Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just like a Friday night in Bromley

The Hikkaduwa beach festival - the second since the tsunami - happened while we were staying at the Supercorals. As a result our hotel, which was deserted when we arrived, filled up with two Sri Lankan families and a host of young people from Colombo.

Two particular memories linger about the festivities.

The first was that on the Friday evening, as we were walking through the town on our way to a restaurant, we saw large numbers of heavily armed paramilitary police, some toting Uzi machine pistols, others with AK47s. You have to wonder what kind of trouble they were expecting!

When we saw the chief of police the following morning, he said that there'd been very little trouble, 'just lots of teenagers being naughty,' he observed. 'mainly drunk and disorderly.' It sounded like Bromley on a Friday night.

The second was the behaviour of the young people staying in our hotel. In common with young people the world over, it seems, a good time is equated with heavy drinking. The haul of bottles removed by cleaners of the rooms after the weekend would have kept a medium-sized recycling plant in business for a month. The drink of choice appeared to be vodka with a variety of mixers but there was also a brewery's worth of beer bottles and a fair haul of empty wine bottles.

Linda observed that she felt like she'd woken up in the middle of a Club 18-30 holiday - incessant noise, doors banging all night!

Alcohol is a problem on the island, like it is everywhere. The Government looks forward to the day when liquor along with cigarettes is a thing of the past. But that is a long way off. It isn't only well-healed young people getting tanked up for a weekend of partying; the poor are also prone to drink. Many of the fathers of the kids at the Hanbamtota project had problems with alcohol - a way of numbing the pain of unemployment and crushing poverty.

Often we risk having an idealised picture of the places we visit. Sri Lanka is a needy country because of poverty and natural disaster but it's needs are exacerbated by human sin and greed, fecklessness, poor government and oppressive religion that makes huge demands on the poor but offers precious little grace.

It's why the country needs a strong church that has grasped what it means to be missional communities, living for and sharing the good news about Jesus at all levels of society. It's why I'll continue to pray for my students at LBC, for the pastors I've met and worked with and the believers struggling to embody Kingdom values in their everyday lives. In fact, I'm praying for them exactly what I'm praying for myself and believers in the UK.

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