Sri Lankan Hospitality

Date: Friday, 22 March 2019
Author: Rev A James MacInnes

It struck me, during my recent visit to Sri Lanka, that the generosity of one person may be the very thing that enables someone else to have that same privilege and satisfaction. Although not as often as it should, kindness should lead to kindness, and it was the hospitality of poor family I was visiting on my final evening that left a deep impression.

The eldest brother (early 20s) provides for his widowed mother and siblings. The youngest boy is at school; the mother cares for a profoundly disabled daughter, while a teenage sister also contributes to the family’s income through her work in a garment factory.

One Lord’s Day evening as everyone else left the church the eldest son remained to ask Rev Partheepan for advice. What should his priority be? A skilled cook, he had left the kitchen for an office-based role he didn’t find satisfying. His dilemma was that although it was a welcome increase in income it made greater demands upon his time – restricting what help he could be at home, and making it difficult to attend the prayer meeting. Wisely Partheepan didn’t make any decision for him but helped him to see that while finance is important it shouldn’t be of first priority. Of course, the conversation was in Tamil, and it was only afterward that I was told what had been said, and that the young man had decided to return to his former position. Yet I could immediately tell from his demeanour as he mounted his bicycle to travel home that he was much happier.

However, I only really began to understand the family circumstances, and what a sacrifice it was to forego that additional income when Partheepan explained that in order for them to prepare my dinner, he himself had to provide the food.

Previously the family had indicated that they would like to invite the Scottish visitor to their home, but when no actual invitation was made Partheepan made discrete inquiries. The problem was that while not absolutely without food, they were limited to only very basic meals until payday – and felt unable to invite me in these circumstances.

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But now through the Pastor’s generosity, there was sufficient food to also invite another three members of the congregation to share the dinner we enjoyed, under the Cashew-nut tree, in front of their home. A variety of fish curries – followed (yes, followed!) by peppery vegetable soup, the heat was in the pepper not the soup, which was lukewarm – and yet surprisingly satisfying. The meal finished with fresh fruit, though sadly the cashew fruit, which is said to be delicious, was not then ripe. Our table was illuminated from the house, the open door revealing that the largest part of the main room is taken up with a mattress where the disabled sister sits, banked up by cushions, under a mosquito net. Further light came from a bare bulb attached to the shelter for the family’s two goats, next to which half a dozen chickens roosted in a coop. Alongside was a second, more basic home, possibly just a single room, outside of which the mother’s sister quietly sat, hands clasped patiently on her lap, neither watching nor ignoring us. Custom dictates that only after the guests have been served, and encouraged to eat as much as they possibly can, and then perhaps only once they have left, will the family themselves eat. There was plenty of food left and I am confident that they ate well that evening and the next, but what stands out most clearly in my memory is the family’s pleasure in serving that meal to others.

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Please pray for Rev Partheepan and the congregation in Sri Lanka, and remember that your generosity in supporting them can help make it possible for the congregation to reach out with the gospel in that needy land. There is a real urgency with the current building project as the congregation must leave their temporary building by the beginning of May.

All donations can be sent, either directly to Muriel Smith, Free Church (Continuing) Manse, Struan, Isle of Skye, IV56 8FB (cheques payable to ‘Free Church (Continuing)’) or through your local congregation, marking your gift clearly ‘Sri Lanka Building Fund’.