a pilgrimage

When we planned a week's holiday on Sri Lanka's southern coast, my mind was focused on one thing. Not the beaches. Not the surf. Not the tea. Not the parks. Not the yoga. Not the Buddha statues. Not the snorkeling. Not the coral. Just one thing. The tsunami.

Upwards of 40,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives on the 26th December 2004. As I made quiet enquiries about places to go which might keep the memory alive, I sensed a reluctance to remember - and that is understandable. However, eventually, we made our way 40 minutes back up the road towards Colombo from Galle. Between the road and the beach, there is a memorial to those who lost their lives. It features a huge mural.

Draw near and the images are stark. This is the place where the wall of water rushed from the ocean across the land and wiped out a train, flinging carriages 200 meters from the tracks. 1200 people died - and nine people survived. As you'd expect, the train features heavily in the mural - as do bodies hanging out of its windows as well as thrown into trees.

... with this one taken from the internet

About 100 meters up on the other side of the road is a Tsunami Museum. A simple building with a straightforward educational purpose, pitched at future generations of school children.

Only photos and posters inside. Nothing interactive. No photography allowed, but I can tell you that one entire wall - sensitively placed behind a curtain, with all the children coming through the museum - is given to photos of death and destruction. Like this one (from the internet). Without them it is too easy for the tragedy to become a cold statistic, rather than rushing into the heart and flinging it in different directions.

The poignancy of the visit lies with the artwork of children trying to describe and interpret what happened. You can see it displayed on the verandah in the photo above, behind glass (making photos without reflections difficult!).

Tsunami footage helps me understand the force of the waves - but I've struggled to imagine the height of the waves. You hear talk of 6 metres, or even 10 metres. Really? That is very high. The video does not seem to agree. But I guess it is hard for cameras to get those pictures, as they need to remain distant, high - and safe. This photo helped me. Not sure whether it is authentic, or just a clip from a movie - but it does convey something of what I've heard (and read) described.

"So, Paul, why the title, 'a pilgrimage'?"

As I've posted on various occasions (here and here, for example), I look back on my life and consider the Boxing Day tsunami to be a turning point - and it was the Sri Lankan context that captured me especially. From the moment I walked back home from the petrol station in Auckland with a newspaper screaming 'tsunami' at me, God began taking me into a far deeper sensitivity to the needs of the wider world. For the next 2-3 weeks, in the early hours, up in my little closet of a study, I found myself weeping uncontrollably. My heart had been broken. I began pleading with God to draw me closer to these needs ...

God answered those prayers.

Just over six years later I found myself waking up in an airport hotel in Colombo (Sri Lanka). 23 February 2011. I turned on the TV. Every news channel was covering the Christchurch earthquake. A week of training beckoned. I don't remember much of the training, but I do remember the people of tsunami-devastated Sri Lanka pouring out their hearts - passionately, unitedly, repeatedly - in prayer for the people of Christchurch and my New Zealand. Given their recent story, it seemed such a generous and gracious thing to do. It touched me. It really did. 'How do a people who have lost 40,000 summon so much compassion for a people who have lost 200?' 'Would my people do the same if the tragedies and the numbers were reversed?'

My own growing conviction - at the core of this renewed call to global mission in my life - is that the New Testament metaphors of the local church (body, family, household, building etc) and the solidarity to which they point need to be experienced globally as well ... ... well, it was happening in front of my eyes. They were showing me what it looks like.

So yes, for me, a pilgrimage is exactly what this visit was about...

nice chatting



Paul Fletcher said…
Great reflection.
Paul said…
Thanks, Paul.
I could live over there - how about you? :)

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