Sorrows in South Asia

A Letter from Gary and Marlene Van Brocklin, serving as regional liaisons for South Asia

June 2019

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We are heartsick over the Easter bombings of hotels and Christian churches on the lovely island of Sri Lanka. St. Andrew’s Church, where we would worship on Sundays, was very near the bombing of the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. The subsequent retaliatory rioting and destruction of Muslim mosques, homes and businesses by mobs of Sinhala extremists shattered the harmony that had been building since the end of the decades-long civil war.

Naleem, who has been selling fruit in downtown Colombo for the past 42 years, says that he has never seen the streets so empty. He explains the silent streets: “This is Allah showing his anger towards us. For a while, the Sri Lankan Muslim community has been divided into groups, and we have different opinions on a lot of things. It didn’t matter much to other communities when we were just minding our own business, but after the attacks, all the attention has turned towards us. People used to call us ‘Nana’ (big brother) and ‘Hajiaar’ (an honorific title), and we were all very respected. Due to the actions of a few, all the respect we earned is lost.”

We have been impressed with the admirable way that the Christian community has responded to being targeted by these bombings, not in hatred and vengeance, but in gracious and courageous outreach to other groups. One example is the recent joint declaration made by the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS) and the All University Muslim Student Association (AUMSA) in Sri Lanka. Acknowledging that Muslims and Christians “have often viewed each other with suspicion and disparaged the lifestyles and religious practices of the other,” they have pledged to work together to alleviate tensions; to “seek and offer forgiveness to each other for the times when that engagement has been violent or disrespectful of the other”; and “to the best of … [their] ability, to prevent the spread of ideologies that advocate hatred and harm towards other communities.” We would ask for prayers for all the Sri Lankans — Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Sinhala, Tamils, Moors and Burghers — who have endured so much.

Many of our most evocative memories with our fellow Presbyterian World Mission co-workers Les and Cindy Morgan revolve around the striking image of water: Crossing the treacherous Buruganga River to see a Church of Bangladesh clinic operating in one of the forgotten neighborhoods of Dhaka. Traveling by train through the thousands of verdant rice fields lacing Northwestern Bangladesh. Viewing the mighty Ganges River at a time of year that it made the Mississippi River look like a babbling brook. Being honored and humbled by Santal villagers as they washed our feet before our meeting together.

This picture with the Morgans was taken near the town of Rajshahi, which sits of the banks of the Ganges. They have been tireless advocates for the minorities in that area who are too often despised and ignored by public hospitals and clinics and sometimes scammed by medical professionals when they do finally gain access to medical facilities. The countless injustices can boggle your mind and break your heart, yet the Morgans found a way to offer invaluable help and timely hope to those who were in desperate need of medical attention. You may remember a photo in one of our letters from several years ago in which some Santal believers were standing by a pile of bricks in the Santal village of Laldighipara. Those bricks are now a church building in Laldighipara, and churches were also built in Koelha and Polashi, thanks to efforts of the Morgans and generous U.S. Presbyterians.

During our visits with our esteemed colleagues, we often found it difficult to deal with the oppressive heat, grinding poverty and seemingly hopeless realities for more than a week; but the Morgans found a way to build a gritty faith in the love of Christ and a seasoned hope in the Resurrected Christ among the Bangladeshis who have loved and worked with them these past thirty years.

In a matter of weeks, Doctors Les and Cindy Morgan will offer their last goodbyes to their beloved colleagues and retire from an exemplary ministry as mission co-workers. And so we pray the following prayer often for the Morgans in this time of release of deeply held dreams and bright Kingdom visions forged on the anvil of tested faith and inspired love:

My Dearest Lord
Be Thou a bright flame before me
Be Thou a guiding star above me
Be Thou a smooth path beneath me
Be Thou a kindly Shepherd behind me
Today and Evermore
St Columba of Iona

As we finish our sixth year serving as regional liaisons in South Asia, we are greatly enriched by your love and support for our ministry. We ask for your continued support. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ in this crucial and conflicted region.

Marlene and Gary

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