Amidst the rubble-strewn beach of tsunami-devastated Kalmunai in Sri Lanka, I picked up a cluster of fishing net and showed it to several men as they described a desire to go back to work. “We must fish to survive!” one man emphasized. We later learned that for approximately $3,000 we could buy a new boat made in Sri Lanka equipped with a motor and nets. Four families with each new boat could then go back to work. We were beginning to find answers and hope.
Before leaving, we stopped at our guide, R.K. Jeyakumaran’s house to visit his family and enjoy dinner. In the room, we noticed a six foot high, dark line on the wall. With tears, he described how waves swept through their house leaving the watermark. Both, he and his wife sought safety on the roof only to watch helplessly as their son and daughter were swept away. Both children were later found alive but the reality and the horror of the Tsunami was evident in our guide’s eyes. But then he also tenderly spoke of God’s grace found in refuge and care received at a nearby church.
Despite the Jeyakumaran family’s loss and hardship, we were welcomed as honored guests and shown delightful hospitality. The appetizing rice dish prepared for us was likely rationed from a load we helped purchase and ship from Vietnam. Despite the tragedy we were beginning to find signs of God’s presence. Through the eyes of this godly family we witnessed hope mixed with grief and we saw in them and others a strong determination to rebuild and start anew.
Lamentations is for a community facing tragedy: “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him.’” (3:19-24)
God never guaranteed a life free from suffering and tragedy. Here is what the Lord promises: “The unfailing love of the Lord never ends.” This is the assurance we must cherish especially in the midst of unspeakable suffering. “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him.”
Early the next morning, we drove back to the beach at Kalmunai only to meet thousands of panic-stricken residents frantically running away. It took a few minutes to calm someone down and probe but we were told about another earthquake occurring near Indonesia and yet another tsunami moving toward Sri Lanka. Even unfounded rumors caused great panic and confusion.
While maneuvering to avoid the crush of traffic we happened upon an unfamiliar side street and found to our delight a Methodist church, the same denomination many in our group represent. As we pulled into the entrance, we noticed a school and in the yard were men busily constructing a hundred shelters. We met pastor: Rev. Jothini-Seenithamby and discovered a church busy with helping families and a school housing one hundred young orphaned girls.
In just three short days in Sri Lanka, we discovered tragedy beyond comprehension but also several practical needs which can realistically be met:
- The Kalmunai community needs equipped fishing boats: $3,000 if built in Sri Lanka. Each boat will provide four families a living income: I found this challenge exciting.
- The local Methodist church needs a water tank for storage and school supplies for the girls. The shelters are built through another aid agency but they too need supplies.
- Funds distributed through reliable local contacts will stretch considerably farther than supplies purchased abroad and shipped: Containers are often marooned portside
I left Kalmunai, forever saddened by tragedy witnessed and also awestruck realizing those same waves struck thousands of communities throughout the Indian Ocean. Yet, I also left Sri Lanka hopeful, discovering a strong sense of familial love within the people and a hardy determination to survive. God gave our little group an opportunity for ministry which can make a real difference in Kalmunai, Sri Lanka. “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day.”
Special thanks to my traveling companions and new friends:
- Rev. Ron Davidson – Gleaning for the World
- Rev. Ray Buchanan – Stop Hunger Now
- Len Stevens – 6:00 PM Anchor for WSET TV
Our trip would not be possible without the expert guidance of Kumar and his wife Smeta Periasamy. Both are leaders with Operation Blessing and now live in Sri Lanka. They will be helping us with our boat project along with several other ideas. R.K. Jeyakumaran was his helper.
Rev. Jothini-Seenithamby is the pastor of the Methodist Church in Kalmunai. The church has over 150 families attending. Twenty people within their church died from Tsunami along with twenty-nine homes totally destroyed and twenty-one homes partially damaged. There are one hundred girls in their orphanage school and fifteen elderly women being cared for.
We are also grateful for the assistance of President, Rev. Neal Fernando and Secretary, Rev. Ebi Joseph of the Methodist church which has over 100 churches in Sri Lanka. All of the churches are playing an active role in local relief efforts. In addition we met with leaders of the Rotary organization in Sri Lanka who are providing generous assistance and aid throughout the area.
Also, special thanks go to you who supported our mission with prayers and funds. My biggest concern was justifying the expense of going there with enough projects and ideas to make a real difference in Sri Lanka. I believe we managed to do that. Thanks for making everything possible.
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