Things have been quiet here recently largely because I was in Sri Lanka for two weeks after Easter. Rarely have I been so conscious of the meaning of Paul's thanksgiving to 'the Lord who has given me strength' - physical health and stamina which enabled me to preach or teach (through interpreters) some 26 times in the time I was there, including sessions at the youth conference (four studies on Jonah and two from Mark’s gospel), the Christian workers’ conference (twelve sessions on the doctrines of man, sin and the church) and Sunday services and Bible studies. Thankfully I suffered no illness and though tired after it all I was able to complete everything that was asked of me. The spiritual fruit must be left up to God and for this we can still pray.
Perhaps the greatest privileges in ministry were three unexpected ones: to preach at a baptism service on the beach where 27 young people were baptised – I knew this was going to happen but was not asked to preach until the evening before; to preach at a wedding in a village about 15 miles from Trincomalee; and to preach at a funeral where the immediate family was Christian but the wider family was Hindu, so 60 or more Hindus heard the gospel.
Our base was the children’s home run by the Lanka Evangelical Fellowship of Churches near Trincomalee on the north east coast of Sri Lanka. The people were predominantly Tamil Christians though some Sinhalese speakers were among us. The LEFC has 27 churches, all but two being Tamil. My travelling companions were Gary Donaldson the secretary of the LEFC in England, and Pastor Jeyekanth, its founder; Alan Peel, a young man from Liverpool came with us to help out at the children’s home. For the first week there was also a small group of young German Christians from a church in Koblenz.
Much of the strain of a trip such as this is the coping with all that is new and strange –the heat and humidity, the language, food, habits, and the sheer unpredictability of each day – ‘take things a day at a time’ has never been so meaningful. Plans would change frequently. For example the workers’ studies changed from being three each day over four days, to three days of five, three and four studies respectively.
It was not all work; we made some memorable trips into the ‘bush’ to visit village churches, and saw elephants, monkeys, snakes, buffalo and beautiful birds, all without leaving the vehicle. The last two days were spent in the tea plantation areas of Hatton, in the hill country east of Colombo and south of Kandy: beautiful scenery, tea picking and production as it has been going on for generations, and memorable fellowship with local Christians.
The crying need of this group of Reformed Baptist churches is a trained leadership. The men are good gospel men, utterly dedicated to Christ, his people and his work, their evangelistic zeal proven by the number of churches planted in the last 15 years. Yet the pastors need theological education; able young men need training and the opportunity to come through as leaders. Pray for pastor Jeyekanth as he and others wrestle with these issues.