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YFC Has a New Leader!

22nd March 2011

To the YFC Sri Lanka Family,

 

It is with great joy that I announce the appointment by the Board of Leonard Fernando as Acting National Director of Youth for Christ from June 1st 2011. I will become Teaching Director at YFC at that time.

The choice of the next leader has seriously occupied my mind for the past fifteen years or so and the Board for the past four years. The Board chose Leonard because he met some of the most important requirements we were looking for. These especially have to do with Sri Lanka YFC’s organisational culture of developing leaders and giving them space to follow their dreams provided those dreams are within the mission and general strategic plan of YFC. We were looking for an enabler of leaders. Here are some of his outstanding characteristics.

  • He has a passion for the mission of YFC.
  • He is known to be committed to our primary work of evangelism among unreached youth and has a proven track record of grassroots involvement in youth evangelism.
  • He is a skilful discipler of youth and youth leaders.
  • He has a proven track record of faithful involvement in the local church which is the final home of the youth reached through YFC.
  • He is known for his godliness, humility, and the absence of selfish ambition.
  • He is known to be one who is not afraid to open up with sharing his personal and ministry plans, so that we can expect him to uphold YFC’s ethos of accountability and fellowship.
  • We can trust him when he speaks and do not need to ask, “What really lies behind what he is saying?”
  • He has the ability to inspire others to greatness.
  • He is willing to look beyond the weaknesses of our leaders and focus on the great things that God can accomplish through them.
  • He is known to speak up for the welfare of people who have severely criticised him.
  • He has the ability to win the esteem and confidence of the wider community in the church and in society.
  • His wife Usha has the gifts, abilities and commitment to complement him admirably in his role.

Because he has not been serving in Colombo, there are some areas where he needs to be trained in. For this we are hoping that there will be mentors who will be close to him and help him. We are hoping that he would, over the years, go for formal training in some areas. When I came in as National Director, it was my first job. My teachers were my colleagues Brian Blacker, Richard Brohier, Tony Senewiratne and Suri Williams. Not once did I encounter any disrespect from them. It was clear to me that they accepted me wholeheartedly as their leader. But within that framework, they became my teachers. It was one of the beautiful experiences I ever had. I am hoping that the other senior leaders would help Leonard in the same way.

Hariharan will take over the job of Principal of our Institute of Youth Ministry in addition to being Training Director once he returns with his Masters degree from Singapore. I previously served as Principal. This Institute is a partner institution of Colombo Theological Seminary and our staff can get credit towards their studies at CTS for what they did at the Institute.

My former secretary Shereen Joseph will become Leonard’s secretary and Helen Fernando (Jega’s wife), who had been my secretary for thirteen years before her children came, has already joined as my new secretary. Leonard will come to Colombo in the end of April.

With the growth of the number of leaders in YFC, and with the regionalisation we needed to divide the former National Leadership Team as it had become too large. Now we will have two groups, the National Ministry Team which covers all our club-type grassroots ministries, and the National Service Team which covers the other ministries like training, counselling, publications and campsites. Leonard will lead both groups and the two groups will meet together once or twice a year.

We have come a long way since our early days. We now have ministry in about 150 different places. But it is easy for us to miss the place God has for us. Our role is very unique and has features which we could easily neglect—which will result in us being disqualified from the work God has called us to do. Here are the unique things about our ministry.

  • We have a passion to reach unreached youth with the gospel—those out of contact with the church or other Christian influences.
  • We have a passion to personally disciple the youth who have come to Christ through our work.
  • We see our work with a youth complete only when that youth is fully incorporated into a local church.
  • We seek to work within a team structure where the members are of one mind in all that we do, so that fellowship and personal accountability is a key to our life.

It is easy to slack in any of these four areas. If we do that, we are finished! So, even as I introduce my successor, I want to place before you our four passions: UNREACHED YOUTH; PERSONAL DISCIPLING; THE LOCAL CHURCH AND SPIRITUAL ACCOUNTABILITY. O that you would keep committing yourself afresh to these four passions!

What a privilege it has been for me to be the servant of such an amazing family. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for your kindness to me! On my part let me say that you are a source of great pride to me. I do not deserve to have led such a wonderful band of servants of God for almost 35 years. As you were so kind to me, let me ask you to be kind to Leonard too. God used you to make me the leader that I am. Would you help Leonard to be the great leader God wishes him to be?

 

Ajith Aiya, Anna, Uncle.

Reflections on Turning Fifty

December 1998

Ajith Fernando

A trip abroad just before my fiftieth birthday gave me the time to sit and reflect on God’s goodness to me, and I thought that I will write it down as a tribute to God and, hopefully, to edify some of my friends.

I THANK GOD

  1. Most of all I thank God for saving me. What would life be without Jesus, and how I look forward with eager anticipation to being with him forever in heaven!

 

  1. I thank God for introducing me to the Methodist heritage of singing, especially through my pastor in my teenage years, George Good. My hymn-books have been my wonderful companions in my worship, in my travels and my times of trial, loneliness and discouragement. While I thank God for giving me some musical ability, I will not forget that one of those who helped re-introduce the classic hymns to the evangelical movement, A. W. Tozer, could not sing in tune! So I will not restrict the advocacy of the use of hymns to those who can sing in tune. Alas only precious few of those are found among Buddhist converts.

 

  1. I thank God for calling me to the ministry of the Word. As a youth I thought I belonged to the category of “least likely to succeed.” Have I been a success? I will know that only when I get to heaven (at which time it will be my great joy to cast all my crowns at the feet of Jesus and be transfixed by his glory). But I know that I have been called to the ministry of the Word—significant ministry indeed. It is a thrill to exercise my call and to know that God has topped it up this fiftieth year by giving this old man the high privilege of teaching and leading a great bunch of teenagers.

 

  1. How blessed I am to be born to the family I belong to. My parents are so different to each other. Today we would say they are quite incompatible. But each in their unique ways contributed to what I am today. I thank God especially because my mother led me to Christ and has been the most important Bible teacher in my life. I thank God that my father gave us a model of hard work and of making most of the time. He also lies behind my love for books and was responsible for my getting the wonderful opportunity for studying abroad. The dedication page is my favourite page in my books. And my first and fifth (revision of first) books were dedicated to my parents “with gratitude for Christian nurture and encouragement in ministry”.

 

My parents did not favour one sibling over the other. Therefore today we can thank God for a harmonious relationship as siblings. And how much they have helped me over the years. My sixth book was dedicated to them and their spouses “with gratitude from a brother who has received so much and given so little in return”.

 

  1. It almost seems unfair that one who had such a privileged childhood should also be given such a fantastic wife. But I take that as a privilege that brings a responsibility to help others. After 22 years of marriage, I thank God that Nelun is still my best friend and closest confidant, that she remains so loveable and that she accepts me despite my many weaknesses. I am especially thankful that she has released me to travel, study and write—callings that are very hard on the spouse. This is not to say that we are “a perfectly matched couple”, if there be such a thing. We are so different that we often get on each other’s nerves. But that is not what I remember when I think of her! I think what is most important is that we are one in our deepest desire: we at least want to make pleasing God the most important desire in our lives. My third book was dedicated “to Nelun, God’s gift to me, with joy and gratitude.”

 

  1. My children are teenagers, and I thank God that still the sight of them makes my heart leap for joy—most of the time (smile!). It is a particular joy to lead the ministry in YFC that they are involved in. Nirmali’s love for ministry is a thrill to me, and Asiri’s ability with computers helps me in my desperate moments and his gentle spirit is a joy to me! My biggest and hopefully most long-lasting book, the Acts Commentary, was dedicated to Nelun, Nirmali and Asiri “Thanking God for his beautiful gift of family.”

 

  1. How grateful I am for the training for ministry that I received at home, in church and in seminary. It is not without reason that I dedicated my second book to George Good (minister), Sam Sherrard (YFC leader), Robert Coleman and Dan Fuller (seminary teachers). My seventh bookwas dedicated to nine favourite seminary teachers.

 

  1. The fourth book (on Friendship) was dedicated to my senior colleagues, Brian, Richard, Tony, Suri and Adrian and their wives. They represent a host of friends, relatives and colleagues in Sri Lanka and abroad who have compensated for my weaknesses, stimulated me mentally, ministered to me spiritually, borne my burdens, helped me out when in need and mediated several pleasurable experiences (including holidays).

 

I must especially acknowledge the help of our board chairman Bala, treasurer Jito and accountant Chandran who helped me so much in recent years as our ministry faced several crises. I thank God for the leadership team we now have and the other younger Christians I have had the privilege of mentoring. And what would I be if I did not have the benefit of the ministry of the secretaries and assistants I have had over the years. Each group I have been involved with—church, the Seminary, Navodaya, and Lausanne—have yielded lasting friendships. Indeed friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts.

