Written in July 2011
Nelun Wirasinha and I were young volunteers in Youth for Christ in our late teens. I was attracted to her, but in our culture we did not date. So I kept this attraction to myself. I rarely talked to her, but many people told me that she was a earnest, godly Christian girl. Once when talking to my mentor Sam Sherrard, the YFC director, he asked me whether I was interested in anybody. I told him that the only one I liked was Nelun. But I had hardly talked to her. Once when I went to her church to take part in the service, I remember asking her the time. She misunderstood the questioned and answered, “Nelun Wirasinha”!
Subsequently, Sam went to the USA on a sabbatical and I too was planning to go to USA for studies. I think Sam got a bit concerned that, when I come to the USA, I will marry an American girl and not want to go back to Sri Lanka. So he wrote to me suggesting that I get engaged to Nelun before coming and offered to write to her parents about me. However, I had felt that it was God’s will for me to go to the USA without any such encumbrances, so that I could concentrate on my studies. But now that I had heard a different idea from a man whose wisdom I respected deeply, I decided to pray about it seriously. I remember writing in my diary that I will pray, but not pray too long, each day about it! This must not consume my thinking.
I was a university student at that time, and I was living in a home close to the campus. One day I felt that I have prayed about it long enough, and that I should write to Sam the next day. But I did not know what to write! So I went for a long walk that evening, asking God to guide me. That night I studied till about mid-night and then went to bed. But I could not sleep. I kept tossing and turning in bed until about 5.00 a.m. when I decided to get up and have my devotions.
I was going through a guide called Search the Scriptures that takes you through the whole Bible in three years. That day my reading was Leviticus 8-10 about the dedication of the first priests. It described how there were offerings made on behalf of the priests to signify their total commitment. In my devotional note book I wrote that, if I too want to be used by God, I need to be totally committed to him. Then I came to the strange story of the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, who were killed for offering unholy fire. I wondered what the reason for this was. I read the note about this in the New Bible Commentary, which suggested that the reason for their death was that they offered the right sacrifice at the wrong time.
I had been asking God to speak to me from my reading for the day. And I came to believe that God has spoken through this reading. Marriage was right for me, I concluded. But God had already showed me that this was not the time to think about it. So I should not make the mistake that Aaron’s sons made and do the right thing at the wrong time. I took it as a word from God to me to give up the idea of getting engaged to Nelun. I wept that morning as I wrote this in my diary, and I immediately wrote to Sam to say that this was not the time for me to think about Nelun. I still remember the day I said “goodbye” to her with a really sad heart before leaving for the USA.
At Asbury Seminary in the USA I had some of the happiest days of my life. I was thrilled to be studying theology. I gave myself to that with dedication. But my focus was on preparing for a lifetime of ministry in Sri Lanka. So I had decided that I will not do in USA things that would be considered inappropriate at home. My YFC friends at home did not go to movies when I left. So I stayed in the USA for four and a half years without going for a single movie. On my return to Sri Lanka I found that these friends had started going for movies shortly after I left Sri Lanka!! Anyway, I decided that I will not go on dates. I had some really fine male and female friends and we would go places together in a group. But I did not date anyone. The only thing that came close to a date was going with member of my church in Pasadena, California for a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta. It was the fifty-fifth birthday of Isaac Stern and he played the glorious Violin Concerto in E Minor by Mendelsson. One of the most exhilarating experiences I ever had.
While in the USA I often thought of Nelun and sometimes even saw her in my dreams. International phone calls were very expensive in those days. I never went to Sri Lanka and never even called home in the four-and a half years that I lived in the USA. But Sam Sherrard had now come to Hawaii to lead the YFC work there. I wanted to know from him how Nelun was doing and whether he still felt she would be a good partner for me. Even calls to Hawaii were expensive, but a friend said I could go to their home and call him, which I did. The news he gave me was not positive. He said that she had stopped coming to YFC and he did not know what her spiritual condition was like. What had happened was that her father, fearing that she would not study and become too fanatically religious, did not encourage her to be too involved in YFC.
