Assembly work on the island of Sri Lanka probably dates from the early 1900s. At that time the assembly in Colombo consisted mainly of expatriates, but a Chinese lady who was the widow of a well-to-do British attorney was contacted and saved. She financed the purchase of land, which led to the building of the present Bethesda Gospel Hall in 1919. It is a commodious building constructed in the old colonial style. At no time has there ever been a resident foreign missionary on the island.
Due to emigration, the assembly became very small in the late sixties and early seventies, but God was at work in far-off Scotland. In the city of Aberdeen, He saved a Sri Lankan man and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. George Nicholas. Mr. Nicholas was studying architecture at that time. When they returned home they associated themselves with the now tiny assembly in Colombo. God was pleased to use them, saving other members of the family, and with the passing of the years the work grew. A major factor in its expansion was a literature work, with Bible correspondence courses being sent all over the island. George Nicholas was involved in the translation, printing, and distribution of this literature until his home-call in 2005.
On the 26th of December 2004, the east and south coasts of Sri Lanka were areas that were severely affected by the tsunami. Despite being a ten-hour drive from the devastated districts, brethren and sisters from Colombo became involved in the relief efforts, and that brought them into contact with believers on the east of the island. When the immediate emergency subsided, these brethren realized that there was a great need for spiritual help, and this need was made known in Scotland through the Lord’s Work Trust, Scotland’s equivalent of the Truth and Tidings Gospel Trust. A schoolteacher by the name of John Dunlop was the first to give help, and it was evident from the start that the saints were teachable. Twice a year our brother has devoted his holiday times to Sri Lanka. Mr. Phil Coulson was the first of the full-time preachers to go, and there was a wonderful response to his teaching on assembly truth. Adjustments were made to bring things more into line with New Testament teaching. Others who help in teaching on a fairly frequent basis are Jack Hay and Stephen Grant. A Northern Ireland businessman, Mr. Charles Davidson, accompanies Stephen each time he goes. Charles has a particular interest in children’s work, and his efforts have helped to invigorate the children’s work in the assembly in Colombo. New opportunities have emerged in that they have been able to access a few of the schools in the city, most of which are under Buddhist control. Other brethren from the UK have accompanied the regular visitors to share the burden of the ministry.
A few assemblies have been formed on the east coast in places that, until recently, have been battlegrounds in the ongoing civil war in the island. With the battle lines pushed further north, it is now safer to convene two-day conferences in the area, although there is a huge military presence with the whole district resembling occupied territory. Checkpoints are encountered very frequently. At present, the conferences run approximately every two months. In between times, brethren from Colombo make regular visits. At the moment, four in particular are involved in this. Rajeev Nicholas is a businessman, and Gerard Manoharan and Ajith Peiris are commended workers. The fourth is Stanmore Mahendran who has recently concluded a career in banking to be involved full time in translation work. There is a great hunger for literature, more particularly for booklets rather than books. One book that has been translated into the two languages of the island and distributed extensively is New Testament Church Principles by Arthur G. Clark.
Another place that is visited is the district of Hatton up in the tea-growing area of the island. There is a growing assembly there, accommodated in the home of an earnest servant of God called Sivakumar. Mid-March of this year was a time of crisis for the dear man. When preaching on one of the tea plantations he was set on by around 20 men and attacked with iron bars and a machete. On his release from the hospital after almost a week the police arrested him on a breach of the peace charge (preaching the gospel), and he spent the night in a tiny cell with five criminals. Our brethren were able to involve a politician who went to the police station and arranged his release, for which we give thanks to God.
There are other little groups of believers here and there, people who were contacted when they requested literature. They are now being instructed in New Testament truth, with the prayer that they will see the need to meet according to the Biblical pattern.
Sri Lanka has been a stepping-stone in seeing brother Phil take an interest in Myanmar, (Burma), and brother Stephen in Indonesia. At the moment, Phil feels that he should try to give as much help as possible in Burma, which may restrict his visits to Sri Lanka for the time being. Another contact that has been established through Sri Lanka is with a Tamil refugee camp in southern India. John Dunlop is the only western preacher to have visited there, but our Sri Lankan brethren have made one or two other visits themselves.
Pray that the continuing distribution of both Gospel literature and teaching booklets will be of help to the recipients.
Pray that the saints in general will be preserved in the war zones, and that our brethren who travel to give help will be kept safe on the roads.
Pray that those who interpret the teaching of the UK preachers will have the physical, mental, and spiritual strength to do it effectively.