 

  1. I was so fortunate to be encouraged by some esteemed international Christian leaders who took the time to write to and encourage me and speak or write on behalf of me when I was young. I think especially of Paul Rees, Carl Henry, Arthur Glasser, Robert Coleman, Sam Wolgemuth, Victor Manogarom, Leighton Ford, John Stott, J. I. Packer and John Kyle. Other friends abroad helped me with funds to purchase my books. And what a source of pleasure and enrichment my books have been! They are my greatest earthly treasure. Roger Headland introduced me to my first publisher in India. Brian Stiller introduced me to Tyndale House, my first Western publisher, Tim Stafford to Zondervan and Kent Hughes to Crossway. I must try, in my own small way, to help others along the way.

 

My “life passage,” 1 Tim. 1:11-17, puts it better than I could. Paul starts with the fact that he has been entrusted with a glorious gospel (vv. 11, 12). Even though he was a big sinner God’s grace “super-abounded” to him (13-14). This is because of the gospel about Christ’s coming to the world to save sinners (v. 15). But Paul, the chief of sinners, was shown mercy so that God would demonstrate his patience resulting in others realising that they are not beyond hope (v. 16). The natural reaction to all of this is doxology (v. 17—my favourite verse in the Bible): “To the king of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen”.

 

Another favourite verse is 2 Cor. 4:1: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

 

 

SOME RESOLUTIONS

 

Leadership is a hot topic of study today, and many sophisticated reasons are given for problems in leadership, many of which are helpful. But I believe that the root of most of the problems is the failure to follow the basics of the Christian life. Always our biggest battle is to maintain what my friend Alfons Hilderbrandt calls “our Sunday school faith.” This does not depend on others. Rather it depends on our availing ourselves of God’s sufficient grace for every situation. Did not Moody say, “I have had more trouble with D. L. Moody than with any other person I have met”?

 

Often when people ask me, “What lies ahead of you in the future?” I am only able to answer with the somewhat uninspiring, “More of the same.” Here are some of the principles that have helped in the past, which I will seek to follow and give priority to in the future also.

 

  1. Spending time with God is the most important work I do each day. Though I often fall short here, I will try to spend 75 to 90 minutes each day with God, giving 30 minutes for Bible study and 60 for prayer. In doing so I will perform my most important function as a leader: intercession. One aim during this time is to jealously guard the joy of the Lord, which is what gives me strength to face the rigours of ministry. I also believe that, given my hectic schedule, this will be my biggest antidote to burnout.

 

  1. I must aim to be unrelenting in my battle against sin and impurity and the weights that cling to me so closely (the weakest area in my life).

 

  1. I will work hard at being a good husband to my wife, son to my parents, father to my children and leader to those I lead in YFC. Much repair work is needed here. A key need is to discipline myself to avoid over-scheduling.

 

  1. I must stay clear of telling slanderous things about others, gossip and false accusation—a besetting sin of us Evangelicals in Sri Lanka.

 

  1. My method has been to focus on people’s strengths in the hope that these strengths will give them courage to work on their weaknesses. I have also tried to help people fulfil their visions within YFC whenever possible. This has come under a lot of fire over the years. Has YFC suffered because I have been taken for a ride so often? I still believe that this is the style that best suits my personality. But I freely acknowledge that it must be balanced off by the wisdom of others in the body.

 

  1. I must not take on assignments that may elevate me in the ecclesiastical ladder, but which are not in keeping with my primary callings. This continues to be so difficult to decide on. Pascal said, “That the vanity of the world is so obvious and yet so little recognised by people is surely an amazing thing. Yet they find it so odd to be told that it is foolish to seek greatness. Surely that is most remarkable” (Pensées, 16, 161). I face this as a writer and theologian (of sorts). In terms of the promotion of my books and ideas, it looks like I am living in a wilderness and lack a “platform”. I must be content with the prominence that God is happy to give my writings, knowing that what is most important is the smile of his approval and not the sales figures (which, for me, have been pathetically low). Yet I will work extra hard at being the best preacher, teacher and writer that I could possibly be under God.

 

  1. I must seek the agreement of Nelun and my colleagues on important decisions, however, humiliating, disappointing, cumbersome and time-consuming that may be.

 

  1. I must never break the principles of love, integrity and honour which we have tried to make a hallmark of YFC.
  2. I must show kindness to those who cause me/us pain, even though they may not appreciate the kindness and keep blaming me/us for their problems.
  3. I must never retaliate when angry, hurt or humiliated, and always check with others about my reactions in such situations.
  4. I must always try to keep my word. “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary…? He… who keeps his oath even when it hurts” (Psa. 15.1, 4). This is no easy task for one who says “yes” too quickly, too often. One weakness leads to another—tiredness as a result of doing things I should have said “no” to. Of course, the tiredness as a result of serving the needs of those I lead must be embraced with joy.
  5. I must give to those who ask, in keeping to Jesus’ command (Matt. 5:42). This would include missionary giving, meeting our obligations to others however hard (mandatory giving first, and then spending), giving back a rented house to a landlord who asks for it (may YFC never stay a day more than we should in the homes we have rented). The excitement of this method is seeing God provide what we need (including antacid for the stomach) at our times of extremity.
  6. It would be better to lose everything earthly in a conflict than to be unfair by our opponent or hit below the belt. God will honour us in his time.
  7. When it comes to money, better be safe than sorry. That is, if you are not sure, better lose the money rather than gain or keep the money in the wrong way.

 

These money-related issues have been quite complex as in YFC we use money given by donors. We must honour their intentions. This means more hard work in raising monies for things that do not come within our donors’ intentions.

 

 

I cannot write such a personal testimony without including a hymn.

 

This, this is the God we adore,

Our faithful unchangeable friend,

Whose love is as great as his power,

And neither knows measure nor end:

 

‘Tis Jesus the first and the last,

Whose spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise him for all that is past,

And trust him for all that’s to come.

 

Joseph Hart (1712-68)

A Letter to the Staff of Youth for Christ Sri Lanka On My Thirtieth Anniversary in My Job

Written in June 2006

 

Ajith Fernando

My dear colleagues,

July 15th is my thirtieth anniversary as National Director of YFC. I will be in Minneapolis in USA in the home of a pastor friend. I am hoping to spend the day fasting and with the Lord mainly praying for YFC, for my family and for my own life. I thought I will send our staff this message to mark this anniversary.

 

First, I must say how proud I am to work with a group like you. Your dedication has been an inspiration to me. Many of you work very hard, and my challenge has been to make you rest rather than to make you work harder. That’s a happy challenge to have.

 

I am a person with huge weaknesses which disqualify me from leading an organisation. The only way I have survived is through the wonderful staff and volunteer teams that God has given me to work with over the years. You have compensated for my many weaknesses, and God has seen us through the crises we have faced, many of which got much more serious because of my poor leadership. As we face further crises at this time let me express my assurance that God will see us through just as he has seen us through before.

 

Let me reflect a bit on the work God has given us of reaching unreached youth. It is a glorious work. Youth work is not regarded highly today by Christians. But we know that most people make those all important decisions that determine their future while they are still youth. What a privilege it is for us to influence individuals at such a crucial period of their lives.

 

I feel so privileged when I get to speak to youth. Here is this old man getting a chance to influence young people with all the potential they have—it is a glorious privilege. Still, like in the early days and sometimes perhaps even more, I am very nervous when I speak to youth. I want to do the best in the world that I could possibly do, and I know that my age makes doing that a real challenge!

 

I want to share some of my deepest desires for you. These are the things that I am constantly praying for and hoping will be seen in my life and yours.

