Bless an Orphan visit to Batticaloa
Written by Joseph Vos, excerpts from the other team members.
12-27 April 2000
April 12th – Departure
What a way to start such a trip. As I was eating my breakfast, I broke a crown on one of my molars. I decided not to let it spoil our trip.
We had a wonderful blessing in Ben Gurion airport as we checked. in. The security had us put our stuff through x-ray. They could not decipher us. Shoshi and Yulia being Israelis going with three foreign guys. Two Jewish girls going to church. It just didn’t fit in their standard thinking, so we must be checked.
After they had their turn, we went for the check-in counter. We had very much luggage, about 200 kilo’s more than what we were allowed to take on our tickets. The cost was going to be US$1500 for the extra luggage. I spoke with the lady about where we were going and how we are going to minister to orphans. She said it was not up to her to decide. I patiently waited for an answer. In the end, she gave us the boarding cards and stuff, and wished us a pleasant flight. We were very surprised, but didn’t say anything. We just left quietly. Thanks be to God, we didn’t have to pay A SINGLE PENNY. God is good, all the time. We have been very fortunate and blessed.
Our departure was delayed by three quarters of an hour, but the airplane in Amman waited on us. They had not the reserved seats we had arranged and I asked for that. They hustled a bit and finally gave me a seat next to the exit. After another hustling, they put a dark-skinned lady next to me. I started gently asking her what she is. It turns out that she is Tamil, who is returning from Jordan after three and a half years. She is living in Colombo and she knows Rev. Jeyanesan. We develop a conversation and it turns out she is a committed believer. We are very excited. Just as we are talking she tells me that the people sitting on the other side of the aisle are from Batticaloa. They live in Chengaladi, Eravur, just north of Batticaloa. What a small world is this.
On this trip, we hope to minister to the children of Batticaloa. Our team members are Brian Kvasnica (a.k.a.”Brain”) a Hebrew University Student in Theology, Gary Alley (a.k.a. “Hairy”) doing the same as Brain, Yulia Mestechkena (a.k.a. “Julian”) a receptionist at Christ Church, Jerusalem, Shoshi Powlison (a.k.a. “Zozi”) a Hebrew University student in Academic Nursing and myself. The “also known as” names are original “adaptations” of our names by Rev. Jeyanesan. I think that the locals have as much problems with our names as we have with theirs. As you will see later on in the story, we found a solution to this problem.
April 13th – Arrival
We are still on the plane. We will be arriving this morning at 6:00 o’clock in the morning. We are met with Rev. Jeyanesan, who is in charge of the CSI work in the Batticaloa District. CSI stands for Church of South India. Actually, the name is only an abbreviation of the “Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India”. They are situated in South India with ministries expanded to the north and east of Sri Lanka. Rev. Jeyanesan is one of the most senior members of this Diocese. He has been serving 25 years with them. He has 2000 children under his care, among which are about 320 orphans. Our focus will be on the work with the orphans in the Batticaloa District. To our surprise, we will also be introduced to other orphanages in other areas of the country. Rev. Jeyanesan meets us at the airport dressed in his cassock, a white priestly robe with a black belt. This is a gentle and faithful man. He could have fled and done well anywhere but here, but he decided to stay behind and care for the people who do not have the option to leave. We have a lot of respect for this man and his work.
We are taken to the Chanuka Hostel. We will have a quick wash and then Rev. Jeyanesan will pick up Joseph, Brian and Yulia for a meeting with the Bishop of the JD-CSI, Right Rev. Jebanesan. I feel a lot of honor is being given to me, quite without justification. We just came to play with some children and to show them God’s love. There is a whole group of people who have come to meet with us, among them are the project coordinator Mr. Noel (Suresh) Thampoe, whom we will get to know better in the days ahead. Jebanesan introduces to us the work in Nuwara Eliya. He explains to us that he will be very glad if we can visit this project. Nuwara Eliya is a place on top of the highest (6,100 feet) mountain in Sri Lanka. This is where the tea plantations are. There are a number of orphans in this area and they need an orphanage. Right now they are staying in a house that is rented. They have received the promise that if land can be found, a certain donor will agree to put an orphanage on that land. He hands us the request in writing. We discuss various other matters as well. After the meeting we go hunting for pencil cases, which is going to take us a long time, since not many shops have a lot of stock and we need over 300 pencil cases.
