A letter from Chenoa Stock in Sri Lanka
December 16, 2008
I cannot believe the Christmas season is upon us already. Though some dynamics of the season may vary over here in Sri Lanka, we are still surrounded with Christmas “trees,” lights, Santa and carols being played in the grocery stores. But seeing these reminders of the season against the backdrop of sunny skies and coconut trees is still unusual for me, even after two years here. But there is something comforting in the fact that I can still celebrate this special season amidst a multifaith community.
Sri Lanka is comprised of 70 percent Buddhists, 15 percent Hindus, 8 percent Christians and 7 percent Muslims. And each special day of each religion is recognized and celebrated here, with the respect of the other faiths. As I go to church on Sundays, I drive by Hindus on their way to the kovil (Hindu temple) or monks dressed in orange robes walking along the streets, perhaps on their way to the pansala (Buddhist temple). It is that recognition of the importance of taking the time to be with God and worshiping together (however one may interpret it/him/her) that I have come to cherish here. The devotion in which many of these people worship and follow their faith continually encourages me. It is a constant call for me to reflect on my own faith and what it means to me.
Not only is there diversity among the faiths, but also within the Christian community. During the last year I have been attending St. Andrew’s Scots Kirkpatrick Church. It is an international church with members from around the world, including the Scottish pastor and families from the United Kingdom, Australia, America, Sri Lanka, Holland, Germany and more. As I sit in a service and listen to the many accents of the children and adults, I am reminded that there is so much more beyond my culture — ways of seeing and interpreting the world that I have yet to learn.
These reminders come from my international community, as well as those with whom I work. Every meeting I go to ideas are presented by my colleagues that my background and upbringing may not have allowed me to recognize and develop.
In November, we held a workshop to discuss our Land Rights Research Report with the community members who were involved in the study. These members came from around the island and are each affected by different land-rights issues. These issues include displacement from land due to the tsunami, war, other natural disasters (land slides, sea erosion), development, land ownership and human-elephant conflict (elephants frequently come into villages from the forest in search of food and trample houses and humans). In this workshop, we had many discussions about the details of the issues, strategies to develop campaigns and organize people and the implementation of those strategies. We decided that our first campaigns would focus on the tsunami and human-elephant conflict communities.
As we discussed how to develop these campaigns, I happened to meet the country director of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international (NGO) that works with housing rights and land policies in different countries. After some discussion, it was decided that forming a partnership with them would be beneficial for both parties. They would like to support a grassroots network by providing training and advocacy/legal advice, and we would like to increase our knowledge of the land policies and laws and how we can hold the government accountable to those laws. We are still in the beginning phases of defining this partnership, but I am hopeful that it will be one that encourages us to grow and become more effective in our campaign for the people in our network.
So I enter this Advent and Christmas time with anticipation, as is timely for the season. I am awaiting what is to come. I am trying to see beyond myself, beyond my culture, so as not to be closed off from the many possibilities that are out there. I look to the different faiths that surround me, to the international community of which I am a part, to the network of grassroots communities which we are trying to encourage and to my own Christian faith and what Jesus’ birth and life has taught me about living beyond myself.
It may be easy to experience these feelings while in an international context, but perhaps within your own life and routine, something new and different is awaiting you this Christmas and New Year, no matter how big or small. Keep your eyes open with anticipation, as the possibilities are something beyond and greater than we can imagine.
Blessings to you during this season of joyful anticipation.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Joining Hands – Praja Abhilasha
The 2008 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 90