  • I am praying that you will be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). And if you do not sense this fullness, I pray you will stop everything and agonise with God until you know that God has all of you and that he can use you by filling you. Without the fullness of the Spirit all our great work is wood, hay and stubble which will be burned up at the judgment (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
  • I am praying that you will battle—like fighting a fire that has threatened your home—those sins that hinder the fullness of the Spirit in your life: prayerlessness, bitterness and anger, lying and dishonesty, revenge, too much activity, sexual sin, selfish ambition and laziness. I could go on, but these are the ones that come to mind as I think of myself and our YFC staff.
  • I am praying that you will never forget that our biggest challenges are spiritual. We are battling for the lives of people who have been blinded by spiritual unbelief and sin. So we must never forget that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual (2 Cor. 10:4). This is why our most powerful and effective method of ministry is prayer. This is why it is so important to follow spiritual principles in all we do even though these principles may temporarily hinder our growth. So we will discipline and not use in our programmes those who need to be disciplined. We will not give prominence to people who, though greatly talented, are not godly people. We will be scrupulously careful about the way we raise and spend money. We will maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3) and do all we can to bring peace (Heb. 12:14) even when we do not seem to have time because of busyness with programmes.
  • I am praying that you will be known as people who are joyful (Phil. 4:4). Our young people come from such unhappy backgrounds. The temptation to sin is so great for them. May they see us both as godly and joyful and realise that this combination is the greatest treasure they could have on earth (1 Tim. 6:6). Then they will find that sin loses its attraction. Of course, if we are joyful and contented no one needs to feel sorry for us. True we may not be well paid; but we are happy! That is the greatest treasure one can have on earth. If you take home a small pay packet and if you are also unhappy—O boy, you are someone to be pitied.
  • We are joyful because we are thrilled by God and what he has done for us in Jesus. I am praying that you will every day be thrilled by God (Luke 1 46-47). Then, as you face blows, they would not devastate you because you know God’s love is greater than all those blows you get. Perhaps you will have some fleeting and silly regrets. That happens when you want to find satisfaction by feeling sorry for yourself. But may you soon find out that you do not have enough material to feed your self pity! No meditating on our misery! The love of Jesus is greater! Paul uses a wonderful word meaning “pour” or “overflow” when he talks about God’s love being poured into hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Actually Paul’s Epistles are full of such words when he talks about God’s super-abounding grace (see Rom. 5:20; Eph. 1:6-8; 1 Tim. 1:14).
  • I am praying that each and every one of you will have at least one accountability partner and that that partner knows what your biggest weaknesses are and checks up on you on how you are faring in your weak areas (Jas. 5:16; 1 John 1:7-10). If you don’t have such a partner; find one. If you can’t find one; make one. Don’t blame YFC for not providing this for you. You can’t ruin your life because of the shortcomings of YFC!
  • I am praying that each of you will be happily involved in your local churches. A good measure of YFC’s success is churches filled with people reached through YFC who are now serving God within these churches. But our youth will not want to get involved in church if they know that our leaders are unhappy about church.
  • I am praying this for those of you who are married. May your spouses know without a doubt that you are devoted to them with utmost dedication (Matt. 19:5; Eph 5:25). May they know that they are the most important persons in your life—your king or queen. Finding time to devote loving attention to them is hard when we have such heavy schedules. But if we don’t do that we are wicked people. We have taken vows to care for the most important person in our life and we are not fulfilling that vow. That is wickedness! God will give you strength as you give attention to your spouses even though you are very tired. The balanced life is not easy. It is tough and tiring. But, by God’s grace, it is possible.
  • If God has called you to the great calling of singleness, may you be happy in that despite all the insensitive things that people say to you. May God give you patience to forgive your family members and friends who do not try to understand your call. May you find friends and spiritual children who will be your family even though you will not raise up your own physical family. And may you always be happy with the full life (John 10:10) which God gives you in Christ Jesus.
  • If God has called you to marriage, may God give you a spouse who loves Jesus totally, who always tells the truth to you, and who loves the ministry of YFC. These three make for a happy marriage in a YFC staff-worker’s life. Many of us have not seen happy marriages when we grew up. So we do not aim very high in terms of happiness in marriage. I must testify that I have not been a very good husband. My heavy schedule and insensitivity has made it very difficult for Nelun. I am careless and absent minded and make many mistakes which do not help in giving us a happy home. But my marriage has been unbelievably happy. This is possible, because God created happiness, and he wishes Christian families to be happy places. He alone can give us such happiness. Plan on having a Christ-centred and happy marriage!

 

People without Jesus are lost. Lost means eternally lost and headed for hell. We can do a lot of things to help them—and these things we must do. That is why we are committed to the balanced life or to holistic ministry. But when we introduce youth to Jesus we are securing an eternity of well-being for them. Would that not be the most loving thing we can do for a person—securing a happy eternity for them? Yes, bringing a person to Jesus is the most loving thing we can do for that person. Never forget that.

 

The work is hard. We are misunderstood, rejected and persecuted. Often we feel all alone. People we pour our hearts out to end up rejecting Christ and scolding us. But this is a great work.

 

It is an amazing privilege to be called to something so great, even though we are such weak and unworthy people. It is in this context that Paul burst out into his great cry of praise in 1 Timothy 1:17. This is my favourite verse in the Bible: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” That came as a result of reflecting that God had called him despite his unworthiness.

 

I would love to be released from the job of national director as soon as possible. But I am committing myself afresh to do all I can, for as long as I can, to see the youth of Sri Lanka confronting and yielding to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s go and reach our nation’s youth for Christ.

 

Your fellow servant of Jesus Christ,

 

 

 

 

Ajith Aiya/Anna/Uncle

Stress in Ministry

September 1998

My dear friends,

I wrote what follows in caps in response to a query from a friend who asked me a question. I thought I will share it with a few of my soul-friends in the hope that it may be helpful to them.

And, yes, I certainly would be happy and grateful for some prayer as I face the huge task of completing my programme until December without crashing!

Ajith

I AM ALSO EXPERIENCING SOMETHING VERY SIMILAR TO FATIGUE, AND THIS HAS BEEN THE LONGEST TIME I THINK I HAVE HAD IT. I DO NOT HAVE A FREE DAY UNTIL MID-DECEMBER (OTHER THAN MY FRIDAY OFF DAYS). I AM PRAYING THAT GOD WILL KEEP ME GOING UNTIL DECEMBER. I HAVE JUST RECEIVED PERMISSION FROM MY BOARD TO TAKE 2+ WEEKS BREAK DURING CHRISTMAS. I HOPE TO STUDY THEN, BUT THAT IS THERAPY TO ME!

 

I HAVE ALSO HAD MANY BOUTS OF DEEP DISCOURAGEMENT (ALMOST DEPRESSION) WHICH I THINK ARE RELATED TO BOTH FATIGUE AND WHAT I HAVE FELT WERE SEVERE FAILURES THAT I HAVE SEEN IN MY MINISTRY–WITH PEOPLE I HAVE AGONIZED OVER JUST NOT MAKING IT THE WAY I WISH THEY DID.

 

I REALLY DON’T KNOW WHAT SCRIPTURAL WAYS THERE ARE FOR RECOVERY FROM AND PREVENTION OF BURNOUT. CERTAINLY YOUR STRESSES ARE MUCH MORE SEVERE THAN MINE. BUT I THINK YOU ARE STRONGER WHEN IT COMES TO FACING THIS CHALLENGE THAN I AM.

 

SOME THINGS THAT I HAVE FOUND HELPFUL ARE

 

  1. SPENDING UNHURRIED TIME IN THE WORD AND IN PRAYER. THE REFRESHMENT THAT THIS BRINGS IS INESTIMABLE.

 

  1. SPENDING TIME AT THE PIANO (USUALLY SINGING HYMNS OF PRAISE WHICH I FIND VERY STRENGTHENING AS THEY GIVE ME GREAT THEOLOGY ON WHICH TO BASE MY HOPES FOR DELIVERANCE)

 

  1. TRYING TO ENSURE THAT, HOWEVER BUSY I AM AND EVEN THOUGH I MAY WORK UNTIL 2.00 AM ON MOST DAYS, I HAVE ENOUGH SLEEP (FOR ME, THAT IS SIX TO SEVEN HOURS A DAY–USUALLY IN TWO INSTALLMENTS)

 

  1. MY CLOSE FRIENDS–NELUN, BALA, SURI AND RICHARD BROHIER (THROUGH LONG DISTANCE AND THROUGH INFREQUENT FACE TO FACE CONTACTS) [AND ALSO OTHERS LIKE MY COLLEAGUES CHANDRAN, SATCHI, BRIAN AND JITO AND MY AREA DIRECTOR ALBERT LEE] HAVE BEEN A GREAT HELP TO ME. SHARING MY BURDENS WITH THEM HAS BEEN VERY HELPFUL. IT HAS HELPED TAKE AWAY A LOT OF MY PRESSURE AND HAS HELPED ME AVOID MANY MISTAKES.

 

  1. I THINK ONE OF THE BRIGHTEST THINGS IN MY LIFE HAS BEEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO KID AROUND WITH MY FAMILY. UNLIKE YOU, I AM OF A SERIOUS DISPOSITION AND NOT KNOWN AS A JOKER–POSSIBLY BECAUSE I AM SHY AND NOT CONFIDENT TO JOKE IN PUBLIC. BUT I FEEL FREE TO CLOWN WHEN I AM AT HOME, AND THAT HAS REALLY HELPED REDUCE MY PRESSURE. A CHEERFUL HEART IS CERTAINLY GOOD MEDICINE (PROV. 17:22)–FINALLY I GOT A SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLE!!

 

  1. I HAVE UNASHAMEDLY ASKED PEOPLE FOR SPECIFIC PRAYER THOUGH THAT HAS BEEN SOMEWHAT HUMILIATING FOR ME TO DO, AS SOME WOULD JUDGE ME, AND OTHERS WOULD GIVE TRITE ADVICE LIKE “YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN”.

