Gary and Marlene Van Brocklin (PCUSA) - February 2016 Update

Sri Lanka

Dear friends, 

In 2015, we have had the joy of returning to the classroom! We taught courses at Colombo Theological Seminary in Cultural Anthropology and Contextual Evangelism. In the process we learned how the Sri Lankan culture has welcomed holidays from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths into their calendar. For instance, a major Buddhist holiday, Vesak, celebrates the life of Gautama Buddha and huge murals are constructed to depict different events in Buddha’s life. Some Christian churches have connected the theme of light that is featured during Vesak with the Gospel theme of Jesus the Light of the World and have illuminated the outside of their churches including prominent crosses on their buildings. It is surprising to see Muslim shopkeepers put on elegant displays of Christmas lights, and you can even hear Christmas carols being sung as you bargain for a pair of shoes from India or an embroidered blouse from Pakistan. Once again, Christian churches are richly decorated with colored lights and we celebrate the Christmas theme by giving small gifts to our faithful tuk tuk drivers and local shopkeepers. Everyone in Sri Lanka seems to enjoy their holidays!

In our current class on contextual evangelism, we are using sources by two Sri Lankan authors as well a few by one of our heroes, Lesslie Newbigin, who served for forty years in India. On one of my trips to Tamil Nadu I (Marlene) visited a village church which Bishop Newbigin had consecrated fifty years ago. One of the elders of the congregation recounted the content of the sermon which this wise man had preached! In his book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Newbigin points out, “the pluralistic situation the church is now in has been faced before; the first century was such a religiously plural world.” He continues, “We must commend this gospel to all people in all circumstances as the ultimate clue to the whole human story and therefore to every human story – this can never be unnecessary, never irrelevant. Human beings only exist as members of communities which share a common language, customs, etc., and if the gospel is to be understood it has to be communicated in the language of those to whom it is addressed and must be clothed in symbols which are meaningful to them.” Our goal in these classes is to urge the students to find culturally relevant ways to communicate the Good News that we have to share. One young man in the class is exploring ways to use drama in his work with drug-affected youth. 

We are eager to hear of how this evangelistic strategy will be received. Many youth fill Christian churches here, and we are glad to make a contribution to this new generation of believers through our classes. One of the best examples that we have seen of a contextual evangelism strategy is the chapel of Trinity College in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The architecture of the chapel is a fabulous display of fine Sri Lankan woodcarving, and the Gospel murals are done by a famous local painter who used Sri Lankan people to tell the story of the Good Samaritan and the Last Supper. We make it a point to visit the chapel every time we are in Kandy and never tire of admiring its genius. Come see it for yourself; our cousin did! Two national elections here during 2015 have ushered in more democratic policies and political figures. There is a renewed sense of hope as this new administration offers more freedom and justice after almost thirty years of civil war and several years of an oppressive government. It is a hopeful chapter in Sri Lanka’s history, and 2016 promises new opportunities for the Peace of Christ to shine on Sri Lanka. 

As we finish our second year in South Asia, we are proud to give witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ and hope that you too find joy in this global partnership. We truly sense your love and support for our work and are very thankful to you for giving us the opportunity to connect with fine groups such as the Colombo Theological Seminary and the Church of South India. May the Peace of Christ inspire and sustain you. 

Grateful for your support,

Gary and Marlene Van Brocklin

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