After this meeting we are scheduled to meet with two members of the Sri Lankan Parliament. One of them is the head of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party. This is a political party that works inside the government for the sake of finding a peaceful solution to the war going on in the country. These men are sought by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) which is in control of the northern and eastern part of the country. That is why we will need to pass barricades and special armed guards before we are allowed inside for this meeting. A human rights activist, who works with this group of men, is also present. These people are excited about our interest in Tamil orphans as there are not many people in the world who show any interest in these poor kids. They will seek to help us get into the Batticaloa, which is in the war zone of Sri Lanka and off-limits to all foreigners. We will need to get a special permission from the Minister of Defense in order to enter Batticaloa. This is a new order as last year I was able to travel to Batticaloa without such a permit. Soon even Rev. Jeyanesan will be needing a special permit to travel into and out of Batticaloa. Things are not easy that way. We will need a lot of luck in order to receive this permit. In the meantime, we will travel tomorrow to Batticaloa and see if they will not permit us entry without the permit or maybe the permit will have been issued by then.
Here’s Brian’s report on this meeting:
We had to pass through armed guards which included surveillance guards from above, sand bags and more armed guards, just to get into a large room in their house where we meet and talked about the Tamil suppression and the trauma that the Tamils have gone through. Going to the bathroom was even escorted with armed guards. Brian and Gary liked the maps. Julia took the pictures and roused the suspicion of one of the MPs and Shoshi tried hard to follow the complicated issues of the land.
They ask us if we will be willing to come and visit a Hindu Orphanage. Seeking to please these people who are trying to help us, we agree that on our way back, we will also visit the Hindu Orphanage. Little do we know just how much our plans are going to be changed.
On the road, we see a lot of signs of “Smak” drinks and “Necto” drinks. Gary asks Jeyanesan if he likes “Smak”. This sounds funny to the rest of the team as Gary often uses the word “Smack” for other purposes, such as in: “He was talking smack” meaning nonsense. Jeyanesan answers that he does not like “Smak” but that children do like it. Seeking a confirmation, Gary asks full of wonder: “So kids like Smak?” Joseph laughs until tears fill his eyes. Now that is not surprising as perspiration is an activity we have been doing non-stop since arriving in Sri Lanka. It is very, very hot.
In the evening, we are having a time together as a group. We sense the presence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives and resolving some of our difficulties with one another. It is a good time.
April 14th – A Very Long Van Ride.
Today we will make an attempt to enter Batticaloa. We will be joined by Bonney, a good friend of Jeyanesan, who has also become a very good friend of mine, when I came last year to Batti (abbreviation for Batticaloa). He is a retired banker who helps Jeyanesan with various projects. This is a very humble and appreciating man who asks all the time to pray for him and his family. This is a man who has suffered much, like all people in this area.
Batticaloa is a city on a stretch of land between a large lagoon and the Indian Ocean. It is situated on the east coast of Sri Lanka, in an area mostly in control by the LTTE. The stretch of land itself with Batti is in some control by the army. They have camps in the middle of the road. Every morning the soldiers walk from camp to camp thus clearing the road for use by the army. They walk with machine guns and with rods of iron, looking for wiring for road-side explosives. It is part of the war zone of Sri Lanka and being there is quite dangerous. Shelling can often be heard in the background. Local shootouts between the army and the LTTE rebels are everyday occurences as well as suicide bombers.
We leave early in the morning. The owner of the Chanuka Hostel tells us that Chanuka is a Buddhist festival of lights. We are very surprised as we know Hanukka as a festival of lights for the Jewish people as a remembrance of the dedication of the temple in the second century BC. We are passing innumerable rice patties, Buddha shrines and stop for a breakfast in an indescribably beautiful garden. We continue our travel in beautiful jungle sceneries. Everything is green. We see large rivers, beautiful mountains in triangular form. We see a lot of pretty people. They are all black or dark brown. We stop at a shop for pineapples and eat a most delicious pineapple meal.
We continue in all kinds of beautiful nature. We stop at a Buddha shrine and went out for pictures. The Singhalese Buddhist female guard and her friend, after noticing our wooden crosses, asked for Singhalese New Testaments and a wooden cross. On the way to pick us up, Rev. Jeyanesan in his pastor’s cassock, was asked for New Testaments by every border guard except one along the 24 check points; he only had eight in the van. People are hungry for the Good News about Jesus.