 

  1. RECENTLY DURING MY TRAVELING TIME I READ THE BIOGRAPHY OF DAVID ADENEY. (I WILL BE GIVING THE DAVID ADENEY MEMORIAL LECTURE IN SINGAPORE IN OCTOBER). IT WAS A REAL COMFORT TO ME FOR A STRANGE REASON: I FOUND THAT DAVID’S WEAKNESSES WERE MY WEAKNESSES TOO. BUT GOD USED HIM SO MUCH THAT SOMEONE WROTE A (SUPERB) BIOGRAPHY OF THE MAN! I HAVE BEEN GETTING DOWN ON MYSELF A LOT BECAUSE I FEEL THAT MANY OF THE PROBLEMS I FACE IN YFC AND IN MY LIFE ARE BECAUSE OF MY WEAKNESSES. IT WAS A TREMENDOUS COMFORT TO ME TO BE REMINDED THAT GOD USES PEOPLE LIKE ME DESPITE OUR WEAKNESSES. WE MUST FIGHT OUR WEAKNESSES, BUT WE KNOW THAT MANY OF THEM THEY WILL NOT BE ERADICATED THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN.

 

 

 

 

14th September 1998

 

WARNING! THESE ARE RAMBLINGS OF A FRUSTRATED WRITER WITHOUT A CURRENT BOOK PROJECT. READ IF YOU WANT TO BE PUNISHED OR IF YOU WANT A SURE CURE FOR INSOMNIA.

 

My dear soul friends,

 

I want to thank many of you who have poured out your love by writing to me in response to my letter to a friend who feared he was close to burnout. These responses have been very helpful and made me do a lot of soul searching. I thought that I will write down something of where I am in this whole process.

 

 

THE BIBLICAL BASIS

 

 

COMMITMENT TO JOY AND TO THE CROSS. I suppose you could call me a Christian hedonist—to borrow from my friend John Piper an expression which I do not like too much, but which correctly describes my desire. I am a pleasure seeker seeking the joy of the Lord as an extremely important experience in life. I resonate with George Müller who said that the first and primary business to which he ought to attend to everyday was to was to have his soul is happy in the Lord.

 

However, I want to have this joy coming out of a lifestyle of taking up the cross. Jesus said, that he wants us to have his joy so that our joy may be complete (John 15:11). But soon after that he says that his command to us is that we love each other as he loves us (v. 12). He goes on to explain that love by saying that greater love has no one than his type of love that made him die for his friends (v. 13). This is what I am saying, I want to pursue joy on the one hand and also to pursue death for the sake of the people I am called to minister to on the other. The latter model is that of Jesus who, unlike the hired hand, dies for the sheep (John 10:11-15). If we are sent into the world as the Father has sent Jesus (John 20:21), then we too must die for the sheep as he did.

 

What I wrote to my friend is an attempt to explain this idea: How you can have joy while you are dying for a cause. How you can have a hilarious home which is full of fun while you are struggling with huge strains in the workplace.

 

The model for ministry that has influenced me greatly is that of Paul. In Philippians he shows that the joy of the Lord is an imperative for Christians (Phil. 4:4). But he was writing from prison. He had lost his joy over the lack of unity in Philippi (Phil. 2:2; 4:2). He allowed himself to be hurt by the sins of others and to lose a certain earthly joy because of such things while he preserved his joy in the Lord. So he tells the wayward Galatians that he goes through the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in them (Gal. 4:19). He says that he faces “the daily pressure of his concern for all the churches. Who is weak and I do not feel weak? Who is led to sin and I do not inwardly burn?”  (2 Cor. 11:28, 29). He said, death is at work in him while life is at work in the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:12). He said that while he was wasting away outwardly, his spirit was being renewed every day (2 Cor. 4:16). How alien to modern aspirations in ministry these verses are!

 

I feel we should do everything required for a balanced life—take rest, have good times set apart for family, study, exercise, and fun. And most importantly we must spend good unhurried times with the Lord in prayer and Bible study. But while we do all this we must die for those we serve. Because we are called to die, there will be struggles and strains, burdens and persecutions. Several years ago in a training session for senior YFC staff I shared how I am burdened by the weaknesses and sins of our YFC staff. The leaders of the sessions, who were counsellors from a Western country, felt very upset by this, and had prayer that I will be liberated from these burdens. I thought of that incident for years, and I have come to the conclusion that it is right for me to be burdened in this way; it is a part of my dying for my people. Didn’t Jeremiah, Daniel and Nehemiah suffer depression over the problems of their people and weep over their sin? Therefore, I am saying that I want to bear the stress of concern for the people whose servant I am.

 

UNBIBLICAL STRESS. I believe there are two common types of unbiblical stress experienced by Christians. The first is the stress that comes from earthly ambitions for success. We want our church to grow, we want our organisation, or our book to be the best in its field. This often leads to workoholism because we find our primary fulfilment in striving for earthly goals. We take on a lot of stress, and failure becomes a huge burden. Biblical Christians also have ambitions. But they are driven by a desire to see God glorified. Then our security does not depend on success. Therefore we have the strength to bear failures, bad reviews, criticisms, unexpected frustrations etc. The desire for God’s glory however pushes us to do our best for him: our utmost for his highest!

 

The other type of unbiblical stress comes from an unwillingness to delegate. Christian leaders are driven by the glorious truth that all Christians have gifts, and that it is their responsibility to enable others to exercise their gifts. So we will be always delegating responsibilities to others. If we don’t do this we will be bearing burdens that others should be bearing. We go to see sick people that others could be seeing. This comes from a Messiah-complex that feels that we are the ones who must do all the important things in our ministries. We will end up driving ourselves to the ground. We must severely discipline ourselves to say, “No” to many opportunities for ministries that are outside our primary calling. As we get older we will need to be regularly divesting ourselves of such responsibilities. People may be upset by this decision of ours. But so that we could do our primary call well, we must divest ourselves of many other callings that are not for us.

 

COUNCLUSION. So the biblical foundation I am advocating for developing a ministerial lifestyle is one that has joy as primary so that the Joy of the Lord becomes our strength (Neh. 8:10). Out of the strength of this joy we will embrace the pain that comes from dying for the people we are called to serve.

 

 

THE GROUND SITUATION

 

THE “BENEFACTOR”LIFESTYLE. I have become very burdened about all of this because of certain big problems the church in Sri Lanka is facing. The church in Sri Lanka is really growing at a wonderful rate. This growth is primarily through the ministries of unsung heroes who have gone to the unreached and are paying a huge price to bring the gospel to them. But another sad thing is happening. Sri Lankan Christian leaders who come to Sri Lanka after training abroad or who have foreign contacts are finding it very difficult to fit into the lifestyle that is necessary to identify with the poor in Sri Lanka who form the large majority of our population. So they have developed a lifestyle that is that of a benefactor rather than a peer with their colleagues. Owing to contacts abroad they are able to live on a higher level than their colleagues. They help their colleagues, thus becoming their benefactors. This way they avoid a lot of the frustration that comes with identifying with the poor. Some send their children to international schools where the monthly fees are more than the monthly salary of an average Christian worker. Many of them return to the West after a few years of service in Sri Lanka.

 

A similar problem exists with the missionary movement today. Many modern missionaries are told that they don’t have to really struggle the way people like Hudson Taylor did. But one of the problems is that they don’t really make an effort to radically identify with the people. Many come for only a short term that they feel that they don’t need to identify in this way. So they live like westerners in Sri Lanka—quite removed from the people. They too do not know the struggles of the people and those who join them often do so with the hope that they will become rich through some of the riches of the missionary trickling down to them. The missionary then also becomes primarily a benefactor. Sensitive people of integrity stay away from them lest they be tainted. Consequently missionaries have bad experiences. They are taken for a ride by the people who joined them with the hope of exploiting their wealth. They end up saying, “You can’t trust the Sri Lankans, especially poor Sri Lankans.” The non-Christians on the other hand are saying a new colonialism has dawned. First the Christians came with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other. Now they come with the Bible in one hand and dollars in the other. I really think that one of the biggest problems in missions today is the “softness” of the missionaries who are going out from affluent countries. That is, they are the unable to endure frustration and strain.

 

SUFFERING WITH THE PEOPLE. When leaders suffer with the people, the people develop a sense of ownership in the movement. They begin to give financially and in other ways to the movement. Unless they give they will never sense ownership, and thus never really develop into leaders themselves. But why give when the leaders live such affluent lives? My dream is to see the poor giving to our work and therefore sensing that they have ownership in this movement, so much so that they can protest when something happens that they don’t like. I believe this is happening in YFC. Poor people who don’t have enough to eat properly are among our donors.

 

Most of the Sri Lankans who come after some years abroad (me included) struggle with the sense of frustration that they are not being used “properly.” For me this sense intensifies after each visit I make to the West. They feel that their gifts are not recognised by the people and that they are not “fulfilled in ministry.” The problem is that our countries are so poor that we cannot afford specialists. So if we are to use our gifts, it will have to be while we do many other things. The result of course is integration that avoids the unhealthy specialisation that we are seeing in the West. I believe that such integration is one of the biggest contributions that we in poorer nations have to make to the rest of the world. But there is a big price to pay if we are to use our primary gifts while doing so many other things. That price may be severe tiredness.

