Sri Lanka: Old and New

The more things change the more they stay the same. Thursday morning I woke up, took my daughter to school, made lunch, and then got on an airplane that took me on a trip halfway around the world, flying past news-worthy cities with names like Baghdad and Allepo and over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Thirteen hours of flying landed us in Dubai where midnight found us riding in a taxi with a driver who explained to us that in Dubai the Old Town is the section that contains all the new buildings. Soon we were sitting in the baking desert heat and eating pizza while watching a Vegas-Style fountain show blast out (among other things) the music of Thriller. Then we went to the mall with the Starbucks and Ikea and Subway. It was all strange and exotic, yet so oddly familiar. It never ceases to amaze me what America has as its chief exports to the world.

A few hours more and another airplane and we wearily stumbled through the doors into the tropical sun of Colombo, Sri Lanka to negotiate with beggars who try to manhandle your luggage for you and then charge you for that privilege. As my nostrils were assaulted by the mixed scent of salt air, exhaust fumes, and the faint scent of decay that no tropical city is ever without the first word that popped into my head was “home.” The looks and sounds and smells all have so evocative of the West Indian island where I grew that I immediately understood why Columbus thought he had had managed to reach the East Indies by sailing around the world. Even the insanity of the bus ride out of the city had an odd sense of rightness to it as we tried our best to abide by the Sri Lankan rule that no two cars may follow behind each other at any given time. It’s a different place in a different world but it’s still so much the same.

There are distinctions, of course. The surf of the Indian ocean roars just a few steps from our lodgings but the sand is an unfamiliar shade of brown not white or black like the coral-laden beaches of Grenada. The people here find their roots in Asia not Africa and the stream of liquid syllables that characterize the Sinhalese language are nothing like that Jamaican-style English pronouncements of my adopted homeland. Perhaps the starkest contrast of all to me is that the religion here is majority Buddhist and though I saw a few signs of Catholicism during the bus ride to the hotel there was nary a Protestant church or mission in sight.

For all the little differences, being here has sent me on a sentimental journey through my past as I sit here basking in a tropical sun (that is strangely hotter during the morning than the afternoon because of where it sits below the equator). I’m sure that by now my traveling companions have long since tired of hearing me say the words “well, where I grew up…” as I compare this island nation to one that my heart has been missing for a decade. Perhaps it’s just some trick of memory combined with jet lag that warms my soul for scenes both old and new. But I’ll take it. I’ll love every minute of it. Sri Lanka may not be home but the feeling that it could have been is never far from the edge of my senses. The Dubai cab driver had the right of it. What is new is old for me. And what is old has once again become new.

Tomorrow we’ll be out in the field and I can’t wait to start sharing with you what we see.

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42 thoughts on “Sri Lanka: Old and New”

  1. Wow!!! You are so very articulate! I loved every descriptive word! Thank you for sharing!


  2. Thanks for the update. I envy you. (In a good, non-jealous way) I never got to the Indian Ocean. I was a few hours by bus away, and couldn’t work it in.

    I will continue to pray for safety and blessings for you and the group. Shalom.

  3. Like Uncle Wilver, I envy you, just a bit. It’s a part of the world I’ve never seen, and I wish. . .

    I’m glad you arrived safely, and I’m keenly anticipating your next installment.

  4. I agree with Heart. Your writing is so articulate and descriptive I feel like I’m standing right beside you as you write.

    Praying for you to have a blessed time and that all you do is By His Grace and For His Glory!!

  5. I know the “Where I grew up” phrase well. And yes, you will be repeating it forever. After a while it is the little things that will trigger your memories. THe smells, the way the clouds move in hte sky.

    Here is info on Christianity in Sri Lanka

    Clearly being in a province with 32% Christians is very different from being in one with 1.1%

    But a million and a half Christians are nothing to sneeze at. 160,000 protestants, roughly 800 churches (?) The Wiki article seemed to point out 70 Pentecostal churches and 10 baptist churches. As usual with statistics, something does not add up.

