Some years ago I was privileged to make a visit on behalf of the Church to Sri Lanka. My visit was shortly after the devastating tsunami and during the very bitter civil war.
It was one of the most moving and scary visits I have made anywhere.
With the civil war raging, my travel was limited as there were a number of areas it wasn’t safe to visit. I was aware many innocent people had to live in the war zones daily. I heard stories of people being kidnapped and never heard of again, of thousands being killed. I met young orphans and others abandoned by parents in places of safety. I was stopped daily by the army wanting to know the purpose of my visit, where I’d been and why. It wasn’t safe on public transport as buses had been blown up.
I met people who survived the tsunami but lost most of their families, friends and homes in the disaster.
One man told me he had been swept up by the huge wave and sucked under the water, then spat out after what seemed like hours but was only a few minutes, naked, several miles from his home and later to discover all his family had been killed.
During the visit I met people who worked on the tea plantations in squalid conditions, with raw sewage running past their doors in a house no bigger than most people’s lounges, no electricity and no running water. Health issues that we have eradicated in this country and alcoholism were rife.
The reason for telling these stories, is in all the encounters I felt powerless to help in a significant way, but was overwhelmed by the resilience of those I encountered and their sense of hope. They didn’t let adversity take over their lives; they hadn’t become embittered – although many were still struggling to see how they could piece their life together again. They were some of the most generous, hospitable people I’ve met, who gave much out of what little they had.
For many the hope they held on to was inspired by faith. For numerous people that was through the Buddhist religion and others the Christian faith in which we believe Jesus has offered new life and therefore new hope to all those who turn to him. But even those of no faith were full of hope inspired by people working together to support and encourage each other in the expectation that together they could build a new life and a brighter future.
Many of us in different ways may have times when we feel that hope has gone but, like the people in Sri Lanka. I encourage you not to give up in the face of adversity however tempting that may be. Some of you may discover this hope in God but if not try and find it in the mutual support, love and encouragement of those most dear to you, who love you the most and want to help.