Sri Lanka: In The Neighborhood

Tonight I knelt on stony ground and watched people walk on fire. The crowd chanted in a religious fervor that approached a fever pitch almost as hot as the coals glowing on the ground and rushed forward to meet the fire walkers with such vigor that I actually feared for my own safety as the crushing weight pressed me back against the barriers where we were standing. All I could think was that my dad was right when warned me that Pentecostals sure do get crazy sometimes. (That last statement is a joke and is not intended to have any basis in reality. I do that sometimes.)

All joking aside, Hindu people present took great pride showing us their devotion and sacrifice giving us seats so close we could feel the heat of the coals on our faces. We’re told that the fire walk is the culmination of a vow to their gods wherein a person promises that if something they want comes to pass that they will return that honor to the gods by literally walking through fire. Earlier in the day we saw a man walk with shoes made of nails and a woman with both cheeks pierces through with a metal rod as a sign of the same type of sacrifice in response to a vow. It made me think how petty our Christian “worship” must seem sometimes when we merely sing about how great our God is but often fail to follow through with any physical sign that we are serious. A few tears and a rockin’ guitar doth not worship make.

It would be all to easy to look the complete differences between that fire walk and the average Western church service and draw the conclusion that what Sri Lanka really needs is to clean us its theology before working on its economics. After all, to those of us who grew up in fundamentalism, the word “mission” means “church planting.” The theory goes that if you send missionaries to a foreign land and convert the heathern there, and get them tithing to a good Bible-believing church that their lives will then automatically improve. God will bless them and give them enough food to eat, better homes to live in, and (most importantly) enough money to support a full-time pastor. But even if the people stay poor, then at least they’ll be rich in spirit and if they should happen to die of hunger or disease then their eternal soul is safe and that’s what really matters. Isn’t it?

For some strange reason, however, the Scripture is full of instructions to take care of the poor – even the poor who haven’t joined your church or professed to love your God. At some point we have to ask ourselves if our charity is merely a calculated means to some religious end. What if we give some of those children who surrounded the fire pit tonight enough to eat, a place to stay, and an education only to realize they never became a Christian as a result of our efforts? In an eternal sense was that money and time a waste? The churches we grew up in would probably say that it was. There’s no point saving the body if we lose the soul. In fact, a little suffering is good for the unsaved person. We want them physically miserable enough to look to us for spiritual answers. A little pain is a great motivator.

If the Christian life is one of neighbor-love then does only helping those who are keen to believe as we do really love at all? When Christ identifies himself as being the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned and states very plainly that charity done to those in need is in fact done to HIM, are we then to believe that he then implicitly added “but only if they’re either believers or likely to get saved shortly after you help them.” But unfortunately we all too often are found sitting in the lawyer’s seat asking “who is my neighbor?” as if we hadn’t already heard the resulting parable and still think that we’ve found a clever way to avoid helping those who are not just like us.

Sri Lanka is a country that is majority Buddhist and Hindu. It’s also a country of great need. The mission here is focused not on conversions but on showing neighbor-love through works of charity and kindness to children of all religions and background. Food, medicine, and clothing is not bait for some gospel trap set to snag the vulnerable. World Vision helps sponsor children because our God is love. And love is not a feeling it is an action verb and it requires action to make itself reality.

Just because our God does not require that we walk on hot coals to show our love and sacrifice does not mean that He does not require outward signs of the love we claim to have for Him. Who is your neighbor? Who is mine? I’d encourage you to search your own heart and then look to the needs around you for the places where you can show that love in a real and physical way.

If you’re not sure where to begin, check out the child sponsorship program and find out about kids who at this moment need a meal more than a sermon, a friend more than a tract, and most of all need to know that somebody in this world care about them enough to be their neighbor.

Share Joy - Sponsor a Child in Sri Lanka

58 thoughts on “Sri Lanka: In The Neighborhood”

  1. And now that I have that out of my system; Thank you for sharing this pictures and stories, they are beautiful and make me realize how incredible all the people of this world are. They are inspiring. :smile:

  2. I knew if you left the compound you’d be seduced by that social gospel. How dare you take Christ’s words “Wharsoever you do to the least of these … ” literally.

    1. It’s so weird when taking Jesus literally shakes your preconceptions to the core. He overturns tables, eats with sinners, talks with outcasts at the well. He won’t stay in the carefully constructed box where we had put Him.

      If I’m going to wrong, I’d rather be wrong while I was TRYING to obey Jesus than in studiously avoiding certain things He said.

