11 April 2005

Sri Lanka, Week One

Greetings from sunny Sri Lanka. I arrived a little less than a week ago in this place and it feels as if we’ve been here for some time. Since I arrived things have been very busy. We jumped right into community life in a great house that God provided in Galle, which is on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka. We began work with Habitat for Humanity on houses in a Muslim area of town called Dewata. So far our time here has been pretty great both for me personally and for our community.

I think we are all sort of surprised to find ourselves here, half-way across the ocean from the homes we’ve always known, seeing the destruction and effects of a natural disaster that we might otherwise have quickly forgotten. The tsunami is far from old news here. People are still living in emergency housing—tents set up in clumps— without basic resources like a kitchen or a restroom for their families to use. The Sri Lankans are very quick to smile and very generous to us. They have shown us far more kindness and openhandedness than I myself would be willing to offer was I in their position. Many of the people we’ve met in the neighborhood where we are working—people who bring us popsicles and cokes and let their beautiful brown-eyed children come and entertain us— are in the position of not being able to rebuild. Many are fishermen & their families who live near the coast for their livelihoods, and need to remain there for business but there are difficulties with land titles, government corruption, and a lack of organization among non-government agencies and local agencies that are in emergency mode and very overwhelmed with needs as they seek to help rebuild.

From this perspective, the whole situation seems devastating and like a big mess involving bureaucracy, a lot of loss and not a lot of hope. But even for the week we’ve been here the people have blessed us. We came to stand alongside the people here in Galle in whatever small way possible. I think we came in person to say that a smile and a handshake and our shovels filled with rubble that we are sorry they have had to face these losses, and that they are not forgotten. The people we have met seem strong and resilient and hopeful.

We are reading an interesting book by Jon Sobrino, a San Salvadorian priest, called Where is God? . It is a good perspective from someone from and in the third-world who is intimately acquainted with oppression, injustice, and poverty about the effects of natural disasters, terrorism and war on people in this position. It has challenged me to question where my alliances lie and to whose kingdom I belong. It has been so great to learn from the servant team and from fellow staff and to ask hard questions. They remind me along with the people of Sri Lanka that God is here in our midst, and that he cares. We are far from coming up with all of the answers or conclusions, but we are learning and being humbled, and that is always good.
On a personal note, we had a time of sharing the other night and I shared with our community a deep struggle that has been brewing for a while and that I can see more clearly now that I’m out of Calcutta. I realized that I am very confused and overwhelmed, and even angry at God because of some of the things I’ve seen in Calcutta. I recall the ghostly eyes of certain people I know living at the station, or the hardness and manipulative behavior of some of the beggars I see every day, and I am very broken and sad.

Obviously the suffering and injustice, oppression and abuse that we see on a daily basis do not have easy solutions. I think we come with enthusiasm and passion that God has sent us with a purpose, that his Spirit empowers us to love and serve, to touch one person at a time with his love. But I realize that in spite of trying to maintain this perspective I am really quite exhausted and hopeless when I think about the problems there. It feels like the small things we do on a daily basis don’t make a difference in the larger scheme of things, and that change will never come to a city that has so many deep and long-lasting strongholds. So pray with me for renewed hope, for God to heal my heart, for us to have his vision and hope for his Kingdom to come to Calcutta.

Thank you for joining me in praying for the people of Calcutta and Sri Lanka. Thank you for being willing to hear their stories and for your compassion. I pray that we all know in a deeper way how God hopes to redeem and heal the brokenness each of us has experienced, and how his love and compassion are genuine and transformational. He is always with us no matter what we see or face, and he is good.

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