SRI LANKA REVISITED
Pastor The Evangelical Free Church Redondo Beach, California
On April 1, 2003 it was with mixed emotions that I boarded the Sri Lanka Airlines flight from London, England to the island nation of Sri Lanka. I was returning there after twenty years at the invitation of the Grace Evangelical Church located in Colombo, the business capitol of the country. Back in the mid 1970s the Lord enabled us to plant this church and I was now going back to preach at the 25th anniversary thanksgiving celebrations.
Following these services I was also invited to be one of the speakers at a pastors conference organized by the church. Grace church was grateful to the Banner of Truth Trust for a generous financial gift, which went a long way to cover some of the costs of the conference.
After clearing immigration and customs I was met at the airport by Pastor Suresh, the minister of the Tamil congregation and an elder at Grace. Coming out of the airport I was immediately conscious of the heat and humidity of the country. Perhaps it is the high humidity, which keeps the country lush and green throughout most of the year.
On a map Sri Lanka looks like a teardrop off the SE coast of India. It has a population of just under 20 million, and had its own share of ethnic violence between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil people. Over the years thousands have lost their lives and numerous others have left the country to settle down in Canada, Europe and Australia. Thankfully at the time the tensions had eased and peace talks between the two ethnic groups was underway. However the armed police and soldiers who were on duty around the airport and within the city of Colombo reminded one of the violence that had plagued the nation.
The people of Sri Lanka are deeply religious and there are temples, shrines and church buildings in evidence everywhere. In the 1970s there were just a handful of ministers who professed to be reformed in their theology. These all belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. As far as I was aware there were none committed to preaching the doctrines of Grace who were ministers in the other denominations and in any of the independent evangelical churches.
The Grace Evangelical Church came into being through a Bible study, which was conducted on a Saturday morning. We began in a home and then moved the study to 'Calvin Hall' belonging to the Dutch Reformed Church. Once the decision to commence worship on the Lord&Mac226;s Day was made we moved the people to a Hindu hall nearby, which was kindly rented to us. The morning service was for expository teaching, while the preaching in the evening was evangelistic. Even the Hindu swami used to attend these services. A short time later a house became available to us and we were able to refurbish it for congregational worship. The Sunday evening evangelistic worship services were often crowded out with some of the young men who attended sitting on their motorcycle seats outside the building. God was gracious to us, and a number of people were converted to Christ and baptized in the Indian Ocean nearby. One of those converted at Grace is todaay a pastor in New Zealand. He often travels to India where he has a fruitful ministry to Indian pastors. There are others who are serving Christ in other parts of Sri Lanka and in other countries in the world.
I am thankful to my teachers at the South Wales Bible College in the UK and to the Banner of Truth's books through all of which I was established in the Reformed faith. Iain Murray&Mac226;s 'Forgotten Spurgeon' was a great help in understanding that one could be both reformed and evangelistic at the same time.
It was with much joy for all the goodness and mercy of the Lord that was evident that I was able to preach at the anniversary service on the words, "Hitherto hath the Lord Helped Us." There were many present who had traveled a long way to rejoice with us. There were also lots of new faces, people the Lord had added to the church since our time there. Grace Evangelical Church has just adopted the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.
Following these services a number of pastors and elders gathered at the training center of a large textile factory outside the city of Colombo for the Ministers&Mac226; Conference. I was to share the teaching with a brother from South Africa. The Rev. Bruce Button is solidly committed to the Reformed Faith, and I was helped and impressed by his ministry.
Outside the teaching times we had many opportunities for fellowship with the brothers who had come. It was interesting that the majority of those present were Tamils. The Gospel and Reformed Theology seems to have spread rapidly amongst the Tamil people more than any other ethnic group in the island. Grace does have a reformed ministry to the Sinhala people of the country. In fact it was also a matter of joy to participate in the ordination of the pastor of the Sinhala congregation at the church. He was a member of the congregation during our ministry at the church. The question and answer times following the formal teaching at the conference was lively and at times quite intense. Most of my studies were in the pastoral/preaching department, while Bruce Button, for the most part, handled Old Testament theology themes. It was encouraging to see the men drinking in the teaching. For men who do not have the opportunity to attend conferences as we do in the west, this annual conference must be as an oasis in the desert.
All too soon the conference ended and we commended each other to the care of our Sovereign God and returned to our respective spheres of ministry.
An important way in which those of us in the west can continue to help the progress of Reformed theology in the nation of Sri Lanka is through books. I recently went through my own library and took out those books which I had read and which I would not need to refer to again. These I have shipped to Grace church and to another pastor in Sri Lanka. There is no custom duty on books and there are pastors who will derive much benefit from reading any books we can send them. Let me also commend the Banner book fund to you. I was much helped by the book fund in my student years and even after my return to Sri Lanka. A gift to this fund with a request that Banner titles be sent to Grace church for distribution to needy pastors will be of great blessing. A pastor whom we had assisted through the book fund wanted to know if other books could be made available. Those interested to contact the Grace Evangelical Church can do so by writing to the church at 19 Rajasinghe Road, Colombo 6, Sri Lanka. The E-mail address is email@example.com
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