  3. I have to say that humans in Western culture can so easily selectively ignore certain scriptures about giving. Thank you for reminding us that God does not put conditions on his commandments to care for the poor.

  4. Darrell, this was first rate.

    Woe to them that extend their legalistic tentacles into countries with great physical need to pull their con-job.

    “In fact, a little suffering is good for the unsaved person. We want them physically miserable enough to look to us for spiritual answers. A little pain is a great motivator.”

    But in more westernized countries, the “suffering” has to be poured on so the pain is spiritual and psychological. Same game, different strategy.

    I am just humbled by what you’re doing. I’m also looking forward to reading more. Be safe and be blessed, just as I know you’ll be a blessing to those you are helping. :grin:

  5. Perhaps I’m a bit Fundy illiterate on this one. What’s wrong with helping someone with their physical needs in order to demonstrate in a tangible way God’s love for them so that we can share the gospel with them? Is it really a ‘trap’? If they don’t accept the message, I agree that the money isn’t wasted, but I disagree that helping someone for the sake of helping them understand God’s love is somehow devious.

    Let’s not forget what these people were doing. Sure, firewalking is pretty much harmless, but what about the person with nail shoes or the bar through their cheeks because they feel like they owe the gods something? Wouldn’t the gospel message that all your debt is already paid also alleviate their suffering and change their eternal destination too? They obviously have a strong need to have ‘god’s’ favor. Is it really selfish to tell them that he’s already on their side, and that all his favor comes through grace and not works?

    1. Dear Fundy Fascinated …

      I regret to inform you that your priorities are ‘fundamentally’ askew.

      By now, we should all know that the soul — not the body — matters.

      Save the soul. What the body doesn’t doesn’t matter. That’s why preachers can molest young girls.

      Why waste resources on food that does not satisfy? Why be distracted from what matters most?

      Getting people to say a prayer or perform a ritual matters far more than your next meal!

      Christians who die of starvation will thank you eternally for feeding them on the word so that they’re not rotting in hell with full stomachs.

      It comes down to this: Paul was wrong, and the Corinthian Gnostics were right.

      The one thing I CAN’T explain is this: since it is about saving souls, why an incarnation at all?

      Christian Socialist

      PS: Lest any misunderstand … I’m playing ‘Devil’s Advocate.’ Yes, that role comes easily [naturally?] for me. But I’ll take my stand here …

      ‘He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’ [Mic 6:8 ]?

      Blessings, Fundy Fascinated, and never give up loving God above all, and others as yourself!

      1. C.S,

        At first I thought you were disagreeing with me. Then I picked up on your obvious sarcasm. Perhaps I could trouble you to clarify a bit for me? Is there anything in my post that you would contend with?

        1. Dear fundyfascinated:

          We are in total agreement, my friend.

          All jesting aside, I HAVE been told those very things, along with such gems as ‘there is no point in polishing brass on a sinking ship’ and ‘the earth is going to hell; our mission is to load the lifeboat,’ etc. I’ll have more to say about this error in a separate post.

          Christian Socialist

  6. Very interesting things to think about indeed. Thanks for posting this. Even when I was a fundy, we used to look to the Mormons and JWs as more “sold out” than we were because our folks might complain about soulwinning in the hot Louisiana sun.

    Looks like my IFB brethren “aint seen nothin` yet”. :lol:

  7. Charity is one of the most insidious programming tricks found in the IFB cult. I find one of the things that I brought out with me is the restrictive programming regarding supporting anything that was not overtly “Chrisitan” and preferably “Independent, Fundamental and Evangelistic.”

    Now, intellectually I know that programming to be false and unchristian at the core, but it has mutated much like a deadly virus and now I hold a very cynical outlook regarding anyone or anything that has to do with money.

    Who is my neighbor and what can I do do help him/her? That is a matter of the heart and I admit my heart is hard, and my pocketbook is empty. (my pocketbook stays that way these days) And somewhere in the back of my mind I hear all the Faith Promise sermons telling me to give sacrficially and the old pangs of guilt begin to gnaw at my conscience. This triggers an automatic self-defense response and I immediately raise shields and go to battlestations.

    I look to my heart and find a woeful lack of charity in it, and the guilt bears down, weighing me down, wearing me down and I withdraw even further. I look to my pocketbook and find a woeful lack of funds should my heart muster up any true charity. What HAVE I done for my master? Who have I shown the Love of Christ to? Who have I helped? To whom have I given a cup of water? Who have I visited in prison? Who have I clothed? Who have I fed?

    …And the Guilt goes on.

