Evangelising Sri Lanka

1999

Let me try something….

How has Christianity influenced Sri Lankan Culture? That is a very controversial question. Many people in Sri Lanka think that the influence has only been negative, as they see Sri Lanka as a Buddhist nation. We like to think that the influence has been a very positive one. Christian morality has certainly influenced us–it can be argued that monogamy in practice has its roots in the Christian culture of Sri Lanka. because Christianity and Western imperialism came in at the same time, many see the western influence in Sri Lanka as the Christian influence and it is fashionable to put it down completely as having attempted to destroy the Sri Lankan culture.

In practice however the missionaries set up schools and educated the people. For example, when the British had decreed that education must be in English, the Methodist Missionary schools disobeyed and taught in the vernacular languages (Sinhala and Tamil). Much later when there was a Buddhist revival early in this century they started schools run by the Buddhist institutions.

As are culture is such a contrasting mosaic, you cannot say that there is one strategy that works for reaching our nation. Each culture requires a special methodology. In our YFC ministry, the outreach to English speaking youth is as Western as you can get. But the outreach to Tamil and Sinhala speaking youth is very indigenous. What we have tried to do is to look at the particular people that we are working with and tailored the ministry strategy to that group. We find that even within the same city and language group the culture varies from place to place. So that the method will be different.

There are some things that is common to all methods

1. a strong sense that these people are lost and desperately in need of the Saviour.

2. The willingness to do whatever it takes to reach this group of people.

3. A servant lifestyle of incarnation among these people–no quick fix techniques work when it comes to reaching the unreached. Part of this will be a keen sense of observation and the willingness to linger with these people so that we can get a sense of where there heart is. This of course must be accompanied by study etc.

4. Immense patience as we wait win a hearing and get these people to understand the gospel. Many may respond to an invitation to pray to receive Christ out of politeness, without understanding the gospel and out of the pluralistic outlook to religion that thinks that the more gods you have to help you the better (so Christ is added on to other Gods when he should be replacing them).

There is a distrust of projects that cost a lot of money as many people have the feeling that Christians are buying up converts through giving them gifts. On the other hand material and health type needs are so severe that they cannot be ignored. I think one thing is to try and separate such assistance from evangelism. So that they see this as something we do because we love them rather than as a bait to drag them into the Christian net. Another thing that helps is a simple lifestyle by the evangelist. If they see us as rich people they will come to get something of our riches and may even change religions in order to get more!

In Buddhist areas we need to be more sensitive than many have been recently. There has been a large turning to Christ among the Buddhists. They have reacted with a huge dose of persecution etc. In this environment it might help not to make Christianity too imposing by building a huge church building in a Buddhist village. Usually the Buddhist monk is the most influential leader in the village. They see the Building of a large building in a conspicuous place as an affornt to their influence upon the area. Therefore it may be best to have a small house church type structure in the village while the bigger building is in the nearest town or city where a different dynamic is at work.

The animosity of the monks is compounded by the fact that the Christian workers are servants of the people while the monks are served my the people. People give them food and clothing as by doing this they are said to attain merit (positive karma). This has resulted in people having to pay the monks (through gifts and providing transport) if they are to avail themselves of the services of the monk. The Christian minister on the other hand is there with the people the moment they know that there is a need among the people. I know of Christian workers who join in the harvest time in the arduous work of harvesting the crops of Buddhist people as that is part of what it means to be good neighbours in their context. All these are powerful ways of presenting Christ.

Then there is the whole question of presenting Christ to a people whose worldview is so different to ours. This is a huge challenge and I have tackled it in my book THE SUPREMACY OF CHRIST (Wheaton: Crossway).

How has our culture influenced Christianity? Not enough!

Unfortunately most of the early Christians were very western in their outlook. So till the early 70 or so the church was very much of a Western entity. Things have changed recently. But we still have a long way to go. We need to develop music etc that is more Sri Lankan.

Bless you, Was at your school last year for my nephew Rukshan Fernando’s graduation.

Ajith