We arrive at Welikanda, just one hour drive away from our destination after traveling eight hours in humid, very hot weather and a lot of air-pollution. This is the place where we are turned back, since we do not have the permit. It has not been issued, in spite of the fact that it was requested over two months ago. The excuse was that the permit is issued only 24 hours beforehand in order to assess the ground movements. Since 24 hours ago it was a New Year celebration, the offices were closed. We decide to try to talk with the Brigadier General in charge of the area of Batticaloa. He replies that as the matter was requested from the Ministry of Defense, he cannot make a decision as they are the higher authority. If we had not applied, he said, he would have gladly allowed us to enter. I resolve to myself not to apply again in advance. Next time we will simply go and try to talk the Brigadier General into letting us into the area.
We have to go back to Colombo. This is somewhat disappointing. Our hope is that with the MP’s help we will be issued a permit at a later date. We hope for Monday. I tell Jeyanesan that I am used to the Israeli bureaucracy, so this comes as no surprise.
In continued: We got stuck in a terrible traffic jam. The whole town was filled with rich people who had come from Colombo and also tourists. They were there to celebrate the New Year celebrations. We saw some people dancing. The whole town was filled with many cars, so that it was an extremely slow procession of vans, here and there mixed with a bus.
We finally arrived at the home just as it was getting dark. This is the orphanage that the bishop was talking with us about, since he wishes that we help the CSI (Church of South India) in finding a donor for purchasing land. The Ambelevanar orphanage with its 22 cute and lovely children is being told to leave the current premises within half a year. If a donor can be found for purchasing the land, they will have a donor who will contribute the building. We could not go to see the lands that are being considered for purchase, as it was getting dark. We were received very kindly.
It is a long travel back to Colombo. There is a certain silence in the vehicle, but we are waiting for our Lord to intervene. We pray. We change plans. We will seek to visit the Hindu orphanage, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy while we await our permit. We return reluctantly to Colombo, our clothes black from pollution and check in at a different inn. It has been a long, long ride. Seventeen hours.
April 15th – Nuwara Eliya
As I write these lines, I am sitting in a tea plantation looking at the beautiful view. I think you may easily envy me now. Such a beautiful surrounding, which deceptively covers up the slavery of the plantation workers. It is not a slight matter. We have seen people who are crushing stones for a building material. The result of a day’s worth of work in the plantation is a large basket full of tea leaves and 60 rupees for work from 8:30 until 16:30. This is about US$0.80 per person.
We are going to Nuwara Eliya for a visit to an orphanage of abandoned children of such plantation workers who leave their children behind and flee. Our team is very excited about what is going on and the things we are seeing. We are now leaving for Nuwara Eliya.
There were about eight of the twenty-two girls as the rest had gone home for the holiday. We have now Yulia and Shoshi eternalized singing and dancing with them the hokey-pokey. We received a nice dinner from the people in charge and went to bed.
April 16th – Tea Plantations
Early morning rise was begun with the boiling of water for our washing. After the guys got on time in the van (well, they thought they were late, but we tricked them). Next we went to the Ambalavanar Girls Home, where we had breakfast. We took the kids along in the van and went to a church on a plantation. Brian preached there for Palm Sunday. You’ll have to see the video to appreciate this one. Jeyanesan introduced Hairy, Zozi, Brain, Yulian and Joseph (Yes, he got that right). We got some of the boys of the boys’ orphanage into the van together with the girls (24 people in one van) and were off for a lot of fun at the girls’ home. Did I tell you about the Hokey Pokey? Well, for sure we had fun. It was a sad good-bye though. The kids really got under our skin and we had tears in our eyes. We took some of the boys back to the plantation.
We traveled quickly to Kandy for a tea and a look at a tooth of some Buddha or something. Actually, we never saw the tooth, but we did see a few lotus flowers. Wait till you see the video. You’ll see Hairy and Brain in sarongs. We then continued onward towards Colombo. We had on this detour two highlights. One was where Zozi had a leach stuck on her toes (You should hear her scream) which I did not get on video. The other was where a big beetle smacked into Zozi’s face. That was also quite a scream. This time it did get some of it on video.
