by Christopher Needham
THERE would seem to be few positives to take from a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions and left countless lives in shambles. To the Christian, however, the aftermath of any disaster becomes positive when lives that were lost are celebrated and the people who are left come closer to the presence of God.
In Sri Lanka, thousands of lives were lost and many more people were adversely affected. Through its 125-year history in Sri Lanka, The Salvation Army had never seen a disaster anywhere near this scale. Because of the Army’s presence in the country it was able to start relief work just hours after the disaster struck. This strength and local knowledge have been crucial throughout the relief, recovery, and reconstruction phases.
The Salvation Army’s efforts in Sri Lanka went from initial emergency response to post-disaster development projects. Since then, more than 800 homes have been built or rebuilt, six community centres constructed, 225 enterprises supported and at least 1,300 people have had their livelihoods restored. Vocational training classes and community capacity development projects have raised people’s quality of life and enabled people to better themselves. Through all of this, The Salvation Army is celebrating the lost and restoring those who are left to restart their lives.
|A family outside their newly constructed home in the Ampara area of Sri Lanka|
There is an awareness of the importance to balance sound development operations with The Salvation Army’s evangelical ministry. Sri Lanka is not an easy place to be a Christian and it is actually illegal to tell people about Christ, but Salvation Army officers and staff have made a witness through actions, intervention through prayer and transformation through the Holy Spirit.
An example of this testimony is shown in an area of the country called Ampara, which has been riddled with war and terrorism for 20 years. After the tsunami, The Salvation Army began rebuilding homes, developing community strengths and providing livelihoods through a team of engineers, development workers and one Salvation Army officer.
That officer, Captain Sam Walsalam, led the reconstruction team into an area that is reported by the United Nations to be the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian workers. Today, Captain Sam is regularly requested to go to Muslim and Hindu houses to conduct prayer and give Christian advice. He is the guest at weddings and memorable occasions because he is considered an honourable man. They see in him a light that illuminates their community. Captain Sam and his team are one of the last humanitarian aid efforts still working in the region. The respect given to The Salvation Army because of this staying power is the foundation of its ministry.
Another example of a positive aftermath can be seen in a little town called Hikkaduwa. Typically known as a tourist destination and fishing village, the town was heavily hit by the tsunami. The Salvation Army has a community centre and corps building which quickly became the base for our relief operations. After repairing the corps buildings, a team now led by Mark Edwards (a Sri Lankan Salvationist) has engaged in trauma counselling and restoration projects for those affected by the disaster.
Through the ministry of Salvationists and officers going to the communities affected and sharing words of healing, many families now hold prayer meetings in their homes.
The Salvation Army has linked itself to these communities and the corps officer is now able to visit a community base 10 times larger than before. The same light that was seen in Captain Sam is seen in the Salvationists and corps officers of Hikkaduwa.
Christopher Needham is National Development Director for The Salvation Army’s Sri Lanka Territory