UEM News

Study trip through Sri Lanka

Photos: Claudia Währisch-Oblau (UEM)

"In Europe they wear faith like their underpants, in Sri Lanka like their jackets." With this comparison one of the German participants of the study program in Sri Lanka described the most important impression he took with him from the 14-day trip.

Among the participants were eight students from the Kirchliche Hochschule (theological university) Wuppertal/Bethel as well as three students and two teachers from the Divinity School of Silliman University in Dumaguete, Philippines. The study program was prepared and carried out by the United Evangelical Mission (UEM); the group was led by Pastor Dr. Claudia Währisch-Oblau, Head of the Evangelism Department of the UEM. Although the majority of the travel stations led to projects of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, they also included an encounter with a leading Buddhist monk, a visit to a significant Hindu temple and a conversation with a group of Muslim Imams.

After two preparatory block seminars, the group first travelled to Colombo, where participation in an open-air baptismal service was on the agenda on the very first day. Thirteen people, from grandfather to infant, were baptized - all members of a small Methodist house church in the south of the island. The fact that their baptism had to be celebrated in a church 30 km away threw a spotlight on the often difficult situation of Christians in Sri Lanka: newly emerging congregations are often not allowed to build a church and a public baptism in the village pond would not be tolerated by the Buddhist majority population.

After an introduction to the work of the Methodist church at the Colombo headquarters, the group travelled to the central highlands of Sri Lanka. In Pilimatalawa they attended the Theological College of Lanka. On a tea plantation near Nuwara Eliya, participants had the opportunity to visit newly baptized workers in their homes with a Methodist evangelist. The fact that the newly baptized always asked for a prayer for the healing of illness or the success of their children at school was a new experience for many of the theology students.

In the Tamil east of the island, the group got to know the Kalkudah Evangelist School. With one of the Methodist pastors from Batticaloa they went to a small rural church. After the morning prayer for fasting, the group had the opportunity to talk to the parishioners, who reported on their traumatic experiences from the civil war. In the conversations here as well as in the highlands it became clear that the church is growing mainly because of experiences with healing and exorcising demons. At the same time the church is also active in human rights work and works intensively on the reconciliation of Singhalese and Tamils after the civil war ended in 2009.

But the close connection between intensive spirituality and courageous political commitment is not a special feature of the Methodist church in Sri Lanka. In a conversation with the General Secretary of the National Christian Council, which includes not only Protestant but also Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, it became clear that prayer and action shape Christianity as a whole in Sri Lanka.

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