April 17th – Bureaucracy, Shoes and Pencil Cases
We are still stuck in bureaucracy as the Minister of Defense himself is now involved as well as the NIB (National Investigation Board, like the KGB or CIA). They first have to check our ratings. They apparently threw our previous requests in the trash bins. We have to wait for Wednesday for an approval so we can go on Thursday. One of us showed signs of dehydration. We all are now drinking like crazy. Boy, it is hot.
We’ve been hunting for shoes and pencil cases for the kids. We found enough shoes but not enough pencil cases. Tomorrow is a new moon festival so everything will be shut up. We will need to wait for the offices and shops to open on Wednesday. Please continue to pray for us. We really would like to visit the kids. We heard that they are all waiting for us eagerly. We will be missing the Pesach meal we had planned for Wednesday if we get the permits after 11 o’clock.
Tomorrow we will be going to visit a Hindu orphanage. We will take some of the dolls to those children. Today we had some of the dolls shipped to Nuwara Eliya for the children there. We also gave them some pictures of our team. We hope and pray that God will be glorified through all of this.
April 18th – Eh, Shoes and Pencil Cases
Today is a holiday. In spite of that, we will be trying to locate some pencil cases for the children of the homes. On our way to pick up the shoes for the children, we find a few places to purchase some pencil cases. Total for the day about 110 pencil cases. There are 297 school going children among the 320 orphans. For these we are trying to get shoes, socks, pencil cases and wrtiting utensils. We went to a Bata shop and acquired 287 pairs of shoes and 190 pairs of socks. We will need to purchase the rest when we get to Batticaloa.
Today we visited the Hindu orphanage. Here’s Shoshi’s report on that: “The reason we are here is to be with orphans, and we haven’t been able to do that a whole lot. Yesterday we visited an orphanage in Colombo run by Hindus. As we arrived there in the evening they were just finishing up their worship at a shrine honoring the Hindu god of beginnings – Ganesh. Eighty two excited boys played cricket and volleyball with us, dragged Brian into the temple area, and painted us all (except Joseph) with the cow dung ash and such. They were much poorer than the orphans at Christian institutions we’ve encountered so far. We are hoping to be able to send them some things through the pastor of the CSI (Church of South India) church in Colombo. Jeyanesan was also trying to arrange a visit of these Hindu boys to the orphanages in Batticaloa, which all were very excited about.”
We also found a supermarket. This is quite a find as we can purchase some things for a “normal” breakfast as we know it. We enjoyed it, but our truly cool “Michael Jordan look alike” driver dressed in a silk shirt and a sarong (wrapped around cloth-skirt) preferred the Sri Lankan food. I guess we’ll forgive him for that.
The decision is as follows. The Member of Parliament is going to talk again with the Ministry of Defense to get the permit for us to enter Batticaloa. While he is getting it, we are going already to Pollonaruwa, which is just before the checkpoint where we were turned back. This is where the general is sitting. We will have the permit sent by fax to the general and retrieve it from him. Then we will seek to proceed onward to Batticaloa. If this finds favor with God, we will be in Batticaloa before evening falls. We sure hope that this will succeed as there will be about 300 people expecting to see us and celebrate Passover with us in Batticaloa. Various CSI (Church of South India) churches will be sending delegates to it.
Did I tell you that there is a lot of air-pollution and that it is hot?
April 19th – Permit Granted!
We left the 19th very early in the morning. We picked up the shoes for the children and left for Batticaloa, hoping that the permit would be granted while we are in transit. For Jeyanesan, this is the first time that a permit would be granted, but since the Minister of Defense himself had given instructions, we felt sufficiently assured of the likelihood of receiving a permit.
Today we are in an air-conditioned van. What a big difference it makes. Instead of inhaling polluted hot air, we are inhaling cool air. Last time we tried, we had come back black from pollution. We could not even clean our clothes completely from the muck, which sticks to your face, hands and clothes.
We had our breakfast on the way, not wanting to delay the trip by any means. This evening will be Pesach (Passover) and we are scheduled to celebrate it together with 200 people. Rev. Jeyanesan arranged for all the CSI personel to come to St. John’s in order to celebrate with us the Passover Seder. They will be awaiting our arrival all day until 16:30. There is suspense about the permit, and yet some of us felt an assurance that the permit will be granted through the Highest Authority, our Savior and Lord.
