We had three encounters during our holiday in Hikkaduwa that have set me thinking about what it means to be a missional disciple. These are the stories that I'll reflect on over the coming weeks.
We were on holiday, staying in a hotel that I'll blog about separately, using the pool, going out to restaurants in the evenings, doing a bit of site-seeing during the day when we could drag ourselves away from the pool and our books (I read Tim Winton's Breath - wonderful - and am halfway through Marilynne Robinson's Gilead - completely stunningly brilliant).
In the course of our idling, we met three people and began to forge a relationship with each of them that threw up for me questions about how sharing our lives is a sharing of our faith, since that's what drives the way we live.
The last guy we met is called Nimal. He runs a turtle farm and we went as punters to see what he does. There are lots of turtle farms but his was the nearest - and hence the cheapest to get to by tuk tuk.
As he showed us round, it was clear that we were in the presence of a man of vision and passion and we connected. Our conversation strayed to his family and why he runs the farm, how he's funded and whether we could keep in touch. Having exchanged emails, we left feeling we had done more than visit a tourist attraction.
Our tuk tuk driver that morning was by a strange coincidence also called Nimal. We'd met him the previous day when we'd come out of our hotel needing a trishaw to take us to the police station to report a theft (more on that later). There were lots of tuk tuk drivers vying for trade, Nimal's red trishaw was on the opposite side of the road, facing the wrong way and yet it was eye that I caught.
This quickly turned out to be a good thing since he spoke really good English. Having got us to and from the police station, we agreed to have him come in the morning to take us to a couple of attractions beyond walking distance (a temple and the turtle farm).
Again, we connected as we chatted about our lives. One question we often asked people in Hikkaduwa is whether they were around during the tsunami time and what happened to them. For Nimal the turtle farm owner, it meant the loss of significant parts of his family, though he himself was in Colombo on the fateful day.
For Nimal our tuk tuk driver, it meant anxious hours searing for his wife and her mother who'd been at the market. He says that God spared them - interesting language from a Sri Lankan Buddhist who technically doesn't believe in an interventionist God. We chatted about how he saw things, including his faith - we were standing on the shore at a Buddhist temple that has a prayer house on a tiny island about 100 metres off shore that many people were going to in a small boat.
Our conversation led to an invitation to go back to his house to meet his family and see how he's getting his life back together. Driving his tuk tuk means he's earning money that he's investing in developing his property. Now he has a house that he can rent out - he showed us round it and it's pretty decent, only lacking air conditioning. We'd seriously consider staying there next time we go - it would cost a seventh of the cost of our hotel!
As we drank tea and chatted with his daughter who's also learning English, looked round his rental property, made suggestions about how it could be more attractive to English tourists, I was aware that this was not the kind of transaction I normally have with a cab driver.
Finally, we reconnected with a seamstress called Kandy. We met her last time we were in Hikkaduwa and she was delighted to see us again. She and her husband had been injured in the tsunami and still need treatment on damaged limbs five years on. Their business was washed away and they've been building it back up ever since. We bought a few things - she insisted on giving a couple of items.
Then she invited us for tea and bananas at her home. So we went. She's living on the top floor of a rented house with virtually no furniture and no windows or doors. We chatted about business, the lack of tourists, the trauma of the tsunami time, the difficulty that the poor and ordinary people (as she called them) have faced in the years since rebuilding their lives with very little outside help.
We were invited for dinner - fish curry, rice, vegetables - and continued the conversation, listening to Kandy tell her story and share her concerns. She has a son, who we also met, who works at an outdoor pursuits centre on the lake behind Hikkaduwa, particularly teaching people to kite surf. This is a family struggling to get on, facing all the pressures that families the world over face making ends meet, staying safe, trying to improve their lot and their lifestyle.
Not once with any of these people did we tell them we were Christians, try to share the gospel with them or suggest they go to church. We spent time - all too brief - listening to them tell their stories, offer hospitality, introduce their families and even share a little of their dreams for the future.
So what's missional about all this?
I don't have any answers about this beyond the really obvious observation that you can only share what's on your heart with someone that you have made a genuine connection with. Otherwise you sound like a double glazing salesman or the purveyor of one more bright idea to file alongside all the other information flooding into people's lives. Mission begins with entering another person's world, connecting with what they think and feel and inviting them to step into your world so they have a similar experience.
The question is why we can't make similar connections with our neighbours, people we see more often than those we meet on holiday?