    1. I really struggle with supporting anything that isn’t overly and clearly giving the Gospel, not just “we’re doing good things because we love God” although I do realize that God wants us to do good to all and I know that a consistent faithful witness of good works can lead people to ask deeper questions.

      Like you, I also have NO money.

      That’s why I do appreciate the verse you referenced about a cup of cold water. No matter how simple or mundane, giving to another in the name of Jesus matters to God.

      And think of the story of the Good Samaritan. He was just living his life when he saw someone in need. Just live your life and if you pray for God to show you people to help, I bet He will. Maybe as simple as holding a door or picking up something someone dropped, maybe helping a stranded motorist. Clear a struggling neighbor’s sidewalk when it snows. Little things but big when done for Christ.

      Don’t feel guilt at what you AREN’T doing. Instead ask God and anticipate how He can direct you when He’s willing to accept a cup of cold water given in His Name.

      1. I’ll go one step further…if we “evangelize” with the intent that eventually people have to meet our standards, like Darrell mentioned, that’s just moralism. If we meet people’s needs and live in commnity with them, and treat them like you would want to be treated, and follow Jesus, MAYBE they will want to know about Christ. Maybe not.

        No need to shove or push Jesus down people’s throats. The Holy Spirit guides.

        ***Controversial evangelism warning***

        i know someone who cleaned gas station restrooms in downtown Philadelphia, (in Jesus’ name because they knew it was a job the gas station attendants didnt want to do)and handed out cigarettes to the homeless who smoked because they were addicted. And once you handed them the cig, they would sometimes listen to a conversation. And yes, a few came to Christ, and are still smokers. It does happen. Some people’s physical addictions and chains are not broken here on earth. Doesn’t mean one shouldnt try. And I am not saying the Holy Spirit doesnt give us the strength to conquer addictions. Sometimes these things take time. A lifetime of bad habits and addictions don’t disappear in an instant. Ya know, like slander and gossip etc…all those “acceptable sins” we pious Christians have!

        I’m just done with judging. When regeneration takes place, to God be the glory. When sanctification progresses, to God be the Glory.

        This world is not my home. Serving Him while I’m waiting….

        Thank you Darrell for sharing your journey!

        1. Thank you for that Presbygirl. Very well said. I need to strive to live this way. This is the “real deal”. I pray that I will remember that this is what Christ wants of us. To follow him!

    2. Don, I appreciate your post so much and can relate. I heard so many sermons, especially around vision Sunday, about faith-giving. If I gave sacrificially my bills would be magically paid, I would get “mysterious” checks in the mail for the exact amount I needed to pay x bill, etc. etc. Well, as I got out of fundyland I realized this, “I give, You (God) give” relationship I tried to live with God was utterly false. Like PW said, God doesn’t ask us stricly, like the mog’s, to give money, money, money. It made me so sad as I sat & listened to pastor after pastor not give the poorer people of their congregation encouragement or other options to give. I was already giving countless hours, days and years of my life “serving”, but if I wasn’t giving money I wasn’t giving??? That, is not the truth of Christ. I’ve slowly learned this over the past several years but have really learned it over the past couple months as I’ve begun volunteering with refugee families here in my city. I hang out, play games with the families, help them find places to shop, the post office, etc. things nearby and most of all- just love them. Last week, the instinctual, “Ok….when do I “share the gospel” guilt overwhelmed me as I sat in their tiny, cramped apartment- walls covered with pictures of their Hindu gods and then amidst the guilt, God spoke over me HIS words and His scripture…that I was giving them the gospel when I smiled to them warmly, hugged them, played with their kids in the parking lot, shared in a meal, sat and listened to their stories and shared in their lives. I wish I had millions of dollars to help these refugees’ problems disappear & bring their families still in their countries to America…but I can’t. Unlike the mog’s, God delights in us using & giving what we can- what He has given us. Which, in my case is love, laughter, play, kind words and listening ears. I do hope to tell these people about Jesus, but also have realized, as they’ve talked about “my God” that right now He is just another god to them. And they really do first need to SEE God-Jehovah in His people before they can understand Who God is.
      Didn’t anticipate this reply being so long, but my heart ached when I read your entry because I have SO been there!!! I encourage you Don, not to let legalism (and the enemy) make you think your acts of kindess & love aren’t “true giving” just because you’re not specifically giving money. (((Hugs)))

    3. Dear Don:

      Let us address the injustices that make charity necessary…

      Pastor’s Wife and PresbyGirl: If we can be as the presence of Christ in, to and for the world, we offer gifts beyond purchase.

      Blessings!