Christ was victorious yet again and at 11:25 we heard of the granting of a permit. We went to a communications shop (phone, fax, email, etc.) and retrieved the fax from Colombo at 12:25. Immediately after making some copies of the fax, the whole town blacked out. In these areas people are sometimes without electricity for many hours or even days. It was God’s timing. Now we are going back to the area commander, about 40 kilometers back. He was not available, but the second in command was. He asked how it is possible that we were there already even though the permit was only now granted. He had a heartily laugh when he heard that we had left Colombo hoping for the permit to be granted. He contacted the checkpoints to tell of our coming, as he himself had not yet received the permit.
As we were checked at the checkpoint where we had been turned back previously, an army motorcycle arrived to give the permit concerning us. Things are falling into place and we continue on our way, rejoicing in His wonderful grace. Due to the delay, we will not make it in time, but we will be able to celebrate the Passover Meal with the children of St. John’s. First, we will make a stop at the Kiran’s Girls Home. Rev. Anthony receives us warmly. This is the place where all the children had been sleeping on the floor. We saw all the beds. They were a pleasure to behold and the children were all very happy. This is all thanks to God’s children (donors) caring for God’s children (orphans).
After making some last minute purchases, we were received in full honor by the children, with flowers lays and all. We were happy that we could celebrate the Pesach Seder with the children and staff. This was the first time that a permit had been granted for foreigners to enter Batticaloa, since the new law had come into effect. All previous attempts had been ignored.
After a nice evening talk outside in the breeze, we went to bed. The guest rooms are really great and we are very happy with them. A shower is not provided, but we were given an alternative method. You draw the water from a large bucket with a bowl and then pour it over yourself. Now we know why the washrooms are always so wet. (yuk).
April 20th – The Veddahs
In the morning of the 20th we awake with “bed tea”. Tea is given eight times a day and it starts while you are awaking. The children are out there already at six as the bell rings. They pick up all the trash on the compound every morning. Jeyanesan explains that when children are taught to work, they appreciate everything so much more.
After a Sri Lankan breakfast, we are off to Ralodai, a village of Veddahs, who are Sri Lankan aborigines. This is the street children project. No streets in this village though, just dirt roads. We meet a lot of dirty, neglected children who are looking very sad. Some smile at us from under their brown hair. The hair is brown because they do not clean it with shampoo. We see a “well” where they drink from as well as bathe in and wash in. It is not more than a meter deep hole with a puddle at the bottom. The brown water has some foam on top of it, and does not appeal to the appetite. (double yuk)
The sights we are seeing are difficult to see. The children are left to themselves every morning as the parents go out to find food or work. There is no school here and none of the people know how to read and write. We attend a morning service where Brian talks about the Passover Seder at the request of Jeyanesan. The church is half full of Veddahs who speak the Tamil language. Seventy-three people were killed by security forces as they are considered Tamils. Jeyanesan said that they were killed for no particular reason, but just rounded up and killed.
As we have not brought all of the Passover things with us, we had to compromise on many things, such as orange juice instead of grape juice or wine, chicken bone instead of lamb bone, the “charoset” was also local. Today, though, we did not even have chicken bone, so we really had a hard time keeping our faces straight as Brian lifted up a sausage and proclaimed: “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”.
We pass Kiran and drop Rev. Anthony’s wife off there. They had been attending the service with us. Brian speaks again about the Passover at another service held at St. John’s. After another Sri Lankan meal we take a break. While four of the team walked with Jeyanesan around the lagoon, Joseph spent time with the children. They sang songs to me, I sang songs to them, they danced and then asked for a story. Niran, the son of Jeyanesan, was able to translate and this was a good opportunity. I told them of the story of Jesus and the children. I explained to them what Jesus meant by “let the children come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven”. I invited those who would like to belong to God’s Kingdom, to raise their hands. It was a day of rejoicing where about a hundred children made commitments to follow Jesus. For me, this was the highlight of the whole trip and made everything worthwhile.
We finish the evening with a time of togetherness with the children in front of the church. They sing songs and we sing songs. They dance for us and one of us dances for them. They clap for us and we clap for them. They rejoice with us and we rejoice with them. This was a very good day with so many impressions. It will take us months to process them. Keep praying for the children and us as we grow together in the powerful love of God which is expressed so strongly in Jesus’ death–a time remembered especially this Friday before Easter!
