|Tsunami aid builds bridges for Sri Lankan
Jan. 4, 2006
|File photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT International
Two girls care for their sleeping sister in a Buddhist temple in Galle, Sri Lanka.
By Anto Akkara*
GALLE, Sri Lanka (ENI) ? One year after Sri Lanka was struck by a devastating
tsunami that wreaked destruction throughout south and southeast Asia, churches
in the island nation say their relief work has promoted better relations with
the country?s Buddhist majority.
?It (the tsunami) has given us an opportunity to work closely with the Buddhist
people and win their confidence,? said the Rev. Lesley Weerasinghe, a Methodist
pastor in the southern port city of Galle, where more than 4,000 people were
killed by the giant waves.
Initially, Weerasinghe recalled, local Buddhists staged demonstrations when he
tried to start building houses for Buddhist tsunami survivors at a plot
purchased by the church at
?They thought we were going to build a church in their village,? the pastor
said. ?But when they realized that we were building houses for Buddhists, they
started supporting us.?
Buddhists had been the major beneficiaries of Methodist relief, including
houses, items such as boats and financial assistance to restart business
destroyed in Galle, he noted.
?Before the tsunami, many Buddhists thought that Christians were trying to
convert the Buddhists by our social service. But our tsunami relief work has
started removing that fear,? Weerasinghe said.
Buddhists account for almost 70 percent of Sri Lanka?s 20 million people, while
Christians tally just over 6 percent. The Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami claimed more
than 35,000 lives and displaced nearly 1 million people in Sri Lanka alone.
The Rev. Kingsley Perera, chairperson of Sri Lanka?s National Christian Council
and president of the Baptist Council of Sri Lanka, told Ecumenical News
International that the tsunami relief work has ?certainly led to better harmony
and understanding? with Buddhists.
When local Buddhists opposed construction of houses for tsunami victims by the
Baptist church in Paraliya village, 70 kilometers south of the capital Colombo,
church workers approached the chief Buddhist monk of the area, Perera noted.
|Photo by Jan-Åke Thorell, ACT International
A destroyed house is one of many signs of the tsunami along the main highway out of Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.
?The monk went from house to house explaining our work to the people and got
their consent for our work,? he said.
?The tsunami has brought the people and the religious leaders together,? said
the venerable Hedigalle Wimalasara, a leader of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a
political party formed by Buddhist monks.
Speaking to Ecumenical News International, Wimalasara noted that when the
tsunami struck, more than 1,500 families, including Christians and Muslims, took
shelter in his monastery 65 kilometers south of Colombo. The Buddhist monk said,
?We are coming closer day by day.?
*This story was distributed by Ecumenical News International.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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