 

CHRISTIAN FULFILMENT VERSUS “JOB SATISFACTION.” Unfortunately many who have returned to Sri Lanka after studies abroad have got their understanding of fulfilment in ministry from the West where it is often drawn from ideas of job satisfaction in the secular world rather than from a theology of the cross in the Bible. Recently I have had to think of this a lot because I have had four foreign “job offers” this year. Though I never gave any of them serious thought, two of them were attractive because they claimed to give me a platform for a wider influence for my writings and ideas. Sometimes the thought would come to me, “How nice to be able to write without the severe exhaustion that comes from trying to write and do active ministry among a people who don’t have a western approach to time and efficiency.” But that is my call. Sadly, many, many of our sharpest minds have left the country. Many Sri Lankans who are writing, are writing from abroad.

 

What of those who benefit from the generosity of the rich foreign-trained national? They wait until they too can get a foreign sponsor. The moment they do that they liberate themselves from their “local-foreigner” benefactor and start praising God for his provision of funds to have an even more effective ministry. Unfortunately, the time they make this foreign contact is often the time their ministry begins to slide downwards. They lose touch with their people. They are comfortable, prosperous but ineffective.

 

Many people in the ministry all over the world think of the best days of their ministry as the days when they were young. Along the way they took a step that caused their growth curve to plateau. At the time however this step seemed to be a wonderful opportunity for career advancement. Some took jobs that would put them higher in the ecclesiastical status-ladder (How often ministers think that promotion in status is the rightful and necessary reward for service). Some left places of political instability and danger. They felt that they had served there long enough and that now it was time to come to a place where their children could have better educational and cultural opportunities. Some found their spouses unwilling to share in the difficulties of their call, and thus they were forced to relocate. But what these moves did was to take them away from the way of the cross, and thus from effectiveness.

 

ACCEPTING SUFFERING. I want to encourage as many Sri Lankans as I could to stay on the “straight and narrow.” But if I am to do that, I will need to suffer as they do. I don’t always embrace this suffering joyfully as Paul did when he suffered for the church (Col. 1:24). So I have to spend a lot of time grappling and theologising so that I could learn to be joyful, and help others to be joyful, in the midst of suffering. Joy is commanded of us in the Scriptures, so is the cross. We are missing God’s best both when we are not joyful and also when we are not suffering for the sake of the gospel.

 

We must remind ourselves that the Bible teaches that suffering is an indispensable part of discipleship and a gateway to joy. If we believe this, then the pain of suffering will be so much less and will in fact give way to joy. I fear that because Christians, especially in the West, do not consider suffering to be an essential ingredient of discipleship, they suffer more when they face it and they often forsake the way of the cross in order to avoid it.

 

So we must teach people: “Don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Don’t feel bad about suffering. These are all necessary experiences along the pathway to joy.”

Stepping Down Letter Feb 2011

12th February 2011

Dear YFC Leadership,

I wanted to let you know about some decisions made by the Board last Monday before I tell others. The Board has finally resolved the issue of what to do about my stepping down from National Directorship. They have accepted that I step down on 1st June 2011. I will continue to serve in YFC with the designation Teaching Director on contract as I am over 60 years old. I will not be part of the National Ministry Team. I will continue to work towards raising funds for the ministry, but I also hope to spend more time than before teaching our staff in the different centres and in our in-house training. I will continue to serve on the Board.

 

The Board appointed Leonard Fernando as Acting National Director from 1st June. Leonard will move to Colombo in April and, at that time, will be relieved of his responsibilities in Vavuniya and the Vavuniya-Mannar Division. Leonard’s great strength is coming alongside workers and encouraging them by spending time with them. He found this difficult to do after becoming National Ministry Director while he was resident in Vavuniya. Now he can concentrate on that.

 

The search for a New National Director has been officially on for about 5 years now and, in my mind, for about 15 years. Leonard was the one we felt met the two sets of requirements we were looking for. First, there are the scriptural requirements for leaders, as in 1 Timothy and Titus, which focus on reputation for good character, expressing biblical character traits in personal life, having a good family life and having good ability in ministry. Second, there are the needs of our organisational culture which majors on individual leaders taking the initiative to push forward visions that God has given them. We wanted a leader who would be able to motivate visionary leaders to achieve their fullest potential under God.

 

It is not going to be easy for Leonard to take over from one who has been leader for 35 years. This is why I decided to be almost an absentee leader for the past 10 months, so that YFC will get used to being without me.

 

I must tell you that when I took over from Sam Sherrard, our founder director and a brilliant leader, it was very hard for me. Many times a week, in those early days, people said something like, “This is the way it was done in Sam’s time.” I often wanted to resign and once even wrote my letter of resignation (but did not submit it). What saw me through was the support I got from our leadership team: Brian Blacker, Richard Brohier, Tony Senewiratne and Suri Williams. They had all been on staff for several years and, other than Tony, were all older than me. I must specially mention Brian who had been acting National Director for two years before I came. He was about ten years senior to me and had been on staff for eight and a half years before I came. This was my first job! But Brian did everything he can do to help me and enable the body of YFC to accept me as the leader. I pray that you will do the same with Leonard.

 

I also have to give you some sad news. For some time Prashan de Mel has been feeling the call to work full-time as an evangelist as part of the group that he has been involved with even before he joined YFC. He has followed through with that call and will leave YFC full-time staff in a few months when he feels we are ready for this. After leaving YFC staff, he will serve as a consultant helping the Finance and Admin ministry until we can release him fully. What God did in YFC through Prashan is simply amazing. He was able to be God’s agent in transforming our finance, admin and fund-raising operations to something that we can be proud about. He trained the staff, always saying that he must hand his responsibilities over to others. His godly firmness and strong commitment to integrity was just what we needed. Prashan will continue as a member of our Board.

 

Just in case you are wondering whether Prashan is leaving because of Leonard’s appointment, let me tell you that Prashan has, over the past few months, repeatedly told me that we should give the job to Leonard and also given me helpful hints on how to process this transition effectively. Prashan will be giving special attention, in the next few months, to helping Leonard with his new job.

 

This is a time when we are standing in the need of prayer. I know you will pray for your family–Sri Lanka YFC.

 

Your fellow servant of Jesus Christ,

 

 

Ajith

The Rewards of Identification

 

Sent to Mac Pier in response to the following questions.

1)       Given the theme of suffering – what are the major choices  you have made over the past forty years in your lifestyle to identify with the suffering of Sri Lanka

2)      As you look back after forty years – how have those choices resulted in joy for you, your family, and your organization?

I think I will answer these together.

 

In the providence of God, our calling was to minister to the poor and most of them were people who had really suffered greatly. To identify with such people we had to adopt a lifestyle that made us accessible to them. One thing that this involved was living a relatively simple life. I wanted our house to be a place where the poor felt at home. So we did not have things which people associate with affluence. We still don’t have a microwave oven as such things are strange to our people.

 

We chose to live on a Sri Lankan salary and not take anything that comes from my overseas speaking and book ministry. That amounts to five to ten times my salary. I guess the thing that we got from this was a happy home. My wife never complained about not having things that others had, and our children seemed to be happy even though they did not have a lot of the things that their relatives had. I do not think that they felt deprived. And in the end, both my children chose to work for the same ministry that I work for.

 

I guess the hardest part was agonizing with struggling people who, after all the pain that they had experienced, found it difficult to believe that God will look after them. How we yearned to see them have the joy we had. Instead, often they would say things that would hurt us. Hurt people have a way of hurting people! Trying to defend and minister to hurting people often resulted in those they had hurt being upset with us. But we learned not to give up on people who hurt you. We learned to look to the possibilities of grace in hope and long to see these people whole.

 

I believe one of the greatest needs within the church today is to relearn the Christian value of commitment to people and groups. Working long term (two to three decades) with the same group of people has taught us what such commitment means. There is no doubt that the people I have ministered among have brought the biggest pain in my life. But I can also say, that next to God and my family, these people have also brought me the biggest joys in my life. I can also say that many of them are quite advanced along the path of experiencing God’s healing grace.

 

Another difficult thing was the loss of privacy and the fact that the people we minister with did not understand of efficiency the way we did. The poor have no concept of privacy and efficiency like affluent people. Keeping an open home meant that I began to find it very difficult to find time for study, unless it was late at night. We decided that for private and study times we must leave home; but that our home will always continue to be an open place.

 

First generation Christians do not know about the international Christian scene. When those we minister to are sick they expect us to come and visit. Visiting is a wonderful trait of poor people. They visit those who are in need. And if we do not go, because we are simply too busy or out of town, they blame us. A small price to pay in a glorious ministry! This has been a challenge to us now that my wife is down with cancer. The church members want to visit her. And we tell them not to come. Some come any way. Some may stay for as long as four hours. It is very tiring for my wife who is going through chemotherapy. But most do not come. They are very poor. But every Sunday I come back from church with parcels of fruits, vegetables, soups and other things that the members have heard are good for cancer patients: gifts joyfully and sacrificially given by very poor people.

