirit in power, not only bringing many into the church, but making them His own children through faith in Jesus Christ.
Finally, I would like to thank all who made my stay so enjoyable – for all the hospitality, the friendship and the kindness. Especially I am grateful to Parthee and Dino who made me feel like a brother in their home and who gave me such great friendship and fellowship. Also I would like to thank the church’s evangelist, Piratheepan, with whom I did nearly all my work, travelled so many hundreds of kilometres and enjoyed so many unforgettable experiences. And I would like to thank my English students, who also became my good friends, for making my work so pleasant.
It is difficult now to leave these people, and the kindness shown at my farewell only makes this more difficult! But I thank God he has led me here and I hope and pray that he will prosper my way to work here again in the glorious work of His Kingdom.