The last time I wrote about Sri Lanka for the magazine was seven years ago. It was at a time when the 30-year civil war was coming to a decisive conclusion with government forces mercilessly crushing the rebel army of the Tamil Tigers. From the point of view of the Lord’s work, the end of the war has had great advantages. Those of us visiting from abroad can now access areas that would have been out of bounds previously, and without the constant checkpoints, interrogations, and searches, travel to the various districts is so much easier, also facilitated by a huge improvement in infrastructure.
I have made 18 visits to Sri Lanka since 2006, the latest being in September 2016. I will give a day-by-day account of the visit which I trust will give a flavor of the ongoing work of the assemblies there.
I arrived in Colombo on a Friday, and the first meeting that evening was for ministry in the Bethesda Gospel Hall. Normally, the Friday evening is devoted to a Bible study for young men, conducted by a young, full-time worker, Tharindu. About a dozen of them gather, and in recent times, it has been a joy to see their developing spiritual interest. One evidence of this is the intelligent way in which they participate at the Lord’s Supper. Because of the visiting preacher, around 60 assembly members joined the young men that Friday evening.
On the Saturday morning, there was a children’s work in the Dematagoda area of the city with around 50 young people present. Another full-time worker, Gerard, takes an interest in that work and the little hall is filled to capacity. That meeting, with its predecessor at Borella, has proved to be a feeder for the children’s work at the hall.
The Saturday afternoon was taken up with two meetings at Bethesda, with nearly 80 children at the first, and then about 40 young people for a young people’s gospel meeting. Again, these long-standing regular meetings have made an invaluable contribution to assembly life at Bethesda.
On the Saturday evening, around 70 believers attended a ministry meeting in the home of Tharindu’s sister to the north of the city. Over the years, many believers have used their homes, both for gospel outreach and Bible teaching.
On the Lord’s Day, I ministered to the three language groups, and later in the day, there were four baptisms at gospel meeting time. Many heard the gospel, including 40 people who had never been at the hall before. I preached the gospel and gave an explanation of baptism.
On Monday morning, three of us set out early to travel to Jaffna at the northern tip of the island. My companions were Rajeev, a businessman who spearheads many aspects of the Lord’s work on the island, and Mahendran, another full-time worker. He has been involved in translating many helpful publications into the Tamil language and is an excellent interpreter for the visiting preachers. On our arrival we had two meetings in different yards in the area, the first for gospel in Vaddukoddai, and the other a mixture of gospel and teaching near Mannar. Tuesday was devoted to a full day of conference at the Thunavi Gospel Hall in Jaffna with four sessions. Before leaving for the east on Wednesday, we had a gospel meeting at a coconut farm that is run by the believers, where 30 employees heard the Word of God.
A new assembly has commenced recently in the Jaffna peninsula, and another interesting work is a small orphanage for orphans of the war. The Jaffna area changed hands from time to time during the civil war, but despite the traumas of these times, the assembly kept steady and it is good that in recent years we have been able to visit them. There is another assembly in Vavuniya on the road up to Jaffna, and again, an orphanage is maintained there.
On Thursday we had a full day of conference on the east coast in Valaichchenai with about 280 believers present, many of them saved in recent times. My remit was to deal with things that would meet the need of these folks. There is quite a cluster of assemblies in that eastern area, many of them established since the tsunami in 2004. One or two of them have recently had better halls provided, with brick walls instead of banana leaves for walls and roof! Two sessions of ministry on the Friday morning completed the visit to the east coast before we travelled back to Colombo.
The second Saturday was a replica of the first with the exception that there was no evening meeting.
The second Lord’s Day was different in that the three language groups met together to break bread and it was a joy to hear almost 30 of the brethren taking part. This was followed by a “mini conference” with two sessions of ministry. The large colonial building at Bethesda was well filled for these meetings. Quite a number of believers came in from Badureliya, three hours south of the city. Another full-time worker, Ajith, has had contact with them and visits regularly to instruct them. Charles Davidson from Northern Ireland has visited that area occasionally for gospel meetings and ministry, and some have been saved.
Time forbad me visiting one or two other places. Tharindu helps each week in a work at Kuliyapitia, and there is another small group of interested believers at Kurunegula. Up in the hills in the tea growing area there is an assembly in Hatton. An evangelist by the name of Sivakumar keeps busy there and pioneers in various tea plantations. He has experienced much harassment but keeps on. While visiting the island for a wedding recently, a Scottish brother, Eric Baijal, managed to devote two days to helping at Hatton with meetings in homes and on the estates. At the gospel hall, around 100 Hindus gathered to hear him preach the gospel.
Pray for Sri Lanka. Like everywhere else, the work has had disappointments and difficulties, but numerical and spiritual growth are perceptible. In particular, pray for Tharindu’s wife at this time, a sister in her thirties with two young children. She has been ill, and the fear is that she has breast cancer.
Over the last 10 years, many from the West have visited to help in the work; too many to mention by name. We are all aware of the fact that our contribution is minimal compared to those who are permanently in place there. However, the dear brethren assure us that teaching given over the years has had its effect and we bless God for this.