 

What is the reward? I guess the greatest is the joy of seeing people who should otherwise be dead, or in prison or leading underworld gangs, serving God as YFC staff, doing the kind of ministry I could never do. In addition they are good biblical preachers too. What a joy to know that people, I could not otherwise come into contact with, are now my sons in the faith. These people are now my close friends, and I learn so much about the world I was insulated from as a child. Perhaps along the way I have taught them something about the biblical lifestyle—a lifestyle so alien to them.

 

Let me give you three examples.

 

  1. In 1989 we had just come back to Sri Lanka from a six month sabbatical at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. It was a workaholic’s sabbatical. I learned to use a computer and to type. I almost completed writing two books. I taught a class of graduate students. I preached in the weekends and sometimes mid-week and through that raised most of the money needed for a colleague to some to the USA to do a Master’s degree. All these things I could not do at home. It was like heaven!

 

I came back to a country that was going through a revolution. A group of extreme leftist youth in the South, were attempting to overthrow the government (This was different to war raging in the North). All the time, there were bodies floating along the river at the edge of our town. The estimates of how many died that year run as high as 50,000. Almost all were young people.

 

As a youth worker I struggled with deep discouragement. Schools did not function for months at a time. The rebels had stopped public transport, and most of those in our office travelled to work by bus or train. We needed to pick up our staff from their homes and drop them back. The process took three-and-a-half hours in the morning and the same time in the evening. There were three of us who shared this responsibility. I usually do not enjoy driving, but this time was particularly stressful because most people would give rides to others who were stranded. But if by chance the person who we gave a ride to was a rebel, we could all end up dead.

 

While I was struggling with the sorrow of the situation at home and the frustration of spending most of my time doing what I did not like to do, I got a letter from Gordon-Conwell saying that the faculty had unanimously decided to invite me to join their faculty. The attractiveness of this offer was that ample time was given for writing and for continuing my teaching and preaching ministry. But I knew that was not for me; that I was called for lifetime ministry in Sri Lanka. I especially knew that I could not leave my nation at such a traumatic time. I immediately wrote to say that I am honored by the invitation but that I did not think it was God’s will for me.

 

One evening I had just finished a meeting and I needed to drop everyone at home. We were on a very tight schedule to complete the journey before the 11 p.m. curfew. I was angry and driving more recklessly than usual. I was going on a narrow gravel road faster than I should and I got too close to a fence. A barb from the fence caught my tire and punched a hole in the tire. We quickly changed tires and proceeded on the journey. The last person I dropped was a male staff worker. He told his mother he was safe and got into the car to go back home with me as we were perilously close to the 11.00 pm curfew, and he did not want me to go alone.

 

We reached home around 11.10 pm. After having a late dinner we started chatting. It turned out that this young staff worker was going through deep discouragement and was contemplating leaving the ministry. We talked till past 2.00 a.m., and I believe I was able to minister to him. This was the work I wanted to be doing. But I would not have had the opportunity of doing that if I did not have that frustrating drive before the conversation. Twenty two years later, that young staffer is still in ministry. He is now a pastor, and I am told he is a good biblical preacher.

 

I believe that one of the keys to my writing ministry has been the frustration of working in what seemed to be such a non-ideal situation. Frustration forces you to theologize in order to maintain your sanity and your joy. A lot of my writing is the fruit of that theologizing.

 

  1. I was getting ready for the Urbana Missionary Conference in 1990 where I was a Bible expositor. I was going to leave home around mid-night on Christmas day. We did not have a pastor at that time in our church and I had to conduct the Christmas morning service in our church. I had been very busy the days before and was concerned that I was going to arrive in the USA exhausted. I finished preparing my sermon around 2.00 a.m. and went to bed knowing that I desperately needed sleep. I must have slept only a few minutes when there was a knock at our door. One of our neighbors had a baby who was sick with a stomach infection. They did not have electricity in their home. In the little light provided by an oil lamp they mistook skin lotion for the syrup that had been prescribed for the child, and they fed her the lotion.

 

They wanted to know what to do. I took them to the hospital in the YFC van. As the poor are sometimes not given adequate attention in our hospitals I decided to wait until everything was done for the baby. When I came back home it was time to go to church. But I needed sleep.

 

I decided that I will have a nice long sleep that afternoon. After our Christmas meal, we closed the windows in our home (which usually means no one is at home), I parked the van in the garage and went to sleep hoping that no one would disturb me. We had two visitors that afternoon! I realized that the prospects of my getting sleep were bleak. So I played some games with my children instead. I was severely deprived of sleep now!

 

My non-stop 10-12 hour flight from Colombo to Amsterdam had only about 15% of the maximum load of passengers. I had four seats to myself. I slept as I had never slept before on a flight. I got up as we were nearing Amsterdam thrilled about the God who knew that I needed sleep when he sent that poor Hindu family to my door the night before.

 

  1. YFC gave me a three month sabbatical beginning January 2005 to go to the USA and work on a book on Deuteronomy that was due at the end of March 2005. A week before I left, the tsunami struck! I assumed that my colleagues can handle the situation and proceeded with my preparation for the trip. About three days after the tsunami it became clear to me that I could not leave. Possibly 40,000 people had been killed and there were so many needy people in need in our country. Our ministry stopped all other work to concentrate on relief for the next four months or so.

 

I stayed at home, and most of the time I was responding to letters, that came asking about the possibility of funding, and helping match donors with those who could use the funds. Most of our staff workers are not fluent in English so I had to handle most of the correspondence, while they were out in the field ministering to people. I decided that I won’t go to sleep until all the letters for the day were replied. Some days I went to sleep at 6.00 a.m. I sometimes wrote as many as 250 letters in a day. I was feeling sorry for myself! I was supposed to be on a sabbatical writing a book on Deuteronomy, and instead I am writing e-mails!

 

I was asked to speak at the staff prayer meeting on the first day of work for the New Year. I prepared a message the night before and went to sleep. When I was praying before going for the meeting, I felt that the message I prepared was not appropriate. So I quickly jotted down notes for another message and went back to praying. Again I felt the message was not suitable. It was time to leave. My daughter was travelling with me in the van, and she asked me what I was going to speak on. Like Abraham told Isaac, I told her, “The Lord will provide a message.” As we were nearing the church where we had the meeting, some thoughts began to flow through my mind. When I reached the church I quickly jotted them down and gave that message.

 

My colleagues told me that I should write that message down. A senior pastor had earlier told me to write something for the pastors who did not know what to tell their people after this terrible tragedy. I wrote it down and sent it to some of my friends by e-mail. A Chinese website asked permission whether they could translate it into Chinese and post it. A Dutch newspaper carried it in their pages. RBC Ministries decided to print it in English, Sinhala and Tamil doing a total of 100,000 copies with the name, After the Tsunami. Then a great earthquake hit Pakistan. The booklet was translated into Urdu with the name, After the Earthquake. Then came hurricane Katrina in the USA. RBC Ministries in USA printed 396,000 copies of this booklet naming it, After the Hurricane. A German book and a book by IVP USA included it as a chapter in a larger book. Burmese and Japanese editions followed. Many people have written to me that the book was a help to many after the recent tsunami in Japan. RBC’s television program decided to follow up the booklet by producing program in their series The Day of Discovery, called, “The God of Joy; the God of Pain.”

 

That little message God gave me that day had impacted well over a million people. And I was complaining about not being able to write! This year I finally sent the manuscript of my Deuteronomy book to the publisher, six years late!

After Thirty Years

Written in Minneapolis on the banks of the Minnesota River on 14th July 2006 my thirtieth anniversary in YFC

Typed at the Dubai International Airport on 31st July 2006.

 

When I came into YFC I came for life if that was God’s will. I know that many have left us after distinguished service and the way that the Lord has used them after they left YFC shows that God was clearly in their move out. But for some reason, this very un-youth-worker-like person seems to have been called for a longer stint with YFC!

 

I was in a friend’s home in Minneapolis on my thirtieth anniversary and I decided to spend the day thanking God and praying for YFC. As I was walking to and sitting on the banks of the Minneapolis River some thoughts came to my mind which I thought I will write down.

 

These have not been easy years. In fact, the last two years have been among the hardest of the years I have had in YFC. Yet I can honestly say that I am still excited about the call to serve Christ and his church. I thought I will write down some of the things that have helped me and recommit myself afresh to them.

 

  1. Christian ministry is all of mercy(2 Cor. 4:1). I do not deserve anything that the Lord has done to and through me. My life does not match up; my abilities are very limited in some key areas; many aspects of my personality act as handicaps to leadership. It is all grace—underserved favour—or, more accurately, mercy—pity to a helpless person.

 

Because all ministry is out of mercy I cannot entertain and nurture feelings of being let down, not recognised, or not given the position I think I deserve. Everything I have got is a bonus that I did not deserve. I am not going to fight for position and recognition. Then it will be me acting; and I know how weak I am. It will make me a restless and unhappy man and also forfeit my only hope for effectiveness in ministry—the anointing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8).

