Today, we visited with one of the pastors that I met back in 2013. He brought together pastors from 7 different churches, along with their wives, and a number of other local people for a marriage conference. I believe there were around 80 or so people.
I had to shrink several days worth of information into a 3 hour program. Sam ended up translating for me and so it was like old times. We used to teach like this for all day long for several days in a row.
I have to say that this was on of the best conferences like this that I remember being a part of. I really believe is going to be one of the connecting points for us.
But tragedy is constant and one of the elders of the church was killed this morning when a huge lorry ran into him on his scooter. Instead of bringing with his wife with him, he sent her on ahead in another vehicle. Here the pastor is leading us all into prayer for the elder and his family before we concluded for the day.
After we finished up, we traveled around the corner to visit an old family friend of Sam's who came from Madurai (Sam's home town). He was a pastor/teacher for many years in India. Then he move to Sri Lanka many years ago. He was the one who first brought Sam here right after the tsunami of 2004.
We had our sweet orange coconuts and then we hit the road back to where we started. 5 hours later we arrived in Negombo, said our goodbyes and Sam drove away. He flies off the first thing tomorrow morning.
I can't count how many times I have said goodbye to Sam. At hotels, airports, cafe's, the side of the road and in many different countries. But we have the belief that no matter what adventure God sends us on, we will meet again.
He has a lot of processing and praying ahead of him. I hope to have a summary letter to share with you all within the next month as we determine the next steps for us to move forward. Thank you for following us along in this journey.
I am from the United States of America - a Greek-thinking, logical, Western mindset. I naturally approach most situations as a problem to solve so I can bring closure to the challenges in my world. I know it is not THE right nor THE wrong way of thinking, it is just my way.
But serving throughout SE Asia & Africa has taught me that much of the world does not think like that. So I am working hard to understand this.
Here is an example for you. We went to the famous Jaffna ice cream shop today where Andie and I decided to each get something different and then share - like we always do. Our dishes came out and we had a variety of options to enjoy.
When we looked around at different tables, no matter how many people were in each group, they all ordered the exact same thing! Really? Why?
After one person chose, everyone else went with that option so they could enjoy ice cream as a group, in community. We went to get what we wanted. They went to share an experience together.
So when God called me to serve the people of SE Asia and Africa, He must have had a good laugh watching me struggle for many years to learn how to think and understand completely different cultures. Actually, I'm sure He had many good laughs this trip.
Sam has recently received personal invitations from three different Sri Lankan pastors to relocate his family and start a Bible school here. I immediately start thinking in terms of logistics. Who is the group you are going to be serving? Where should you be located? What kind of resources are required? When will this start taking place? Etc. But ministry is way more complicated than that.
Sam is not concerned about those type of details at this point. First off there is an intense and dark spiritual climate here.
People living in SE Asia very much interact with with spiritual world on a daily basis. You can see and experience it everyday. Hindus, Buddists, Muslims, Christians, etc. all recognize the spiritual realm as a truth not an opinion. Atheism really only exists in first world countries typically among those claiming to be highly academic. I've written about this quite a bit in the past so I won't spend much time on it here. This can't be ignored.
Sam is challenged with how he can effectively enter into this very spiritual culture and bring two groups together that really are not set up to work together.
Jaffna is historically a poetic culture founded on music and singing. There is a song and dance for every situation in life both in daily activities (cleaning, working in the field, cooking, eating, etc) and big events (puberty, weddings, child births). They do this for everything.
This painting hangs in the lobby of our hotel and provides a great cultural teaching opportunity, so let me give it a try of my own understanding of the current climate here in Sri Lanka:
The woman on the left is a Sinhala dancer. You can tell by her dress, dancing form and the colors that she wears. Sinhalese make up 75% of the people here in Sri Lanka. They are primarily Buddhist and speak Sinhalese.
The woman on the right is a Tamil dancer also revealed by her dress, form and colors. Tamil make up 18% of the population in Sri Lanka. They are primarily Hindu and speak Tamil.
The ballet dancer in the middle represents the European dance and influence. She appeals to the younger generation that is heavily influenced by Europe and want to be different than their parents.
The older generations lived through 26 years of military civil war between the two groups that ended in 2009. They will spend the rest of their lives working through the healing process and deep scars that have left this country torn apart. Every single person was affected by death and loss. There is anger and bitterness and plenty of blame to go around.
Over 100,000 people (mostly civilians) were killed and countless others are still missing. The war ended, but they are still looking for peace.
Both sides blame each other. Both sides want to hold on to their own culture, religions and language. Both sides were victims.
And there was the tsumani in 2004 in which over 30,000 died and over 500,000 were displaced.
As we witnessed this trip, there are abandoned houses everywhere. Over 50% in many areas. The country doesn't look much different than it did when I was here in 2013. It is not progressing like one would expect.
But we have hope. We believe in these great people. And we are willing to follow God's calling to invest our time, energy & passion in this country.
