Planting Gospel Seeds
Global Mission pioneers reach out in Sri Lanka.
By Hans Olson
TRADITIONAL WAYS: These workers harvest tea the same way it’s been done for generations. Those who share the gospel with them must know something about their lifestyle and traditions.s we drove into town the van stopped with a jolt. The side door slid open and a man jumped in. “Go that way,” he pointed. As we drove through Hewaheta, a colorfully decorated town crowded with people engaged in their daily activities, a question raced through my mind. How are these people going to hear the gospel?
We were in Sri Lanka, a picturesque, pearl-shaped island nation some 30 kilometers (19 miles) off India’s southeastern coast. It’s been more than 100 years since Adventist lay member Abram LaRue landed in Colombo, Sri Lanka, as its first Adventist missionary. Yet only some 3,500 Adventists live among Sri Lanka’s 20 million people. Its strong ethnic and religious divides have caused skirmishes and years of social unrest, making it a challenging place to share the gospel.
The man who jumped into our van is Sivayogam, a Global Mission pioneer serving Sri Lanka’s beautiful hill country. This region is noted for its tea plantations and exceptional local produce. These cool rolling highlands are filled with hardworking Tamil people brought from southern India during British colonial days to work on the tea estates. Many of these “hill country Tamils,” as they’re called, spend most of their lives on these estates.
Frontline mission work in Sri Lanka means meeting people in their homes. There are no large halls to host evangelistic meetings. Most people don’t own a car. They travel by bus, public minivan, or three-wheeled taxi. The lucky few own small motorcycles that can barely carry more than one person up the steep roads. Some pioneers walk as much as two hours each way to study the Bible with people in their homes. Most pioneers live in small houses that double as churches.
WHAT IS GLOBAL MISSION?
We head out of the village and turn onto a twisting country dirt road just wide enough for two small cars to pass—if one pulls onto the shoulder. We stop at Sivayogam’s home at the top of the hill. He likes living out of town, shielded from prying eyes. People in this region don’t always welcome pioneers and are skeptical of Christianity in general.
Over the past 15 years as a Global Mission pioneer, Sivayogam has endured his share of trials. In one village nearly 1,000 people gathered and threatened his life. “I felt scared,” Sivayogam admits.
Slow, Steady Progress
WILLING TO SHARE: Sivayogam, a Global Mission pioneer, shares the gospel with groups small and large in Sri Lanka’s hill country.Sivayogam and his family hold worship services in his home. His wife, his partner in mission, runs an English-language school for nearly 60 children. The school gives Sivayogam a chance to meet the children’s parents. This is a great gateway for him to share the gospel. Each Sabbath Sivayogam and his wife conduct a branch Sabbath school for the students and their siblings.
After meeting his family and seeing the school, we follow Sivayogam across town to a tea estate where he holds a weekly prayer meeting. We turn into the estate and slowly pass women filling large baskets with tea leaves. We wind our way up the hill, stopping to pick up Masilamony, a young pastor from another faith. He’s been studying for the past year with Sivayogam.
Masilamony told us that a fellow minister at his church learned he was studying the Bible with Sivayogam and called him into his office. The man was upset; he beat Masilamony and kicked him in the face. Undeterred, Masilamony now keeps the Sabbath and hopes to become a Global Mission pioneer himself.
Near the top of the hill the van stops. “We’ll have to walk from here,” Sivayogam says. The path is too narrow to drive. Sivayogam’s group of nearly 20 people is waiting for us. Sivayogam stands on a large, red, floral rug in the center of the room. People sit on smaller carpets along the walls. The service is simple but special.
The meeting ended, we say our goodbyes and make our way back to the van. As we wind our way down the hill I’m impressed with Sivayogam’s work. But I realize that unless we have more pioneers like Sivayogam, many people in Sri Lanka will never have an opportunity to meet Jesus.
Hans Olson is a communication project manager for the Office of Adventist Mission.