Sri Lanka: A Cup of Cold Water

A Buddhist priest, A Muslim imam, and a Christian World Vision staff member stand together at the ADP closing ceremonies.

If you spend any time at all in Sri Lanka you quickly learn that it is a land of diversity and contrasts. There are Sinhalese Buddhists, Tamil Hindus, and Muslims who speak Tamil but aren’t ethnically Tamil just to keep things interesting. Buddhism is by far the dominant religion, of course, and the Buddhist priests (as the leaders of the majority religion) have great respect and political power in the communities. Organizations that openly proselytize may soon find themselves effectively shut out of a community or even asked to leave. So if the great commission to Christians is to preach the gospel then how does a person live authentically as a Christian in a place where explicit gospel presentations are not allowed? How do you sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

When World Vision goes into an area they make no secret that they are Christians. They introduce themselves as a Christian organization that is funded mainly by other Christians. But along with that they also try very hard to build a relationship of trust between themselves and the other faiths in the community that they are not there to exploit the poor and use aid as a lever to get conversions. The reality here is that the religious leaders have a lot of respect and power within their communities and winning their trust is the only way to make sure that the help that is being given is sustainable.

This sensitivity to the community plays out in many ways. The World Vision staff schedule the religious services for themselves at different times than the observances of the other religious faiths so as not to create conflicts. When working with street kids they will actually give rides to the children to the temple or mosque so that they can worship in their own faith if they want. They exert absolutely no pressure on anybody by implying that the help they give is quid pro quo for a religious conversion. Their witness is one of love and charity so that when people eventually do ask “what makes you different?” they then have the opportunity to tell them that it’s Jesus who makes all the difference in the world to them.

This kind of witnessing does not bear quick fruit. In some areas the opposition from local Buddhists especially has been fierce. I was told one story by the staff about an area they were working where the head priest continually incited the people against World Vision, claiming that they were exploiting the poor and trying to force them to be Christians. At one point someone even threw a grenade into an empty World Vision office in an attempt to scare off the staff. Little by little as they continued to work and demonstrate what they were about through their actions, they began to win the trust and respect of the people and the priests alike.

During the closing ceremonies at the end of that same project, the head Buddhist priest who had been so antagonistic came to attend. He approached the local World Vision leader and the national World Vision leader and got down on the ground, kneeling in front of them and touching their feet in the manner of a common supplicant to ask their forgiveness for his fear and ignorance. When is the last time you saw a Christian pastor do that to a Muslim or a Buddhist? It’s food for thought.

That story is hardly unique. At the closing ceremonies that I visited, the local Muslim imam and the Buddhist priests sat side by side to celebrate what a Christian organization has done in their community. In fact, the imam himself had been a child in one of of the World Vision “children’s societies” (a.k.a. “youth clubs”) and talked animatedly with our team members about how he loves to talk and eat and cooperate with the Christians in his area. These are the stories that give me hope not only for Sri Lanka but also for the world. Perhaps love can win after all. Maybe a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name really is the answer to religious conflict. Perhaps someday we can defeat both fear and poverty by working with one person at a time.

I’m glad to be a small part of that this week. I’d love for you to be a part of it too.

Share Joy - Sponsor a Child in Sri Lanka

34 thoughts on “Sri Lanka: A Cup of Cold Water”

    1. Whoooo Hoooo!

      World Vision’s approach is a far cry from the old way of turning the “heathens” into conservative American Christians. A better way.

  1. Genuine pure gestures such as these showing true humility and service with the purpose of Christians helping others in non-judgemental ways should be world news!

    Wonderful story of wonderful intentions conducted with respect to long cultural customs!

    This surely is a testament to true Christianity!

    Thank you for sharing this heart-touching story!


  2. “At one point someone even through a grenade”

    Looks like George has made it to Sri Lanka too! :mrgreen:

  3. Dear Darrell:

    So, respect and courtesy, kindness and goodness, grace and faith in Christ’s example and Name can establish a winsome witness? Who would have imagined! LOL!

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder of how much we stand to learn! Blessings!

    Christian Socialist

  4. This is by far my favorite post Darrell. It is so good to be reminded how diverse God’s world is and to hear how His kingdom is being grown in all parts of the world.

    And thank you Cassie for sharing Darrell with all of us! It’s not easy to parent alone for a week with small children!

  5. Excellent, absolutely excellent. I have been familiar with World Vision for many years, and your numerous blog posts have helped me get a better understanding of how they work. This is a worthy organization. We in America mostly live like kings and I believe God will ask us one day how we distrubuted his wealth that he allowed us to handle. My wife and I are always looking for the best ways to distribute God’s wealth. May he give us wisdom as we look at World Vision once again.

    1. The website where you choose a child to donate to is one of the best and worst experiences. All the children are adorable and have stories that make you want to help. However, inevidibly, you have to choose which one(s) you will help, and, by default, the ones you will not. It’s very difficult. That first picture they send you is awesome though. You love someone you never even met. I keep a picture of our little girl up at work with a World Vision magnet frame in an attempt to brow beat others into giving too. :mrgreen:

      1. The wonderful thing about World Vision’s model is that choosing one child over another doesn’t mean that anybody misses out since the money goes to community projects that benefit everybody. So if you choose a child that is near your children’s own age or one who’s story inspires you, there’s no guilt that some other child doesn’t benefit. When you sponsor a child everybody wins.

  6. Thank you for the updates and information with so many details. I’ve been enjoying them.

  7. Having been a missionary kid, my perspective on any type of foreign mission work is somewhat jaded. The posts this week have not only renewed my interest in helping people abroad but have also given me hope that maybe somewhere, somehow foreign mission work can actually be done right.

  8. This is such a good post – something that needed to be shared. God bless World Vision, and God bless you, Darrell.

  9. I had no idea that World Vision still called itself a Christian organization. You left fundamentalism for that???

  10. My parents are from Tamilnadu, and I speak Tamil. Thanks for doing this man, this is truly awesome, and really strengthens the desire for missions in my heart.

    1. Hey there Anton,

      How do you say “I love you!” in your language? It’s a hobby of mine to collect these phrases by asking someone who speaks a different language!


  11. What a wonderful way to share your faith with the world! I have a friend that talked about “loving people into a relationship with Christ” and this is such a prime example.

    How sad that the fundies don’t get this and even preach against it!

  12. What a wonderful contrast to the usual attitudes you skewer on “Stuff Fundies Like,” Darrell! If more Christians could give without judgements and expectations, how much better many lives could be.

  13. Sometimes I despair at the religious intolerance in the world. This is a good message of hope, Darrell. We all need to learn to listen to others and not to barge in assuming that we have all the answers.

  14. “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.” -(attributed to) St. Francis of Assisi.

  15. A wonderful article. My wife is sponsoring a child (in Africa) through World Vision, and it’s nice to see that they’re a real organization doing real work in the world, not just raising funds so they can hold more fundraisers and build million dollar homes for the BOD. (To allow them to be more relaxed and better able to do God’s work, of course!)

    On a whim, I checked out one of my “favorite” fundie sites, World Vision is apparently part of the Satanist Globalist Humanist Communist Front (, on the grounds that some of the people associated with World Vision associate with other people who speak about “tolerance” and “acceptance” and other ungodly, unchristian, things.

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