Sam has a vision to bring unity. We could immediately enter into the Tamil culture and probably flourish right away with strong support. But his calling for the Bible school is for a unified school where both Tamils and Sinhalese are studying, learning and growing together. We discovered that the gap between the two is far greater than we realized, but we also see the need is greater as well.
So before we just come on over and open up a Bible school, there is a lot more preparation needed. Sam and his family are asking for your commitment to prayer over the next couple of months. The local team is coming together, but we still need several more leaders who are willing to break away from the comforts of their own people groups and catch the vision to help reach Sri Lanka for Jesus.
Will you be willing to pray? If so, will you start right now?
Few things in this world are more amazing than the amount of time that a teenager can sleep. When you add a serious case of jet-lag, then this mystery rivals the sleeping pattern of a hibernating bear. It is truly unbelievable!
Well, today something amazing happened. Andie woke up hungry, talkative and energetic. Maybe, just maybe, she was starting to win that jet-lag battle?
We took a trip to a historic cultural museum. The culture of the Singhala people who came from Orrisa, India, goes back to the 13th century. The Tamil people (also from India) go back 3,000 years! So begins one of many of the differences these two people groups are facing - it is a far more complex challenge that can easily be discovered. But that is what we are here to do.
We rented a boat and headed to the island of Nainativu (bottom far-left).
Their living conditions haven't improved since the tsunami of 2004 and probably never will.
We returned after a sobering day and headed to our rooms. I told Sam I would text him when we were read for dinner. Andie started to read and I crawled into bed. I set my alarm for 20 minutes for a quick nap and that is all I remember. She said I was asleep at 5:00 pm. I woke up from a coma-like sleep total disoriented, but I was convinced that I slept through the night. I was so proud of myself. Then when I looked at the clock and it said it was only 10:30 pm. Wait, what? Wide awake, I was up for the next several hours, then went back to bed after 2:00 am.
How could my teenage daughter be more successful at winning the jet-lag battle over me? I'll have to do better tomorrow!
Today was another day of travel. The first leg of the journey was to Mullaittivu, which was the place of the final battle in their war. Still, the signs of the war were all around. Someone said that in many areas of Sri Lanka, 50% of the houses that were vacated during the war are still abandoned.
Most of the villages around here are made of up fishermen who earn the equivalent of a few dollars day. Not enough to pay their expenses.
In Mulliattivu, we had lunch and took a look at the coast. Since death by swimming (riptides) was not an option, we could have resorted to playing volleyball with a shoestring as a net. We decided to move on.
It was a belief for decades that if the war could end, they would have peace in Sri Lanka. Well nearly a decade later, they still lack peace. This tent houses the photos of young boys who have "disappeared" during the war. I understand the mothers gather here regularly still seeking the location of their boys or some kind of closure.
Then we were back on the road for our final push to Jaffna.
Along the way we crossed paths with peacocks, buffalo, cattle, goats, wild dogs, flooded roads, potholes the size of couch, and crossing a river. I'm sure I left something out of this list.
The monsoon rains were coming down very powerfully and I was grateful to be in the van. I fell asleep for much of the journey and we arrived to our hotel at night. My body was sore from being bounced around for the past few hours.
We arrived at the Green Grass Hotel where we will be staying for three nights! Good night.
Somehow I was able to convince Andie to go on a short walk with me this morning to stretch our legs and fill our lungs with some Bay of Bengal ocean air. But it was humid and that walk did not last very long.
Beware of the constipated man!
The locals were headed off to work.
The purpose of this trip is to further develop relationships with the local contacts that Sam has been investing in over the past 10+ years. Four years ago, Sam was invited to start a Bible school but the timing wasn't right. As we investigate God's direction on this opportunity, we are taking time to meet with the local leaders and further learn the culture. It is a similar path that we took in India.
The locals want us to hold multiple conferences, but that is not why we are here this time. So as a compromise, we have agreed to hold a couple mini marriage conferences.
Today was our first as we spoke to around 50 people, mostly women. This is a fishing community where they earn only a few dollars every day.
Afterwards, we visited the pastor's new house. He waited three years to receive the land from the Sri Lankan government's tsunami relief program. It took another 7 months to build his small 4 room house. The cool thing is how the pastors get together to help each other. One is experienced in electrical, another the roofs, another the structure, etc. It is definitely a community effort.
We said goodbye and headed north to Trincomalee for the night. Four hours later we were at the hotel and off to bed.
After a few good hours of sleep, we had breakfast and then walked around Gregory Lake. The monsoon rains took a break this morning after pounding us last night.
We hopped into the van to begin our 7-hour journey to Batticoloa.
When people ask about our trips, they mention that they could not imagine taking a 17-hour flight. But usually, that is the easiest part of travel. International planes are typically newer, roomier and have better technology.
I find the toughest parts of travel are waiting in lines that do not seem to end, long layovers and the travel AFTER we arrive in the country. Because God has called us to go to some of the most difficult places to get to, in-country travel is where we are pushed to the limit.
Today was one of the most uncomfortable travel days I can remember.