April 21st – Good Friday.
It is Good Friday and as is the custom of this day, the St. John’s Church will be reciting from the seven last things Jesus said before He died. You may think that this would be a short ceremony, but think about seven sermons; for each “word” He said one sermon. We were very happy that a few of the sentences were in English. Everything else was in Tamil. It must have been a very good time for those who understood as the things that were in English were of very good spirit. The focus was of the Suffering Lord as an example of the Suffering Believer.
After lunch we were off to Periyanilavanai. This is where the new Herman’s Girls’ Home is being built. We were very impressed with the building and the progress made so far. It really is going to be a nice place for the children. It stands in stark contrast with the surrounding village. The rest of the village looks pretty poor, so this building is going to be a tremendous blessing for the whole village. Many of the houses look similar to the Ralodai village, thought in general the village is less bad off. There is room for 25 children in this home with nice new baths, toilets, chapel/dining hall, day-care center and there is going to be a beautiful garden and playground. It is really nice already and it is going to be even nicer when it is finished.
On our way back we stopped at the place where Jeyanesan very narrowly escaped a bomb, which exploded just two seconds after he had passed. The explosion hit a police vehicle and killed eight officers. We could not take any pictures of the place. Most of the places we travel through are restricted from being filmed or photographed. This is why you will not see anything about the war that is going on over here.
We also visited a Hindu orphanage which was robbed just days before of almost 60,000 rupees (about 900 dollars). The police found the culprits and was able to relocate part of the money. We were shown the orphanage, where we saw their prayer hall with an idol and people bowing down. We also saw how people sometimes even bow down before the director of the home. He is apparently also worshipped. Their dining hall was different as they eat from bowls on the ground while sitting on planks of wood.
We shopped for socks for the children, to complete whatever necessary for the children. They will deliver the socks tomorrow. Some of the shoes were distributed today to the children. When we get the socks, the children will go on a picture.
The day ended with some time with the children and a walk along the lagoon.
April 22nd – Shabbat At Kiran.
Today we will spend the day with the children of the Kiran Girls’ Home. We take shoes, socks, pencil cases, balls and a volley ball net with us for them. The children are very happy with them. We put up the volleyball net and they immediately started playing with passion. Afterwards they played duck, duck, goose with us. They have several things going on at Kiran in addition to the Home for 44 girls, which is a forty minute drive north of St. John’s. They have a day-care center, a girls’ home, a shop with all kinds of goods and a widow’s empowerment program. They also have a church.
We are going on a trip to the beach with the children and they are very happy with that. They don’t do that very often. About twice a year. Afterwards we have a time when Gary shares the story of the Good Samaritans. We play it as a skit, where Brian is the Jew who walks to Jericho, Yulia and Shoshi are the priest and Levite, Joseph is playing the Good Samaritan with Yulia playing as donkey. Brian gets treated with water and food. To pressure the issue, the water is distributed evenly over the sick person. “That was not part of the script”, said the sick person (Brian). After that, two girls danced for us. In closing we had lunch with them and had them put on their new white socks and shoes for school for a picture.
April 23rd – Easter Sunday
We celebrated Easter last Sunday, starting with a worship procession going through the neighborhood and ending up in the St. John’s Church. The service was much fuller than last year. Rev. Jeyanesan said about 40 people have made a new commitment to Christ and about 60 have been newly confirmed; they have started attending services since Joseph’s visit last Easter. The children of the choir sang beautifully and we sang: the song “Kadosh” (“Holy” in Hebrew) to the congregation. They really liked that and Jeyanesan had us involved in handing out communion. We gave the blessing in Hebrew and Joseph preached a short sermon about faith and actions, reading from James 2, Matthew 25 and Micah 6:8 centering around the theme: “having Christ resurrected in your heart” The service was ended in fellowship with Easter buns. How odd it seems that in Israel we emphasize eating unleavened bread and here it is celebrated with (leavened) Easter buns. They were delicious.
After the fellowship time, we went off for a visit at the Boys’ Home. The boys were split up into two junior teams and two senior teams. There are 130 children in this orphanage. The girls also came to see the A-team (with Gary) defeated the B-team (with Brian). It was great fun.
