It was five years ago that I visited Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the tsunami of 2004. The tsunami and its devastating effects were everywhere in the news and all of the media outlets.
Contributions were pouring in from other nations into Indonesia, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka as in monetary donations and in kind. I brought what I could in clothes, items for daily living and the financial contributions for housing reconstruction. However, upon my arrival I realized that needs exceeded what any of us could provide.
I was greeted by Reverend Michael Sivalingam and Reverend Rabindran from the Sri Lankan Lutheran Church. Both the Reverends have convened an assembly of their Church that I could pray with them and they could pray to God Almighty to grant them courage to face the snarling disaster. Although their church had been destroyed by the tsunami and was in ruins, it was still a convincing gathering, which heralded their faith. It was a place, indeed, of refuge for the many faithful who came there for the solace of prayer. Together, the ministers and I visited the families staying at the local rehabilitation camps and distributed the items we had at hand. The more we gave in time and in resources, the more we realized the extreme need that was present among the people who came in as hungry, homeless, needing support, guidance and comfort. I was deeply moved by the concerns of many who had lost their loved ones – their parents, spouses and children – as well as those who were debilitated through this bad natural disaster.
It was Rev. Michael’s request to me that we adopt their church as part of our ministry as amission parish. After understanding the needs of that area, our parish’s mission wing, St. Thomas Community Services, Inc., decided to begin with a rehabilitation by supporting ten families of Tsunami victims, rebuilding at least two homes and renovating the church building. Our resources were limited and we could only commence in this fashion. Thank God, in my subsequent visits, I found that all of the adopted families were doing well and that with the support of the local church leaders, they were able to pull through the crisis that had struck them. Today, the crisis mode is over, but what they need are continued sustenance and support. Although, St. Thomas Community Services Inc. has been supporting this community thus far, the need in this area is greater than what one parish can provide. The concerns of these people, who live in destitution and struggle with political instability and the turmoil of war, demand our Christian service and support. Rev. Michael Sivalingam has been truly remarkable in his care of the people. Despite his own disabilities, he demonstrates his passion for serving those in need by continuing to minister to the people personally to this day.
Due to poverty in the region and never-ending civil unrest, their parish faces many challenges. Despite these challenges, many young and able people have
come forward and committed their lives to serving the Lord and His people. Most of them work without any financial support from the churches by laboring daily and serving as part-time ministers. As the spiritual needs of this congregation have grown, these young ministers are greatly desirous towards pursuing theological training to better minister to the people and establish His Church amidst them.
It is our humble request on behalf of Rev. Sivalangam and of the particular local Church in Sri Lanka that those interested in sponsoring aspiring ministers for theological education at one of our seminaries and/or providing financial support for the ministers that they may engage in full-time ministry. I welcome you to please come forward and offer your support to them. Your efforts would go far in supporting a group of people that are greatly in need of a shepherd and could be foundational in establishing the Sri Lankan Mission of the Malankara Orthodox Church. Above all, please continue keep this mission in your daily prayers.
Let us keep in mind that Saint Gregorios of Parumala went to Sri Lanka to consecrate a Bishop. It must also be kept in mind that there was an Orthodox Church in Sri Lanka. This initiative has all the potential to revamp that initiative. May the prayers of St. Gregorios of Parumala be with all, who finds this plea knocking at the doors of their hearts.
(Donations can be sent to: St. Thomas Community Services, Inc., 805 Glenn Parkway, Hollywood, FL 33021. Specify Sri Lankan Mission.)