When I went back to Sri Lanka, I was chatting one day with my colleague and close friend Tony Senewiratne. I knew that he was an expert match-maker and I assumed that he had somebody lined up for me! I asked him about that. I will never forget what he said: “Nelun is still single.” So through a volunteer who knew Nelun’s family, Tony made contact on my behalf. I told my parents who knew her family and got their approval to proceed with pursuing a relationship. The first day I met her I was in for a shock. I knew her as a very quiet girl who almost never opened her mouth in public. But that day she talked and talked non-stop for over an hour!
I was stunned by her story. She had known that I seemed to have a special liking for me. I never thought I showed it; but women know! She too had felt called to the ministry. And she thought that for her that meant marrying a minister. The only young person she knew who was going into the ministry was me. So while not specifically asking God to bring us together she started praying for God’s will to be done about this! Proposals were brought to her while I was abroad, but she was never sure of the commitment of these young men, so she did not even consider any of them, except one proposal which was for a boy who seemed to be committed. But Nelun’s father was not happy about that person and that too, fortunately, fell through. I later found that Nelun also had been having dreams in which I appeared, though in most of them I would ignore her!
Her parents were getting concerned. One day they asked her, “Is there no one you are interested in?” And she answered, “Ajith.” He parents told her not to keep hoping about that because I would probably come back with an American girl. She came for my service of induction as National Director of YFC. I was wearing a ring with the fish symbol, and she assumed that this meant that I was engaged. The Lord had been working on her before I came back. She came to the point of surrender to the will of God when she said that she would be happy to be single for the rest of her life, if this did not work out.
What joy when we heard each other’s stories—a joy which has gone on unabated for thirty five years! After a four-month courtship, we were married. My father and brother were working abroad and they were coming home for Christmas, so we planned the wedding for just after Christmas, just three months after we had got engaged. I regard Nelun as the greatest gift God gave me after my salvation. And she came with a really supportive and loving family.
It was a very simple wedding. Without printing cards we put an invitation for the wedding in the newspapers. We got married on a weekday because we did not want it to clash with any weekend YFC programmes. Later we realised that this wedding must have been a huge trial to our parents! My dorm mate at Asbury Seminary, the Rev. Philip Brooks, came from USA to be my best-man. My minister-brother Duleep preached. At that time he was pastor of the church where we had grown up, the Kollupitiya Methodist Church. And that is where we had our wedding.
We happily settled in the home that my father built for me, and that has been our home these thirty-four years. I was still a young teenager when this house was being built. I remember feeling bad that my father was building this house, without giving the money spent on it to the poor! Some years after we moved in we asked wondered whether we should be living in house like ours while so many people had no place at all. When I shared this with my colleagues, they said, that my house was a resource to them to use for the work of the kingdom. They urged me to keep the house, but use it to serve people. Now we know that this home has been a place of service for the kingdom. We have kept many needy people for varying periods of time in this home.
Nelun became host to girls who were having trouble with abusive parents, and to single women when they were sick. Tamil friends whose homes had been burned by people of my Sinhala race during our ethnic riots stayed with us for short and long periods. Poorer people from the provinces came and stayed at our home when they came to Colombo for medical treatment. Friends who needed a place to stay for a few months occupied our large visitor’s room. And, of course, many servants of God also have lived in that room. A couple who had some special needs came to us in a crisis time for a few days and lived with us for seventeen years. The husband and Nelun and I together helped start the congregation we have been part of for over thirty years. In 1983 we had the huge riots that started off our ethnic war. Mobs would go to neighbourhoods and burn the homes of Tamils and abuse them in other ways. I was ministering in Pakistan at that time and did not even know what was happening. We had many Tamil neighbours. As the mobs came close, they asked whether the women and children could hide in our home. Nelun kept over thirty women and children that night. It was a scary night for her.
Hospitality became a means of evangelism also. Some of those who stayed in our home have now come to Christ. Once a mother and her Christian son stayed in our home for six months because their house was burned in the riots. Before she left us she became a Christian and was baptised along with her son and daughter. Another time a very young girl from a distant village came with her mother for an operation to remedy a hole in her heart. One night she saw Jesus in a dream who told her not to worry because he will look after her. That morning when she got up she told her mother that she wanted to become a Christian. And her mother gave her permission. Now about twenty-five years later, both mother and daughter are strong Christians.