      Christian Socialist

  8. Just a reminder that giving doesn’t have to be monetary. Do you have some time? There are lots of organizations–not just helping people, but animals, the environment, or whatever cause is dearest to your heart–that could use your service. It’s just my take on charity, but if it makes life better for someone/something outside yourself, it counts.

  9. Perhaps I’m a bit Fundy illiterate on this one. What’s wrong with helping someone with their physical needs in order to demonstrate in a tangible way God’s love for them so that we can share the gospel with them? Is it really a ‘trap’? If they don’t accept the message, I agree that the money isn’t wasted, but I disagree that helping someone for the sake of helping them understand God’s love is somehow devious.

    Let’s not forget what these people were doing. Sure, firewalking is pretty much harmless, but what about the person with nail shoes or the bar through their cheeks because they feel like they owe the gods something? Wouldn’t the gospel message that all your debt is already paid also alleviate their suffering and change their eternal destination too? They obviously have a strong need to have ‘god’s’ favor. Is it really selfish to tell them that he’s already on their side, and that all his favor comes through grace and not works?

    1. I don’t believe either are what Darrell is saying. So often the term, “sharing the gospel” is associated with telling the story of Jesus dying on the cross, the Romans road 1-2 punch and/or the “sinners prayer” (that we say isn’t magical but we totally treat like it is). Sharing the gospel, as Jesus talks about and lives in the New Testament is sharing it in our lives.
      I volunteer with Hindu people and my God to them is just another “god”. They know the story of Jesus dying on the cross in and out. Hindu cultures are famous for their story-telling and to them, this is the “Christian” story-telling about the “Christian God”. I think that’s why it’s so important to remember WE can not affect or change the hearts of anyone. Only the Holy Spirit can do this! We are to live openly and generously, as God leads us, to everyone not just fellow-Christians. I may never get to have the “salvation” conversation with the refugees I work with. Does that mean I’m not “sharing the gospel”?? Hardly. I share it with them everytime I enter into community with them in the name and Love of Jesus. I pray God will reveal Himself to them and I wait & hope for the salvation of the Lord.

      1. While I would agree that we are to help the poor and needy and in so doing show forth the love of Christ it is however clear in Scripture that God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to save the unbeliever. If man can be saved apart from the gospel then much of the Bible doesn’t make any sense.

  10. Darrell, excellent post! I’m so excited for you to be in Sri Lanka!! I’m praying the time there is a blessing for ALL involved!!!! May the heart of God be revealed to you in new ways!!

    1. These are Tamil Hindus but since Buddhism is a philosophy without deities some of the local Sinhalese also come to this Hindu temple to worship. There’s quite a bit of overlap there in some parts.

  11. “Food, medicine, and clothing is not bait for some gospel trap set to snag the vulnerable.”

    Yes. This. Makes me twitchy. Even in my reasonably-good-before-leaving-fundyland-behind church, we were encouraged to be “intentional” about our relationships; ie, be sure to form relationships with those around us so we can witness to them.

    On the one hand, I sorta see what they mean.

    On the other hand, it always felt dishonest to me. Here’s someone I might not reach out to for whatever reason, but I do because of an ulterior motive, even a good one. That’s the height of deceit, imho. Made me feel icky inside. Now I know why.

    1. If you make both acts priorities, then they do not have to be competing philosophies, but separate but equal responsibilities.. If we truly commit to preaching the gospel to every creature, and we separately commit to love our neighbors regardless, then I see no deceit. We simply should not only be charitable for the explicit purpose of producing converts.

    2. Dear Clara English:

      Word AND deed — together. Each explains the other. The word explains the deed; the deed gives the word integrity. Deed without word is moralism. Word without deed is hypocrisy. Each illumines the other.

      Christian Socialist

  12. “For some strange reason, however, the Scripture is full of instructions to take care of the poor – even the poor who haven’t joined your church or professed to love your God. At some point we have to ask ourselves if our charity is merely a calculated means to some religious end.”

    Actually, this is a concept that I have been learning personally (and is part of why I sponsor a child through Compassion). I used to hear (and still hear) so much about ‘friendship evangelism,’ and I think to myself that there’s nothing involving ‘friendship’ about it. The person evangelizing isn’t interested in the person being witnessed to AT ALL: He’s just hanging out with that person to collect her soul. It feels underhanded and more like promoting a business or organization than friendship. Lewis said that two friends had to be interested in the same thing, looking ahead at that thing; if a “Christian” is only interested in the unbeliever’s soul, that doesn’t count. I’m all for introducing people to Christ. Absolutely. By all means, tell people about Jesus. But it’s so wrong to attach requirements (such as listening to spiritual drivel, reading tracts, or attending church) to our friendship or our financial generosity.

