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.
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.”
‘Bitter beyond words’ powerfully describes the tsunami that swept through the village of Kalmunai and brought suffering and homelessness. Yet through the unwavering faith and optimism of the people we discovered a Godly hope. ‘The unfailing love of the Lord never ends!’
I left Kalmunai, forever saddened by the tragedy and also awestruck realizing those same waves struck thousands of other communities throughout the Indian Ocean. Yet, I 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.”
During the long twenty-six hour flight home the four of us made plans to share our pictures and stories and work together to raise funds through our church and throughout the community in order to purchase as many fishing boats as possible for Kalmunai. We set our goal at twenty fishing boats complete with motors but at the time we wondered if that was achievable.
Within days, people throughout the area responded. Our church quickly raised enough money to purchase five boats but groups and families within the church also adopted the fishing boats as projects. One family in the real estate business donated the proceeds from the sale of a house toward a boat. A local bank board pooled their resources after their annual meeting and donated enough to purchase a boat. Other churches held fund raisers. Sunday school classes, youth groups and women’s groups throughout the area worked to bring our total to eleven boats.
By the end of the campaign our community combined with other churches purchased thirty-three boats. In addition, other materials and financial donations were funneled directly to the contacts we made in Sri Lanka, preventing unnecessary confusion and expenses. More importantly a sense of hope was restored to one town in Sri Lanka as one community aided another.
However, as the first fishing boats arrived no one ventured out to sea to actually fish. We discovered the fishermen were afraid… afraid of the possible return of the tsunami but even more tragically, afraid of catching fish in the same water as loved ones from the village who were washed out to sea. The possibility of eating fish that ate their relatives was too much to bear.
Finally to satisfy our need for photographs a brave group took one of the new boats out and immediately caught a record number of fish. This was interpreted as a positive omen from God so families from all over Kalmunai once again returned to their livelihood. Over the past year other agencies and churches have contributed fishing boats and equipment so that Kalmunai is once again a thriving community. Plus, in the midst of helping others our church began to really thrive.