We left the highest point of the island and winded eastward through hours of extreme switchbacks. Being jet lagged didn’t help either because all our bodies wanted to do was to lay down, close our eyes and sleep. But if we did, then our head would quickly bang against the closest hard surface to you, followed by the weight of your body crushing your neck causing our backs to contort into inhuman shapes.
It took all of our mental strength to not send our breakfast of corn flakes with warmed milk as deadly projectiles throughout the car. And IF one of us gave in, how could we ever get that smell?
And the driving conditions are just dangerous.
Somehow, Andie and I survived until we reached the flatlands where we stopped for lunch. We looked at each other, kind of surprised that we both survived. It felt so good to stand up and breathe fresh air.
We headed upstairs to the hottest room of this roadside restaurant where the bouquet of curry, dried fish and pepper oil greatly slowed down our recovery time. The others couldn’t understand why Andie and I weren’t hungry and tried many times to get us to eat. Nope, we’re good!
Feeling much better, we reluctantly climbed back in to the van to continue the journey. At least the roads will now be flat, right? Not really . . .
For the past several decades, this forthcoming portion of the “highway” from Nuwara to Batticola was used mostly by tanks which gave us an enhance travel experience.
Somehow we survived and reached our destination, an old missionary center. The rooms were sparse, the mattress was a thick towel covering the wooden board, but the old air conditioner worked well enough to cool down the room and keep out the mosquitos.
Andie took a cold shower and crawled into her bed. I hope she can laugh about this someday, but I can’t help but wonder if she will still love her father in the morning.
Tomorrow, we are having our first mini marriage conference so please pray for the message to be presented and received properly. And the Lord will speak through the translator and me.
Bonus story: One of the things I have to do is to change my cell phone to an international calling/data plan while I am gone. When we arrived tonight, I received a text that I was already at a $300 overage and they were going to shut down my service. So after dinner in restaurant that was as humid as a sauna, I spent 30 minutes to discover that I was signed up for a plan that is not covered in Sri Lanka. So I was told to not freak out when my next bill came, and that they would take care of everything for me after the charges went through.
We arrived and passed through customs as quickly as I have ever experienced. [Note to self: carrying on all our bags was smart. Never check a bag again!!!]
Sam met us outside and 20 minutes later we were at our hotel. We were asleep by 2:00 AM and that 6:30 AM alarm came way too quickly.
We were back in the van we had rented for the next two weeks to get out of Colombo, the capital city, before that traffic comes to a standstill.
We ate breakfast at the end of town the hit the road.
4 hours later we were near the highest point of the island traveling through the most beautiful teas estates outside My Adam. In the late 1800’s, the British came here to grow coffee, but it was soon realized that tea was the correct choice and the hills were converted to these tea plantations.
After a tea and cake break in Devon, we were back on the road for our final 1 hour road trip to Nuwara. We checked into our hotel, discussed our estimated plans for the week, then off to lunch at 3:00. Andie and I went to the room and crashed. I woke her up at 10:30 PM and we stayed awake until 2:00 AM.
One of the most important things we can do as parents is to teach our kids. They learn far more through their observations of us over the words that we say. But even better, is when they get to participate WITH us.
So today, my daughter Andie, just flew out of PDX with me on a three plane journey that looks something like this:
PDX to SFO 2 hours
SFO to Singapore 17.5 hours
SIN to Colombo, Sri Lanka 4 hours
That is 23.5 hours of flight time. Add at least another 9-10 hours of airport waiting, runway sitting and flight delays and we are looking at a full travel schedule just to get to the other side of the world. And with a 13.5 hour time zone difference, the journey is only half of the fun.
Would you pray for Andie, who is not a huge fan of flying? Specifically, that God will open her eyes to see the world in a new way. That the two of us will bond with memories that we will never forget. And that she will have deeper understanding of who God is and who He created her to be. It may seem like a lot for a 13 year old volleyball player, I but I know she can handle it.
In 2013, Sam and I traveled throughout the recently opened island country of Sri Lanka where we found a people and leaders passionate to explore their newly found freedom. Even though the damages from decades of war were everywhere, it was obvious that healing had begun.
We had many private and personal conversations where local pastors would share intimately about their involvement in the conflict. We heard of the stories that resulted in loss, helplessness and destruction. But we were also told of the stories of hope and how Jesus was changing their hearts. Over and over we were asked to return and share more about how to read and study the Bible.
I returned home with a desire to work with the local leaders that Sam had been developing relationships with for many years to someday help open a Bible school. Just about every conversation I had with you all regarding our trip ended with an emphatic, “God is on the move in Sri Lanka and we need to be working there!”
And once again, God let me learn the hard way that patience is a virtue. His answer wasn’t no, it was not yet. Looking back, we realized that we weren’t ready, and neither was Sri Lanka. That was four long years ago.
So as we prepare to board a lane and return to this beautiful island, I ask for your prayers for wisdom, connections and relationships. God has been stirring hearts over here for a long time. We are asking that we will meet up with those leaders who have a similar passion as we do. Stayed tuned, because this is going to be a great new adventure!