    1. The person evangelizing isn’t interested in the person being witnessed to AT ALL: He’s just hanging out with that person to collect her soul. It feels underhanded and more like promoting a business or organization than friendship.

      Always struck me as a dishonest bait-and-switch, too.

      It’s a Fire Insurance Salesman closing a sale. A-B-C, Always Be Closing.

      Or worse: A seducer sweet-talking and “friending” his way into the target’s pants.

  13. That said, are firewalking and nails actually common Sri Lankan practice? It sounds like the ceremony was an amazing, thought-provoking experience for you, but I’m wondering whether you’re seeing the “real” Sri Lanka (so to speak) or whether it’s more of an outdoor museum. Also, out of curiosity, who set the events that you are participating in / seeing up?

    Not trying to be rude or obnoxious. You DID ask for hard questions! :) I’m just trying to get a feel for whether events like the one you described are more like a visiting a preserved castle or historical village in Europe, or more like sitting in the downtown business district and watching locals pass you by.

    1. This was actually part of a yearly festival where this is done. So it’s not a common practice but it is a recurring one.

      They weren’t putting on a show for our benefit at all. They had no idea we would be there until we showed up but once the leaders spotted us in the crowd they sent someone to fetch us and bring us up close to the action. If you had seen the area you would understand that it’s not really a huge tourism destination — unless you happen to really like Hindu temples.

      This Hindu temple has been here for over 1000 years but the best guess on the fire walking is that it has only taken place in this location since the 1960’s. I’ve got a pretty good nose for when I’m being shown a manufactured spectacle and I can assure you that these folks were not putting it on for our benefit. This was pretty much as real as it gets.

      1. That’s great! Mostly I’ve travelled in Europe (and some in China), so I guess I don’t have a great feel for what is normal or not normal in other cultures. My bad. :oops:

        Anyhow, learning by observing another culture is always such a rich experience. Do enjoy the rest. I look forward to more posts!

  14. Dear Darrell:

    Here at home, our Gnostic hearts whisper softly and tenderly that all is well, and that lip service gives the incarnation sufficient recognition.

    You touch many points that need serious, ongoing discussion in our own culture. Thank you for raising the kingdom standard! God bless you, Darrell!

    Christian Socialist

  15. If it is a waste of time to go and minister to people’s physical and spiritual needs and they do not get saved, then Jesus wasted His time dying on the cross. He knew before the foundation of the earth that man would sin and presented Himself as a “lamb slain.” Why would he bother to heal 12 leapers if only two were even grateful. Missionai\ries are Bibical or Paul Peter, John and countless others wasted their time going from place to place not only preaching, but healing the sick, counseling, raising the dead. Did all the 5,000 eat the free lunch and get saved? Was it worth it if one got saved. Is it worth it if a missionary spends years without seeing a single person come to Christ? Yes. If those people hear the gospel and rejects it, they will stil stand before God one day. They cannot say, I never knew. Do we have an excuse to not do all we can to tell others this most important message of eternal life? No, there is no excuse. There is great suffering in all parts of the world including the USA. We have a duty to use our resources to bring help in all forms. God continue to bless your trip. I have a “granddaughter” in Africa through World vision. My daughter is is too handicapoed adioted ger. I have choosen to meet some of the physical needs of a child whose father is in prison here where I live. All of us can do something.

  16. “the missional mind-set has implications for what we would call “ministries of mercy” or “social ministries.” When we begin to receive God’s heart for “all things,” we begin to live open-handed. We live beneath our means so that we can bless those who have less than we do. We go into other parts of the world to care for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:34-40). It’s why we want to meet with city officials and ask them, “What can we do to help this city? How can our church be a place that’s for the city?” This is a natural result of being reconciled to God and to one another and then, as agents of reconciliation, engaging the world around us.
    “Now, there are two major errors we can fall into in these efforts. There are land mines we have to be careful not to step on, and they bring quite a lot of controversy among pastors’ ranks. Land mine number one is building all of our acts of mercy, all of our acts of social justice, around a contingent evangelism. Evangelism is necessary, of course, but what I mean by a “contingent evangelism” is what happens when churches do that “We’ve got food for you if you’re a believer” sort of thing. Some say “We’ve got resources for you if you believe. ” Or, “You can receive our help if you indicate a decision for Christ.” There may be a few situations where this contingency makes sense, but it is largely manipulative. It’s a legalistic bait-and-switch, and that is not reflective of the heart of God toward man.”

    -Matt Chandler in The Explicit Gospel

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