Anytime I am traveling to a place for the first time there are always a few questions I am seeking answers to during my time there. What is the spiritual climate like? What is God doing there? What is unique about the culture and how do the natives view their culture? And, what is the history of the place and its people? We did a lot of driving (about 28 hours) over the course of my 6 days in Sri Lanka, so there was a lot of time for questions and discussion with Maxi, the local Sri Lankan pastor traveling with us. Here are some of my takeaways.
The history of Sri Lanka has had a tremendous on impact on the culture and spiritual climate, so this is where we must start. I was shocked to discover that Sri Lanka had been locked in a civil war that lasted for 26 years and just ended in 2009. I had no idea! I would encourage you to read more about this online, but here is the short of it. When Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon at the time) gained their independence from Great Britain in 1948 there were, as there are now, 2 major ethnic groups, one being the Sinhalese and the other being the Tamils. Under British rule they operated harmoniously in the government, but when they gained their independence the government was taken over by the majority (about 70%) Sinhalese. This left the minority (15-20% at the time) Tamils in a vulnerable position. After years of political tension the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam formed and began rioting and fighting against the government. As in all conflicts, both sides committed atrocities and did terrible things over the next 26 years. The war resulted in an estimated 60,000-100,000 deaths with up to 40,000 Tamil civilians being killed. In addition to the deaths, the war displaced nearly 300,000 peoples. Pastor Maxi, a Tamil, was nearly blown up by a bomb on one occasion and was shot at on another, so the war had really impacted his life personally.
Eventually the Sinhalese controlled government defeated the Liberation Tigers and the war ended. However, the ethnic divide is still very strong in Sri Lanka, which is very evident in the culture. In the minds of the Tamils, they are treated as second-class citizens. Prejudice and racism are rampant. Geographically and socially the Tamils and Sinhalese do their best to not mix. This is where the church in Sri Lanka has an incredible opportunity to model unity and peace to the culture. I did see Tamil and Sinhalese pastors meeting together and fellowshipping as best as they could, although they do speak different languages, so this can be hard. This is the type of breakthrough the nation needs.
With so much war and political unrest over the last 3 decades, the church in Sri Lanka has really struggled. Any efforts to plant new churches or partner with other churches around the nation have been severely hampered by the war. But with peace comes new opportunity. There is receptivity to the gospel amongst the traditionally Hindu Tamils. The church in Sri Lanka is growing and multiplying like never before in their history. Everywhere we visited we met pastors who are planting new churches and are working together to evangelize their cities. It was very encouraging and gave our team great hope for this nation.
All in all, this was a great trip. We did SCP envisionings in 3 cities: Jaffna, Batticaloa, and Hatton. There were about 65-75 pastors present at these envisionings and they all seemed to be encouraged by the teaching. From this groups we will be selecting individuals and inviting them into a coaching relationship. Once we coach these pastors we will task them with taking ownership for seeing their cities evangelized. This will mean training and partnering with the other pastors who were part of the initial envisionings as well as the other churches in their area. In the future we are hoping to begin some new envisionings and trainings in the nation’s capitol Colombo.
As always, your prayers are so appreciated and impactful.
· Thank you so much for your prayers for Leeza, Tripp and I while I was traveling. Everything went pretty smoothly at home and God was definitely with us as we traveled around the island.
· Please pray for the church in Sri Lanka, especially for unity and strength to press on towards the outcome of seeing every man, woman, and child have opportunities to respond to the gospel.
· Please pray that God would continue to draw the lost in Sri Lanka to Himself. Pray for the Buddhists and Hindus to turn from their idols and follow the one true God.
· Lastly, we are 6 weeks into our church planting effort in Bangkok. We are making adjustments on the fly and one of those things is to really commit ourselves to the emphasis of decentralized house churches over a centralized gathering (although both are necessary). Please pray that God would give us wisdom in decision making, bless our efforts as we seek to grow our people in our 5 discipleship values, and let us see some of our unbelieving friends come to know Him.
We love you all and we cannot thank you enough for your support, love and prayers.