In the afternoon we attended a beautiful worship service called a Bajjian. It is to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Shoshi shared with the congregation about admitting weakness in order to let the glory be God’s (II Cor. 4:5-7). The children were all dressed up with their new white shoes. How proud they were of their new shoes. We had a really great day. Jeyanesan announces that he wishes for us to open the Herman’s Girls’ Home on Tuesday. We feel very honored that we can be there to do that.
April 24th – With the children.
Early this morning the government decided to have the children go back to school. This was somewhat unexpected. At first we thought they would be off until the 28th. We decide to go on a shopping spree through Batticaloa and succeed in buying whatever shoes still needed for the children. We had a lot of fun on our way back as we loaded into two “tricycles,” motorcycles with back cars (instead of sidecars).. It was a new and interesting experience.
When we returned, the children also had returned. We decided to go to the Boys’ Home after lunch and have all kinds of activities with them. Before that though, we decided to try out our face paint on the girls first. At first they were quite shy and had to be encouraged to come out for having their faces painted. Joseph succeeded in convincing some of the children to give it a try and pretty soon we were swamped with requests for face paintings.
We drew hearts, suns, doves, flames, butterflies, flowers and all kinds of other things. It was a great success. At the Boys’ home it was also a great success. Purim works here in Batticaloa too. We also had them do a water balloon toss, which turned into a water fight, coloring and crafts about the story of the prodigal son(s). Four of us had a blast and were thankful we had organized it as much as we had, and Joseph stayed behind at the church for business purposes, but he had also some opportunities for activities such as playing Frisbee with the kids.
During our stay in Batticaloa, Brian saw a poisonous snake emerge from the veranda in front our sleeping quarters and fleeing into a hole in the garden just next to it. It was one of those uninvited guests which we had every now and then. Some of the other guests which we had were mosquitoes, huge cockroaches, flies, bugs, spiders, lizards, frogs and mole crickets. All of those in large quantities. A few of our one-time visitors, like the snake were a leech, a large green beetle, a “smak” beetle (see Shoshi’s story), and a group of green soldiers encamped on our veranda. It is a fact that as we visited only for a short while, we most likely missed a lot of other “lively” animals everywhere around. We did see a wild elephant and wild monkeys, but then, that at least was more interesting and we liked those experiences. We heard “only” three explosions and we did not experience any shoot outs between the rebels and the soldiers. We did get to see them both. Often it happened that a battle erupted soon after we passed somewhere. God walked with us.
We spent the evening discussing reconciliation between the Singhalese and Tamil Christians and language issues like who knows which languages (Singhalese, Tamil, and English) after saying good night to the orphans and seeing their communal bedrooms. Joseph spent the evening investigating the possibilities for the English lessons at St. John’s. He tested a few of the children on their comprehension and found that after five years of English lessons at school they did not know much at all. They can do some of the technical reading of easy words, but they don’t understand what they are reading at all. Simple words like “table” are still a great unknown to them.
We discussed ways of how we can improve their English. We also saw that they study various sciences and that seems adequate. Some of the talking seems to consolidate a certain plan of English lessons for the children in the afternoon. The main focus at first would be communication in English, evolving into reading and writing. The current program in their schools is more geared for adult teaching than what is appropriate for children.
April 25th – Opening a New Orphanage, A Wonderful Day!
Today we will be opening the Herman’s Girls’ Home. There is a lot of excitement about that. The morning is spent mostly on getting things ready for the barbeque this evening and some last day arrangements. Joseph gets a visit from the bank director in Batticaloa and succeeds in opening a bank account AND acquiring a check book within about an hour.
The children get back from school about 2:30 pm. There is a small bus that will take some of the children from both homes and some of the church members the new girls’ home. The ride is about an hour usually, but today it takes a little longer as the bus is too full and has a big problem with swaying from side to side. “Whoa, look at that!” is frequently heard from our van as we look behind us to see how the bus takes the bumps and curves. We can only imagine how it must be like inside the bus. It does look scary. We finally arrive at Periyanilavanai and the whole village has come out and decorated the new Girls’ Home. We are received with beautiful flower lays. The opening ceremony will be presided by Rev. Jeyanesan. Joseph cuts the ribbon and we all get inside. The place is chock full with people. Jeyanesan, Joseph, Arumay (the Project Manager) and the deputy principal of the local school give speeches. Then one of the day-care center girls gives this tremendously beautiful dance.
