Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sri Lanka reflections (part 1)

Well, life's been busy since getting back from Sri Lanka. Here's the first of my reflections on our trip.

Part of the reason for going was to teach a course at the Lanka Bible College. Its main campus is beautifully situated just outside the city of Kandy. So the climate's better than Colombo - not as humid. The campus itself is very well designed with a series of buildings clinging to the hillside. The lecture rooms and study areas are excellent and the library is improving - though it lacks the resources to keep pace with the plethora of good theology and biblical studies coming out.

I had 25 students in my BTh group. The degree course is taught in English and all the reading is in English. It's clear that some students struggled with this. For many English is their third language - after Tamil and singala. We mitigated the language problem by producing my lectures - which I'd fortunately written out pretty fully - as notes at the end of each day. I also guaranteed that the exam would be based solely on the notes. I shall be marking that week, so we'll see how people got on.

The students themselves were a fascinating cross-section of people - some well into retirement doing the course out of interest and to make themselves more useful to their churches; others young men and women who held down demanding ministries, often involving quite extensive travel in some difficult places.

Christians make up about 7% of the population of Sri Lanka - about the same proportion as Muslims. The majority of the population is Buddhist. There is a fair amount of low-level harassment of churches - burnings and ministers being beaten up - and there are parliamentary moves to outlaw conversion.

So the students tackling the social history of the New Testament - looking at such things as the influence of emperor worship on the religious environment of the first century, the size of congregations and where they met and the social position of the early believers - were doing so in a context that a number of similarities with the first century. We had some interesting conversations about those connections.

The college is trying to raise the standard of education among Sri Lanka's ministers, seeking to equip them to face the demands of ministry in a changing world. For the most part it does an excellent job and deserves the support and prayers of those in the more fortunate West.

In particular, it needs two things. Firstly, people willing to teach courses as visiting lecturers. As one who's done it, I can say it's a richly rewarding experience and I'm looking forward to going back and doing it again. Secondly, they need resources - books for the library in English and the material and money to translate good English material into Tamil and Singala. The college has its own publishing arm and is able to produce good resources in the local languages with the right levels of support.

It's a good work - do pray for them.

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