Sri Lanka is located off the southeast coast of India, “the tear-drop at the end of India,” and previous reports have given details of assembly activity there. Since the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, quite a number of preachers from the UK have visited the island; for myself, I have just returned from my 26th visit. My previous visit had been in February 2020, but Covid-19 disrupted many plans, including proposed arrangements for Sri Lanka. A two-year absence left me very homesick for the island, although during lockdowns I was able to speak to the saints at least twice a month on Zoom, and had a three-day series with them Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, both in 2020 and 2021.
As in many other nations, the authorities tried to curb the spread of the virus by imposing lockdown conditions, and these were strictly monitored by policemen and soldiers patrolling the streets. At times, one person per household was allowed to leave home at an allocated time to try to procure provisions. This virtual imprisonment in cramped conditions was horrendous and created mental health issues for some. When assemblies were eventually allowed to gather, the police were in attendance to ensure that a register of attendees was being kept and that temperatures were being checked. The police are still present but are less intrusive now.
At present, the nation is virtually bankrupt, and a lack of foreign currency has dried up essential imports. In particular, petrol and diesel are as precious as gold, with many gas stations empty and massive lines forming whenever there is any rumor of a fuel delivery. Lengthy power cuts and rocketing food prices add to the misery of the people, so there is great need. For our recent visit, our dear brethren had been lining up for hours at a time in order to purchase and hoard the fuel that would get us to our various meetings.
In recent months there have been quite a number of food distributions, made possible by the generosity of saints from the West. The believers in Colombo make a massive effort to source the food, which is then delivered to their hall, and it is thrilling to see boxes of essential foodstuffs stacked high. It is then divided up, to be transported to the north, east, central and southern provinces of the island. On arrival there, sacks are filled for distribution to needy families, and on our recent visit to the east coast we saw almost 300 sacks distributed in a very orderly way.
The Recent Visit
I was able to visit the island over two weekends at the end of May/beginning of June. This time I was accompanied by Mr. Leonard Currie of Lord’s Work Trust, the UK equivalent of Truth & Tidings Trust and Gospel Trust Canada, and we shared most of the meetings. Because of the prevalent social unrest, our visit hung in the balance till almost the last minute, so with that background, there was much cause for thanksgiving to God that none of our arrangements were disrupted. Travel on the island was seamless, and numbers at many of the meetings exceeded anything we had ever seen before.
Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka, and an assembly of around 90 gathers at Bethesda Gospel Hall; this is most encouraging considering that it was almost extinct in the late 60s. Around that time, a Mr. George Nicholas was saved in Aberdeen, Scotland, and when he returned to his native Sri Lanka he committed himself to the work at Bethesda and was much used by God to see the assembly reinvigorated. (His story is told more extensively in Truth & Tidings, July 2009). He was called home in 2005, but his widow and son Rajeev and wife continue to play a major role in the Lord’s work on the island.
As usual, on this visit both the weekends were spent in Colombo. We started on the Friday with a ministry meeting at the home of a brother whose main room and yard were packed, with around 80-100 believers present, an encouraging start. The Saturday morning children’s meeting in the Dematagoda area of the city brought over 100 young people, double the pre-Covid numbers. A highlight of our visit was when around 50 of their parents came to Bethesda for the gospel meeting the next day, most of them hearing the gospel for the first time. Both weekends, the Saturday afternoon children’s meeting at Bethesda brought around 120 young people, again, a considerable increase from pre-pandemic days. The youth gospel meeting saw 50-60 gathered, many of them unsaved.
On the Lord’s Day, the Word was ministered to the three language groups. On the second Lord’s Day, we had what we call a mini conference. This time only Colombo believers were present because it was impossible for other saints to get the necessary fuel for transport.
On the Monday morning, we set off early for the east of the island, breaking our journey for a ministry meeting at Kurunegala where there is a fairly new assembly. It was good to be in their new hall, kindly funded by saints from the West. One or two finishing touches are still necessary, the main problem being the fact that the necessary materials are unobtainable. Later in the day, and many hours to the east, we met with around 70 saints at Alamkulam where, again, it was great to see a recently extended hall, a far cry from the banana leaf structure where we gathered in the early days.
The next day was a full day of conference at Valaichchenai when around 500 gathered, a number that greatly exceeded expectations in the current crisis. God was gracious. A power cut could have made the heat intolerable, but there were no cuts over these few days because schools were sitting national exams!
While on the East, visits were also made to Mutuchchenai, Palchchenai, Ralodai and Vaddavan, where two were baptized in the river after a meeting in a jungle clearing.
On returning to Colombo, we made one more trip for a gospel meeting at Badureliya where there is a relatively new assembly. In the initial work there, the saints were greatly helped by visits from Charles Davidson and local brother Ajith Peiris. The believers have experienced constant harassment, and they switch around their meeting venues to remain as “invisible” as possible. That evening our meeting was in the jungle, up a hill, and under a corrugated iron shelter – quite an adventure! Do pray for Sri Lanka.