Sri Lanka: High Kingdom Adventure, Great Personal Growth
By Susan and Gary Stokes
We love everything about Sri Lanka! Everything!
We love that we can be traveling with our Sri Lankan pastors in an overcrowded van and pass a work elephant on the road. National conferences in a jungle retreat setting, sleeping under mosquito netting on a straw pallet, eating curry with unknown ingredients, and being blessed by being offered an egg, visiting a church member in an up-country village and having the whole village show up for prayer. These are the things that make our hearts beat!
In one of these villages, all the children wrote their names on Gary’s hands so that he would not forget them. We see God heal people in unusual settings over and over again. We have heard Sinhala (national language) worship songs that rival angelic hosts for the beauty of sound and fullness of devotion. We are blessed by the love we receive from everyone we meet, the beauty of Christ’s love and light shining out of eyes we long to see more often than we do.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful island nation, but it is filled with challenges for young Christian leaders. This predominantly Buddhist nation keeps a wary eye on the Christian church, and spreading the good news of Jesus takes courage and genuine connection to God.
In the midst of this we’ve been witnessing beautiful growth in local leaders raising up local leaders. In coordination with the Sri Lanka Partnership, Vineyard Sri Lanka has sent many young leaders for training to India, both to Dehradun for Pastor Sunny Gilbert's VSOM (intensive summer internship, indigenously developed and led), and to pastors Rick and Ellen Coffin. These relationships are establishing a greater regional connection. Pastor Samadhi has also initiated a young leaders’ class to raise up church planters.
Even with limited financial resources, Vineyard Sri Lanka has several new church plants beginning, and the Colombo church plant recently began Sunday morning services!
One of the biggest challenges we face is that our partner country is half-way around the world! Communication across 12 ½ time zones is tricky, especially with unreliable internet. It is not cheap to get there, and Rosetta Stone doesn’t offer Sinhala (the national language). Christianity in Sri Lanka is a minority religion, and persecution is an ongoing threat, but relationships with the incredibly dedicated young pastors who live in great reliance on God for daily resources have been a joy and blessing beyond description. Their love for God, their churches, and us is one of God’s kingdom treasures in our lives.
The Sri Lanka Partnership began 12 years ago with 4 young indigenous leaders who needed support, training, and mentors when their founding pastor died unexpectedly. Across these years, our ability to communicate and understand the needs and cultural dynamics has slowly grown.
Three years ago, we were excited to see the current primary pastors ordained as Vineyard pastors, and with the help of Ross Naylor-Tatterson (Asia Regional Leader), a formal national leadership team emerged and became established.
Our five-year goal is to assist the Sri Lanka national leadership team in identifying a national vision that encompasses several unique strands. Church planting is occurring, and we want to understand how the U.S. can best come alongside this primary vision. Even with all the government scrutiny we mentioned, the Makundura Vineyard, led by Pastor Samadhi Fernando, has bravely made church planting a top priority.
Other goals include promoting Sri Lankan worship music and reaching out to the minority ethnic group, the Tamil people.
We are humbled, awed, and encouraged by the remarkable faith we encounter every time we are together or in touch with our Sri Lankan pastors. Our last trip I (Susan) prayed for a woman with a grapefruit sized tumor on her stomach and saw her stomach heave, move around and flatten out in front of us! When we speak with the pastors, we are amazed at their steady patience and reliance on God for all their needs.
With all of Sri Lanka to reach, please pray with us for the brave young church planters of this lovely country, and pray about joining us on a look-see trip to see if you’re interested in joining in what God is doing in Sri Lanka.
Visit the Sri Lanka page for more information on connecting with this partnership.