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Methodists to assist fishing societies in Sri Lanka

 


Methodists to assist fishing societies in Sri Lanka

March 18, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS)—Methodists are working with fishing societies in Sri Lanka to help those whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Dec. 26 tsunami.

The collaborative effort, funded at $100,000, is between the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, according to the Rev. Kristin Sachen, UMCOR’s head of disaster response.

"The church, through its network, has identified 16 villages that basically have been destroyed," she said.

A pastor who has a good rapport with those villagers has organized them into fishing societies, which are legal entities, she explained. The money will be used to help the societies purchase boats, nets and other equipment for their work.

"They (villagers) were all clear that they wanted their livelihoods restored even before their homes were restored," Sachen said.

As of mid-March, United Methodists had contributed more than $15 million to assist people in South Asian countries affected by the tsunami.

UMCOR is allocating another $100,000 to the Methodist Church there to build its "capacity to be involved in long-term work" by training staff and securing equipment. One purchase will be a four-wheel drive vehicle "to get to places that are accessible now only by motorbike," she said.

David Sadoo, field staff for UMCOR’s emergency services, has been stationed as a liaison in Sri Lanka since early February and has helped put the projects together.

Sachen said the progress made by the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka with tsunami relief has been remarkable, given the size of the denomination. "They are small but mighty," she noted.

"They talk about being a minority church of a minority faith. And yet their attitude, their openness, their sacrificial response has been tremendous."

Missionaries arrived in Sri Lanka in 1814, and the oldest Methodist church in Asia can be found in Colombo, the capital. The Sri Lankan church, which became autonomous in 1964, consists of three districts and 32 circuits, serving a community of roughly 28,000.

At one time, Methodists managed more than 120 schools, which were later taken over by the government. The current educational focus is on preschool education, particularly for poor children. The church also manages two colleges. Since the tsunami struck, Methodist Central College in Batticaloa has served as a refugee camp for nearby villagers. Camps were set up in churches and other buildings as well.

In his report for the World Methodist Council handbook, the Rev. Duleep R. Fernando noted the Sri Lankan church’s commitment to peace in the midst of that country’s civil conflict over the past two decades.

"The peace and reconciliation committee of the church is involved in a peace education program to educate youth to understand the need for multi-ethnic co-existence," he wrote. "Exchange programs for young people belonging to different ethic communities are being organized as a contribution to peace education. It (the church) has tried to mediate between the conflicting parties in the war and has urged them to take steps towards a negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis."

Donations for UMCOR’s tsunami relief efforts can be placed in local church offering plates or sent directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Designate checks for UMCOR Advance No. 274305 and "South Asia Emergency." Credit card donations can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org or by calling (800) 554-8583.

The National Council of Churches has a Good Friday-Easter bulletin insert available on its Web site to coincide with the three-month anniversary of the tsunami. The insert complements the council’s guidelines for churches—prepared by Shanta Premawardhana, the council’s director of interfaith relations

Those guidelines, titled "Listening to, Learning from and Living into Asia’s Pain," were prepared in consultation with ecumenical leaders in Sri Lanka and Indonesia and informed by Premawardhana’s own experiences as a native of Sri Lanka.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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