She is really, really amazing. She then does another dance. After that, three boys and three girls do a nice dance after which Joseph registers the first orphan. I think her name was Sundipu or something. We’ll just call her Tangachi (little sister, as Rev. Jeyanesan calls each of the girls). We finish with a tour through the orphanage and hand out pictures to many of the people. Also the Hindu priest and the deputy principal of the school receive a picture.
On our way back we stop to see the place where a bomb blew up just seconds after Jeyanesan and Bonney had passed, just before the bridge, where there is a guard post. We could not take a picture there, as this is forbidden. This was true for most sensitive areas we visited. During this trip, we did not cross the border between the army and the LTTE. This is due to the current struggle going on in the Elephant Pass in the north. Jeyanesan says that it would not be advisable to do that during this trip. He is cautious lest the both sides think that we are supporting the other camp.
We also stop at Arumay’ s house for a short visit. We listen to a song sung by his daughter. She got a gold medal in singing. She sounded like she deserved it. This evening the boys and girls are getting together for the barbeque. This is quite an undertaking to get 275 children organized for barbeque, singing and dancing. This is really one great way to say good-bye to all the children. Some of the girls were crying because we are leaving. We really hope to see them again.
Brian composed a song about our trip and here are a few lines:
Batticaloa, you have changed us, forever rearranged us and we will never be the same.
You have brought us to a new place…You will be in our hearts and minds forever…
Batticaloa, I wonder how you’ll be in 2003, part of my world or my memory.
I know you will have changed our group and our lives, Joseph, Shoshi, Yulia, Gary and me.
April 26th – Sad to say: “Good-Bye”.
Our trip back to Colombo was pretty much uneventful. In the first part, though, there was a little bit tension, as we were out before the road had been cleared by the army. As we drove, we saw them busy with it, walking from army base to army base, checking out the bushes for rebels, checking the sides of the road for explosive devices and land mines. One of them was too afraid to continue walking and just sat with his rifle pointing into the bushes. We just continued as we know we are not a target, but we do have a target and that is to reach Colombo on time for another meeting with the MP at the Hindu orphanage. It was quiet in the van, except when we met a herd of water buffalos. We were seeking to process the huge amount of impressions and emotions we all were feeling.
We got back to the hostel and had our first shower since we left for Batticaloa. After that we left to meet the MP and the human rights advocate. The MP moved from vehicle to vehicle on his way to avoid the LTTE from assassinating him. We went on ahead of him. They came after a long delay, with the principal. Joseph talked with them about starting up a web site for the orphanage. Brian talked about the possibility of Singhalese and Tamil orphans meeting together. This was discussed with the secretary of the Forum for Human Dignity in Colombo. They were very appreciative of us taking the time to meet them and visit the orphans as much as we were honored to be received by them. We think that this will be very constructive for future purposes. We gave them all a picture of us five.
Back at the hostel we met Bonney for a few minutes. He requested that we pray for him and his wife and son. We had a good time of prayer together with him. He was very thankful and appreciative of our visit. We really got to know a special person in him. He is very humble and kind. Just like Jeyanesan. They are close friends and that really is good.
After that we walked over to the Chinese Dragon for a dinner with the Bishop of the CSI. This also was a special time together. Each of us received from the bishop a Palmara wooden cross. This is a type of palm. This tree is unique in that all of its parts can be used. It can grow in difficult conditions and does not break in time of storm. We talked about many issues together and a bond was created. We had a good meal and very good fellowship.
We had to cut the evening short as we will be leaving around 3:30 for the airport.
April 27th – Return To Jerusalem.
It’s going to be a long flight with a long lay-over in Amman. We wrote a few words of thoughts in Gary’s journal and after a long time arrived in Amman. We stayed in the Alia Hotel, had lunch and were taken to the airport for the flight back to Tel Aviv where Adam and others picked up.
We want to thank all of you for your support and your prayers on our behalf. God has worked through your prayers on our behalf in a mighty way and we really appreciate all of this very much. The things we have seen, the experiences we experienced, cannot be put fully into words. It was such an amazing trip. God was there, He walked there with us.