    Question for Darrell: any idea how many of these churches have local pastors, how many are still run by the missions?

    All my questions above are great for the overall picture… but what World Vision is about is more about touching individuals and connecting donors with children.

    Yes, we all pray for World Peace and for the spreading of the Gospel to the farthest corners of the Earth. But having an actual name and picture in mind (and in heart) helps change not only the lives of the child in the middle of nowhere, but the heart of the donors also.

    Please sponsor a child!

  6. Awesome! So glad you made it! Hope you adjust to the jetlag quickly, and am really looking forward to these posts.

  7. My son and I watched Beyond Survivorman last night on Netflix and Les Stroud went to Sri Lanka to learn about the last of the “stick” fisherman there b/c 28,000 of them died when the Tsunmai hit. They were sent so much money from around the world, they called it the golden wave. The rich became poor and vice versa b/c only the poor were given money. They now live in homes with TV. It was an interesting episode.

    I am looking forward to reading more Darryl! 😀

  8. Awesome Darrell! I’m glad that you made it in safely. I hope you’re taking LOTS of photos and video…I lost all mine of the last two mission trips I took and wish that I had them back.

    Enjoy your new experiences. 😉

  9. Have a great time,Darrell. I love your writing, it truly is like standing next to you. I hope things go well for you all.

  10. I resonate with you on that “place” that feels like home no matter where else you go; just got back from my holiday there so this really resonated for me. I’ve heard we all have a magnetic home, not sure that’s quite it.
    Hope this isn’t too cliche’ but your experience has that ring of “God’s equipped you for this”. Anyway, keeping you in thoughts and prayers and looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

  11. I’ve been praying for you all weekend. Good to hear that you’ve arrived and looking forward to hearing more.

  12. I’m excited to hear more about your journey and the work with the people of Sri Lanka!

  13. So glad you got there safely! I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad”, and I think he would be very admiring of your writing, D. I agree with folks above….your descriptions are very evocative. You have all my best thoughts for a safe and successful journey.

    1. One of my favorite books. I have called people “Ferguson” in a number of countries and situations. One of these days, someone else will understand the joke. (Besides my wife, who doesn’t think it nearly as humorous as I do.)

  14. Love the post. And hope you are finally getting some sleep. Darla loved the letter and I’ll show her the picture of you when she wakes up. Love that you sound so happy.
    Hope the internet gets better (your) tomorrow when you get the new access equipment.

  15. I agree with many of the comments on here. Darrell, your ability to turn a phrase gives us a an excellent glimpse of what you’re experiencing. It’s sort of like smelling a campfire in the air. It’s not the same as being there, but it brings to your mind the feelings you’ve had being around them. Some of your descriptions brought me back to my own travels and wanderings. I imagine you must be experiencing similar feelings.

    On a less serious note, is it wrong of me to hope that Darrell finds a church to go to on Sunday, and walks into some crazed Sri Lankan fundy madhouse? You know; just for the sake of irony and a good story? 🙂

  16. Safe travels, Darrell. May God be with you and bless you as you are a blessing to the people of Sri Lanka.

  17. They went to a Hindi firewalk instead. 🙂 He said it was the most amazing thing he has ever seen. And the most terrifying. I guess they were guests of honor…so were given the front seats…right up against the fence….and when the ceremony started…the crowd went wild…pressing them into the fence….they are of course all in one piece though.

  18. Um, whomever is cleaning up the posts, perhaps you could remove my replies? Because, instead of being witty rejoinders to a troll, they now make me look like a lunatic muttering to myself.

    1. boymom-I commend you for your staying power. I had decided that I was not going to acknowledge any more of his comments.

      Darrell-Thanks. You have busy days and I didn’t expect any action until your return.
      I will likely adapt some of your comments and add them to my Sunday School lesson this week. The theme fits.

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