 

  1. When we are overwhelmed by grace the constant response to everything is thanksgiving (2 Cor. 2:14) and the dominant emotion is joy (Phil. 4:4). This gives us the strength to face pain, disappointment, danger, fear and other challenges (Neh 8:10). Indeed the pain can be very severe, as Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10. But that is what triggered the doxology of verses 3-5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Pain gives God an opportunity to give us one of the most precious treasures of life: his personal attention and comfort.

 

And God’s comfort points to a deeper truth: the fact that that we are loved by God as his children as John excitedly exclaimed: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). George Beverley Shea wrote a song which puts these sentiments well:

There’s a wonder in springtime and harvest

A wondrous sunshine I see.

But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul,

Is the wonder that God loves me!

 

The wonder of it all;

The wonder of it all;

Just to think that God loves me (repeat chorus).

 

  1. All ministry springs from grace and is energised by the love of Christ in us (2 Cor. 5:4).Therefore my greatest personal need is to ensure that there are no blocks to God’s love coming into my life. I must make sure that there are no blocks to grace like an unforgiving spirit (Matt. 6:12-15). I must keep looking at God so that his glory will rub onto me (2 Cor. 3:18). I know of know better way of doing this than the daily time with God in prayer and study of his Word. I have no doubt that this is the most important thing I do every day, and, after over 43 years of trying to do it faithfully, I must say that it is still a battle that has to be waged everyday. I am too much of a workoholic to take to quiet time naturally. Therefore the battle has to be waged every day.

 

  1. I must wage a holy war against unholiness, carelessness, lust and pride every day. This battle is as intense now as it was in my early days as a Christian. I think this is because I have been careless and so have often given Satan a foothold. I desire to say of myself as Paul said of himself: “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1Cor 9:27 NIV). I will get all the help for this battle that I can battle from people I am accountable to.

 

  1. God’s grace is often communicated through the body of Christ and the context of life and ministry is the body. I must never make personal plans without reference to the body. I may have to surrender something I plan to do because of the needs of the body, but ultimately that will not be a sacrifice at all.

 

I still feel like weeping when I think of the strain I went through when I had to take over the Principalship of Colombo Theological Seminary on my sabbatical year. Yet I managed to write my 650 page commentary on Acts during that year, and of all my writings that book has brought in most funds to YFC. I also think it has been received positively by the Church.

 

Now I am unable to write my Deuteronomy commentary because of needs in YFC and Sri Lanka. It will probably be released about 5 years later than planned—that is, if God gives me the time to work on it beginning next year. But even though I feel sad about this sometimes, I know I have not made a big sacrifice because the body’s needs are my needs, as I am part of this body. God will one day show me what his beautiful plan is here, even though now I cannot see that.

 

So I must never adopt the attitude of one who has sacrificed a lot for YFC. I can honestly say that if there is some fruit from my ministry it has a lot to do with the fact that many in the YFC family did many things that I should have done so that I can be released for my calling to be a preacher, teacher and writer.

 

All I do in ministry is team ministry. And what wonderful teams God has given me to work with over these thirty years. These brothers and sisters have enriched my life so much. Friendship with them has been a sheer delight. And they have compensated for my many weaknesses.

 

  1. If the body is the primary context of ministry, then I must be accountable to the body. In varying degrees I am accountable to my family, to YFC and to my church. A key aspect of that accountability is open walking in the light (1 John 1:7) with and confessing sin (James 5:16) to Nelun and to my accountability group. I must always be submissively open to receiving God’s rebuke, advise, guidance, comfort and joy from the body of Christ.

 

I just do not know how people who keep changing churches and jobs can develop this kind of accountability. I will do all I can to discourage this terrible evangelical grasshopper mentality. Relationships become disposable and tied to job descriptions when we adopt this approach to body life. In biblical community we care for people because we love them and have a lasting commitment to them, not just because we can get a job done by them.

 

  1. Most of the insights into the Word which I share in public have been received from others. This includes family members, colleagues, scholars, missionaries, ministers, young people, YFC volunteers, new Christians, mature Christians and recovering drug dependents. Then there is the vast reservoir of learning available through books. I have been called to take their insights and share them with a wider audience. So let me never think that my public ministry is some badge of honour that I bear. Rather let me always say with David, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psa. 16:3).

 

I feel terrible, for example, that my writings have a larger circulation than the writings of some giants to whom I owe so much of what I know and how I think (for example, my pastor George Good and my Th.M. mentor Dan Fuller). I cannot match their godliness and knowledge. But prominence has nothing to do with significance. What is important is that the kingdom of God grows and thrives. He gives different people different roles in this. May we never think that well known people are more significant that lesser known people.

 

  1. My most important body responsibility is to be a good husband and father. Here I think I have survived not only because of God’s grace but also because of grace and mercy mediated through my wife and children. Their patience and forgiveness has taken away so much of the burden I would have otherwise lived with. It has made my home the place I long to go to after the rigours of ministry. On my part I must labour to make my home the happiest place on earth for my wife and family. Their joy is my joy, and I must work hard at helping them be joyful.

 

During the time of the JVP revolution in the late 80s and early 90s two seminaries in USA offered me very attractive packages that would have enabled me to use my gifts to the fullest. Many were leaving the country out of concern for their children, especially because schools were closed for so long. I replied, I believe, on the same day that I received those invitations saying that I was not interested. But Nelun and I had to think about the inheritance we were going to leave for our children. We decided that the greatest legacy we could leave was the memory of a happy home. I hope we have given them this.

 

I will never forget something my mentor Dr Robert Coleman said in class in seminary. He said that if our spouses are unhappy about our ministry the children will sense this. They will conclude that the unhappiness in the family is because of God’s ministry so that ultimately God is responsible for the family being unhappy. Then there is a strong chance of the children rejecting God. I have tried to make it my biggest earthly ambition to make Nelun happy. Of course I have failed here and often taken her for granted as I have been absorbed in ministry. So here too I can say that our joy as a family is not because of my performance but because of God’s mercy.

 

  1. I simply cannot get over the fact that God gave me such a wonderful wife. And this was after the wonderful privilege of growing up in a godly Christian home! Nelun’s love for God and the ministry is the primary human reason for the children’s love for God and the ministry. As far as I know she never complained to them about the ministry. I am so careless that I have often neglected my responsibilities at home. Then Nelun has been faithful in informing me about this. I trust I have taken this as an urgent warning of something that is deadly serious and must be attended to immediately.

 

I know that in order to release me to study while leading YFC Nelun has taken on many responsibilities at home that I should have taken. I am so grateful for Nelun’s and my family members who have augmented our monthly income so that Nelun did not have to do an outside job.

 

It has been very important for me to always walk in the light with Nelun so that I can have fellowship with her (1 John 1:7). When I first began to advocate the idea of not going to bed until all has been cleared between husband and wife, I felt that people responded with the thought that I will learn with time that this is not practical. After almost 30 years of marriage I must say that I still believe in this. I have tried to always have things cleared between Nelun and me.

 

I also try to make sure that I have her backing for everything I do in ministry. This means I must talk to her about my ministry details. She does not generally get involved publicly in the problems surrounding my ministry. And I like this because if she gets involved others would not feel free to rebuke me when they think I am wrong, and until that is done we cannot expect a resolution to the problem. But she is involved privately as my comfort and advisor.

 

  1. This blessing of having a happy family brings with it the responsibility to do all we can to help other families. Nelun does more of this than I. I know the pain that many saints endure because of difficult spouses and children. They will have a great reward in heaven which far surpasses the pain they experienced here. We have had ours down here! There’s where it really matters from the perspective of eternity.

 

  1. I often feel embarrassed about asking people to pray for me so often. But I know that some of those who get my letters will pray and that this prayer is a key to my life and ministry. Satan must surely want me to crash given my public ministry. I will keep asking for prayer like Paul did when he said, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11).

 

  1. In deciding on my schedule I must always put my primary callings above my secondary callings. Of course, my secondary callings, like helping the wider body of Christ, are also from God and must be given due place in my scheduling.
  • Personal ministry is more basic than public ministry.
  • My family and those I disciple, supervise, or lead must have priority over others.
  • Listening is more important than talking (Jas. 1:19). Those I disciple, supervise or lead must know that I am not too busy to listen to their joys and sorrows, their stories, their testimonies and their concerns.
  • Prayer is more important than work. Actually, praying is the most powerful work I do for YFC (Jas. 5:16).
  • The needs of YFC must never be neglected because of my public ministry (preaching, teaching and writing). I am grateful that YFC has released me to do these public ministries but I must never take this for granted. Also I must do all that I can to ensure that the YFC family views my public ministry as their own.
  • If someday I have to decide between international ministry and local ministry, I will choose the latter. If I am to thrive as a writer in the West I will have to do many things, in addition to what I do now, in order to promote my books. I have decided that I will not do this as it would detract me from my main work. My international ministry will always have a secondary importance in my life.
  • While this strictly does not belong here, I will write it here. I must make sure that I treat with the same amount of respect, attention, honour and importance the rich and the poor. This is especially important with the poor as they feel less important and less significant. One way to dispel this notion is to treat them in exactly the same way that I treat the rich.

