Amongst the many changes brought about by the international shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic was one which impacted me personally. I had planned to assist at the Sri Lankan mission for a couple of weeks from 23rd March.
Amongst the different duties I expected to have was the privilege of baptising Dia, the infant daughter of Rev. Partheepan and his wife Dino, and three older girls, Banuja, Nilanthini and Kajanika, each in their upper teens. The baptisms have now been postponed because, as in this country, the congregation cannot gather together for public worship. And Dia’s baptism must be delayed until such time as there is another visiting minister: Parthee cannot baptise his own daughter when he is the one who must take the vows.
The three teenagers all come from a small village about five miles from Vavuniya. It is a very poor village and the men are all day-labourers, and are therefore struggling to provide for their families during the Coronavirus shutdown. Our Christian pre-school is located there, and it is from there that children are brought by bus for the weekly Sabbath School and evening service.
These girls, all from a Hindu background, have been very diligent and faithful in attendance; they display a good understanding of biblical doctrine, and above all a desire to honour and serve the Lord. The Kirk Session is pleased to accept them into membership, though conscious that there will be many trials for them, particularly with their families and community disappointed to see them depart from Hinduism.
It may seem a strange providence then, that the day before the planned (but now postponed) baptisms, Parthee together with a couple of the young men from the congregation were welcome visitors in the village. It was not possible of course to properly visit, but permission had been granted, by both the local government official and the police, to distribute food parcels. Please pray that the Lord would bless this opportunity to demonstrate practical Christian care to these needy families, who through the pre-school and Sabbath School have had increasing contact with the Church.
Perhaps the distribution of this food will demonstrate that rather than wanting to take from them, the Church has something to offer and is concerned to give. The priority of course is the ‘bread of life’, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, but as the Scriptures emphasise, words are not compelling when not complemented by holistic, practical love. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James 2:15,16)
Wonderfully one of the men in the congregation who has regular work is employed in a food wholesale and distribution company. This has allowed bulk purchasing without the need to visit multiple outlets, and ensures the best value at a time of uncertain prices.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the origin of the virus, and criticism of the Christian church (and perhaps deliberate misinformation) remains in the wider community. The Coronavirus is portrayed as being introduced to Sri Lanka by the Western (and therefore the ‘Christian’) world.
Together with meeting the immediate needs of those associated with the congregation through food distribution, and countering these damaging rumours, Parthee is using every opportunity to bring God’s Word. Presently he records sermons that can be distributed via WhatsApp (it seems that everybody in the congregation has a mobile phone), and posted online for access from further afield.
Please continue to pray for Rev. Partheepan and the congregation in Vavuniya and Mullaitheevu, and particularly the three girls awaiting baptism and their families.