I enjoyed my first visit to Sri Lanka over these last few weeks. Ros, my wife, with pastors George and Joshua from Cyprus made up our team of four who attended the wonderful wedding of Nuwan and Sithara, friends we had made in Israel and Cyprus. We then arranged special meetings in various parts of the country attended by many who had been in Cyprus.
It was also very special for Ros and I to meet friends, Ivor and Judy, who had been a tremendous help to us when starting a church in Cyprus in 1993-94 and we had not seen for over twenty years.
We were so grateful to Chethi and Sriyani who became great friends and made most of the practical arrangements for us.
Steve with Ivor and Judy Pastors George, Joshua, Nuwan and Sithara Ros and Steve Chethi, George and Sriyani
What were our impressions of the country? Well Colombo is hot and sticky and the traffic is horrendous! Kandy however is beautiful and we enjoyed visiting the tea plantations and a tea factory.
These tea workers are very poor and it was good to meet a great church in Nuwara Eliya who are particularly helping the workers’ children. Nuwara Eliya is over six thousand feet high and is often referred to as little England. It was so pleasant to spend time there in 18 degrees Celsius (the usual daytime temperature there) after the heat of Colombo.
Little England Nuwara Eliya Tea plantations
In Colombo Sriyani introduced us to the work of LEADS , who do a great work for many needy children.
There is no doubt that many children suffer in Sri Lanka. Many people take up jobs in Cyprus, Israel and the Middle East to try and support their families in Sri Lanka, to purchase a home or start a small business. Mothers often leave children behind to be brought up by relatives. Children suffer for all kinds of reasons and LEADS has many committed and dedicated staff helping these children.
Another very big problem in Sri Lanka is the high suicide rate. It has been listed as number one in the world. However, it is likely these statistics may be at fault. Recent figures are lacking and the banning of toxic pesticides such as paraquat seems to have significantly reduced the rate.. Good work is also being done by Sumithrayo who offer over the phone, face to face and on-line counselling. There is still a problem of stigma, however, and it remains difficult to talk about personal mental health issues.
What can be done to help? Well to be honest in a short trip, not a huge amount. However, it was a privilege to be able to preach in various churches and on two occasions I took as my theme, Depression in the Bible. I pointed out from the stories of Job, Elijah and David how people became extremely low in mood, often to the point of being despairing of life itself. I showed how God graciously met them in their difficulties. You might like to listen in to one of these talks on youtube. My book ‘Mindful of the Light’ also discusses depression and similar mental health issues, pointing out how God can help us as well as acknowledging support from mental health professionals.
Having been once, in a few weeks, I am actually going back a second time to Sri Lanka.