 

  1. My whole life must be under-girded by the great truths of Christianity: the love, holiness, revelation and sovereignty of God; the person and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit and God’s glorious plan for the creation. These help me persevere by serving as anchors amidst the storms of life. How sad it is that secondarily important truths have usurped these truths from their place of importance. I must do all I can to help people to be Bible Christians; that is people who have a Christian mind. I must do all I can to help in the revival of the inductive study of the Scriptures and of expository preaching.

 

Trying to be a minister of the Word while having so many other responsibilities has resulted in a crazy and exhausting life! Squeezing time for study has been an exciting adventure. Most often I work till the last minute and then rush for my next appointment usually arriving about 5 minutes late. It is because of this rushing that my colleagues prohibited me from riding the motor cycle and rejected my appeals to reconsider their prohibition. I wonder how long I can keep this pace. Yet, even though I am constantly tired, I know that discovering wonderful truths through study has been one of the things that has kept me fresh and excited about life and ministry.

 

I am so grateful for the publishers and friends whose generosity has made it possible to have all the books and software I would like to have. Because much of my study is done on the road, the software has revolutionised my study and made it possible for me to take a huge library with me when I travel. How much easier this is than the carriage filled with books which my hero John Wesley took on his travels.

 

  1. What an amazing privilege it is for me to be called to be a bearer of such a glorious message to the youth of Sri Lanka (Rom. 10:15). Here they are with their whole adult life before them. And God is using us to rescue them from hell and prepare them to serve God for the rest of their lives. When you realise what Christ did (2 Cor. 5:14-15), you do not look at people from a human standpoint any more (5:16). Now what matters most is whether or not they are new creations in Christ (5:17). If they are not, we must all we can to reconcile people to God (5:18-20).

 

People without Christ are lost! God forbid that we ever get so sophisticated that we are reluctant to use the term “lost” when thinking of people headed for hell. Jesus said that he came to seek and to save those who are “lost” (Luke 19:10). And we have been called to continue his mission on earth. May I always say like Paul, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:16). The knowledge that we are giving them such good news is one great reward of ministry (1 Cor. 9:15-18). I think of myself as a millionaire because God has given me such a glorious ministry.

 

  1. Suffering with Christ is a normal part of Christianity and we must never make a big deal about this or be angry when we face it. In the ministry we constantly face inconvenience, tiredness, shame, slander, persecution, sorrow, disappointment and hurt. When we suffer we must be joyful because of the honour of suffering for his name (Acts 5:41); because of the reward to be received in heaven (Matt. 5:11); because it will be turned into something good for us (Rom. 8:28), because it draws us closer to Christ (Col. 1:24) and because it helps the church (Col. 1:24). We must never let those who hurt us take away our joy. That is an honour they do not deserve. When people hurt us we must battle till we can truly say that it is for our good (Rom. 8:28).

 

Sadly, I have come to realise that some Christians cannot react to suffering in this way. Often this is because they have not let God heal their inner wounds. They don’t really practice Romans 8:28 because they still have anger-causing pain from the injuries that have been inflicted on them. They need healing for their damaged emotions. And God can mediate his grace in bringing this healing through the counsel and prayers of others. They must come to the point of saying that the love of God they are experiencing is greater than the hurt and that God is clearly going to use this hurt to do something good to them. Then they can’t say that people have actually hurt them. The hurt is overshadowed by the good that came out of it.

 

I will close with my favourite verse in the Bible. In 1 Timothy 1:12-16 Paul speaks about God’s super-abounding grace in saving him and giving him a ministry even though he was the chief of sinners. This causes him to spontaneously burst forth into a doxology: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1:17). I think what Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 best summarises my experience during these 30 years of ministry.

 

At Fifty: the Top Challenges and Battles of My Life

Around early 1999

  1. Keeping the mind pure, controlling the eyes etc.
  2. Giving sufficient time to pray.
  3. Fighting anger over situations and over the way people have treated me.
  4. Overcoming my inability to rebuke and confront those I lead when holy-love requires I do that.
  5. Over-scheduling myself: saying ‘yes’ to invitations—especially to speak—without really thinking about all that is involved.
  6. Avoiding tough issues in YFC that could aggravate dangerously if not confronted, especially the Y-Gro-YFC relationship.
  7. Irritability arising from the need for patience with people, especially their slowness, and with situations that hold me back.
  8. Finding time, or rather making time, to help my aging parents.
  9. Finding time for the necessary chores of life—relating to house, finances, government requirements, visiting etc.
  10. Spending too much time at e-mail.
  11. Finding the best way to effect a transition in leadership in YFC in preparation for my handing over.
  12. Finding time to study and write and fighting the self-pity that arises from being unable to do this.
  13. Impacting my children as much as I can in the little time left before they leave home.

Persistence and Resurrection Power

(During a Visa Application Ordeal)

Dear colleagues,
A pastor friend of mine sent the quote below to me at a time when I was terribly exhausted and stressed because of all the things that I had to do before leaving Sri Lanka on the 13th. I have been having 13 to 14 hour work days these days. I just came to office from the Netherlands embassy where Subendran and I went to get our visas just to pass through the Amsterdam airport. We were told we need to make an appointment, to hand over our applications!! Now I am nervous because I have a totally full programme before going on the 13th. I have one more Keswick talk to prepare.

But I have always known that if I persevere it will work out OK in the end.

Pray for me and I hope you will find this quote a challenge.

Love,

Ajith

Here’s the quote:

“Persistence is the essential ingredient for success.  Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent cannot:  Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius cannot:  Unrewarded genius is almost a cliche.  Education cannot:  The world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are invincible.  The phrase ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

 

 

 

5th July

 

Dear Colleagues,

Just after sending you the e-mail about perseverance we found out that it will take two weeks to get my Dutch visa just to transit through the Amsterdam airport. There were no free interview slots for almost a week. And then they needed four working days to process the application. I am scheduled to leave for Calgary, Canada and St Louis USA in a week’s time. I called the embassy, my secretary called and we tried hard to explain the situation; but they said, there is no hope.

I had a few free minutes and I took Nelun shopping to buy a birthday gift for a little boy in our church. I took my Ephesians studies along to study in the van while Nelun shopped. She took a very long time which gave me very little time before my next meeting. The reason for the delay was that she was looking for a book for the boy. But all the books available talked about fathers–and this boy’s father had left them for another woman. Finally she bought a painting book.

But I got an extra time to study Ephesians in the van–more specifically Eph. 1:19 and 20. It talks about the immeasurably great power of the resurrection toward us who believe. Not to Sri Lankans who believe, I thought! What power do we have? Guilty until proven innocent–with such a hassle to go through to prove our innocence. I’ve had enough of foreign travel–I cant handle this humiliation and stress (with so many obstacles along the way) any more. Then suddenly I realised, Paul is talking about resurrection power. For there to be resurrection there had to be death–humiliating death with false accusations and unbelievable pain. The final chapter has not been written for me.

Comforted by the thought I went home to learn that the KLM office had intervened on my behalf. They wanted me to fax an appeal–which I immediately wrote up, Sent out and went for my next meeting 20 minutes late. There I got a phone call to say that Subendran and I were to be interviewed at 9.00 a.m. tomorrow (Thursday)!

I praise God! It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming!

Please pray for our interview tomorrow.

Your brother in Christ,

Ajith

My Vision Mission Priorities June 2011

MY VISION

 

TO BRING GLORY TO GOD, AND

TO BE A SERVANT OF PEOPLE

 

 

MY PRIMARY MISSION

 

TO PARTICIPATE

IN FULFILLING THE GREAT COMMISSION

BY HELPING TO NURTURE AND ENCOURAGE BIBLICAL LEADERS

IN SRI LANKA, ASIA AND THE WORLD

 


MY PRIORITIES

(Not in order of priority)

 

  1. Praying for Family, YFC, Church, Friends, Sri Lanka and the

World.

  1. Nurturing my Relationship with Nelun.
  2. Looking after my Body so as to Actively Serve God as Long

as he Wishes me to.

  1. Mentoring and Counselling Younger Leaders, especially in

YFC and Colombo Theological Seminary.

  1. Using Influence and Knowledge to help Create Opportunities

for Others.

  1. Visiting People in their Homes.
  2. Finding and Using Opportunities to Tell People about Christ.
  3. Teaching and Preaching in Sri Lanka, Asia and Elsewhere,

especially in Youth for Christ.

  1. Studying the Bible, studying Theological and other Trends,

and Writing.

  1. Doing all I can to get people into the Scriptures.
  2. Getting out an Accurate Sinhala Bible.
  3. Raising Funds for Youth for Christ.
  4. Serving Youth for Christ, especially Leonard Fernando, in

any Way Possible.

  1. Having Nugegoda Methodist Church as my Primary Place of

Grassroots Ministry.

  1. Promoting Revival in Sri Lanka.