Over this past Christmas and New Year, a group of singles from all over the world (Australia, Singapore, the US, etc) spent their holidays in Sri Lanka, away from family, serving at a school for underprivileged children, an orphanage for boys, and a pediatric hospital for autistic children. They also greatly encouraged the local church, the Colombo Church of Christ, as you can read in this article written by David de los Santos. David and his wife Nadia are the young couple leading the church in Sri Lanka.
All around the world, 2016 was a year of the unexpected. This year marks the year where our church here in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, officially tripled in size by the hand of God, and that was certainly unexpected! We weren’t expecting an offer to host a HOPE worldwide Singles Corps right here in Sri Lanka, but we accepted it! We were humbled that Sri Lanka would be noticed and served in such an incredible way. While we were putting together all of the projects, I had no idea that this was going to be such a life-altering experience. It was an amazing feeling. One of the hit songs of 2016 was Justin Timberlake’s, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” He wrote,
“I got this feeling inside my bones
It goes electric, wavy when I turn it on
All through my city, all through my home
We're flying up, no ceiling, when we're in our zone…”
I understand that the song is about dancing, but this is how we felt while serving the children in our groups over here! It was such an incredible feeling to be serving alongside people from all over the world with a shared purpose. A genuine electric feeling could be felt in around us. I was personally moved by the sheer number of disciples that signed up to come to our relatively unknown island country of Sri Lanka. Our hopes and our expectations were exceeded by the volunteers who sacrificed their entire holiday season to just humbly serve a people that they had never met before. These brothers and sisters not only inspired the church, but the community in Colombo as well.
The first three days were spent serving in our HOPE worldwide preschool for disadvantaged children. The volunteers were building bookshelves, teaching simple lessons, painting gigantic murals, repainting fading ugly brick walls, teaching hygiene and parenting lessons. We ended our time there with a heartwarming Christmas party, and a surprise visit from Santa Claus to the children!
We got to take a break and visit a beautiful getaway beach in city called Una Wattana. We sat on the beach, talked, took pictures, and laughed for hours. Then we visited Galle and saw towering ancient walls from the kingdom forts of old Sri Lanka. We ended our trip with a fantastic meal under starlight next the ocean. It was a great reminder to us all that a great time is truly a gift from God! And on Christmas day, we had an inspiring service that was overflowing with new visitors and friends. Our room was packed! This was our biggest Christmas service yet, and it was incredibly encouraging to my wife and me.
We spent two entire days at one of the leading children's hospitals in the country, working specifically with autistic children and their parents. Some of the children’s parents travel for countless hours in order to get medicine and counseling for their children, because this hospital is one of the only places in the country where they can receive this kind of help.
I was shocked when I first walked into the room to see our volunteers, all on their own, striking up deep and meaningful conversations with every single set of Sri Lankan parents. The volunteers encouraged the parents to form a support system for themselves in order to help each other in their difficulties. I was inspired!
Many of the kids will rarely speak with strangers, but the volunteers were so excellent with children, that every single child felt compelled to speak and even play games with our group. What a miracle! The staff was of the hospital couldn’t help but be in awe of such serving hearts in the special needs wing of the hospital. It was a once in a lifetime experience for many of them. It just goes to show that a little love makes a big difference.
Our last days were spent teaching English to orphans of all ages at an orphanage in the city centre. We split up into several small groups, and taught the children basic English. This was no easy task. Sri Lankan schools teach very little English to their students, so our teaching will give them more opportunities for more jobs when they get older. The children desired to learn English and were incredibly respectful to all of our volunteers.
One of the workers at the orphanage showed me the closets for the children, and some of our volunteers offered to purchase new ones for them! I was shocked! And after that, a volunteer offered to pay to take them out to a movie, and pay for every single child’s ticket. The entire orphanage was strengthened by our actions. They said that they were lucky to have us, but I really believe that we were the lucky ones.
We ended our days with a life-changing spiritual retreat in the palm tree filled outskirts of the city. We started the retreat with three hours of solitary time with God, praying and reflecting on what we had done, and learned during our time in service to others. Then we had lessons for two days about getting out of our comfort zones, and moving forward with faith in God!
Afterwards, our new year’s party began! We started the night with prayer, a message on the cross, and a memorable communion to prepare us for the new year ahead of us, and then we danced the night away! There was an incredible amount of fun, dancing, food, and fireworks.
We had an amazing time. It’s ironic that most people wait all year to go on vacations and shopping sprees that ultimately disappoint them, when our volunteers spent their holiday season serving others, and they had the time of their lives! During our time, I was reminded of when Paul said to the Galatian church in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
You wouldn’t expect a small group of strangers to sacrifice their holiday season in order to serve other strangers in an unnoticed corner of the earth, but I guess that fits in with 2016’s theme of the unexpected doesn't it? So heading into 2017, I will remember this: If you accept unexpected opportunities with a godly attitude, it will change your life.
Check out our list of sites for 2017! Our theme is “Go and Do Likewise!” as we strive to become more like Jesus: https://www.hopeww.org/hsc