Sri Lankan beaches are the most picturesque in the world. Soft sounds of the waves lapping, an endless strip of white, sandy beaches contrasting with deep, blue waters and coral reefs that are home to many types of tropical fish—these are the wonders of the Sri Lankan coast (http://www.triptosrilanka.com/). In December 2004 this beautiful island in the Indian Ocean was hit by a tsunami. In Sri Lanka alone, conservative estimates say that over forty thousand people died, 250,000 people lost their homes and over one million people were displaced. Those who survived lost their livelihoods and have not been able to regain their financial footing. Experts suggest that fifty-nine percent of the people in Sri Lanka have seen their income drop by more than fifty percent since the tsunami.
Nearly a year later, people still live in makeshift camps. According to Anisya Thomas, managing director of the non-profit Fritz Institute, http://www.fritzinstitute.org/, “Some had moved from tents into makeshift shelters with thatched roofs or open sides, while others were staying with relatives, but almost nobody in our survey was in permanent shelter” (statement delivered 06 December 2005).
It is in this context that the Church responded to meet the needs of the people.
During the past few years the Church has been accused of helping people in order to convert them. More than two hundred churches were attacked when extremists carried out a hate campaign based on this non-factual accusation. One church leader commented, “We are accused, judged, condemned and punished on a perception that is not based on facts and reality; we are punished even without a trial.”
However, the tsunami propelled the Church to the forefront of caring for the nation of Sri Lanka. Based on our theological belief to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” the Church in Sri Lanka has done well. Caring for people with no strings attached has silenced some of the extremists to a certain degree; more important, the people who were persuaded that the Christian Church would only help in order to convert the poor have realized the fallacy of this idea. They have realized this because they have experienced the truth of what the Church has been doing to help those in need.
Helping people to rebuild their lives can be attributed to two important realities:
1. Our theological perception which is based on I John 3:17-18: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
2. The generosity of the global Church, who responded so sacrificially to the needs of the people. The loss of life and property within the nation caused the people of Sri Lanka to be deeply saddened. However, the response of the local church to the needs of the people thrills the hearts of those living on the island. The generous, sacrificial giving of the universal Church confirms the truth that we are indeed the body of Christ.