THE EMMANUEL TAMIL ANNUAL CONFERENCE (ETAC) Board on Missions organised its first youth mission trip to Jaffna, Sri Lanka, this year. A team of 12 youths and five adults embarked on the trip, which began on March 17 and spanned 10 days.
Having undergone intensive training in the weeks leading up to the trip, the youths were filled with excitement in wanting to make a difference by addressing the humanitarian, emotional and spiritual needs of a country impacted by more than 30 years of civil war.
Within hours of arriving in Jaffna, the mission trippers conducted a full-day vacation Bible school for more than 130 village children. To overcome one of their biggest challenges – the language barrier – the youths had run through their lesson plans in Tamil thoroughly before the trip. Amidst other challenges like an unfamiliar culture, a larger-than-expected turnout, and the scorching sun, the youths managed to engage the children well throughout the day.
To expend the youths’ high levels of energy, an afternoon was spent repainting the facilities of an old pre-school at Allaipiddy Methodist Church. Hours were spent sandpapering and repainting the walls and playground equipment to brighten up the area and help increase enrolment at the school.
Two days were spent teaching English to about 70 children at two villages – Allaipiddy and Tholpuram. The mission trippers were encouraged by the eagerness of the children to learn. Friendships were forged over the short time spent teaching.
One of the most memorable programmes for many of the trippers was food distribution at a refugee camp. Having never seen houses made of tin foil and canvas, the youths were moved by the living conditions of those displaced by the war, even two years after it ended.
A short sharing was conducted before the youths visited the homes of the refugees, encouraging and praying for them. The mission trippers left the camp having been touched by the rich hospitality of a group of people with hardly anything to call their own. Following our visit, local church leaders have begun a weekly service at the camp.
Arrangements were also made to conduct an open-air evangelistic rally where the youths put up a drama depicting the eternal consequences of the many decisions made in life. Attracting more than 300 villagers through the use of music, drama, and the preaching of the Rev R. Prabhu, the District Superintendent of ETAC, the rally saw almost 40 people accepting the Lord.
Armed with generous donations from ETAC churches, the team was able to contribute to many needs, including annual salaries for pre-school teachers, stationery for a village school, funding for a children’s club and a youth club, food items
for close to 100 refugee families, funding for the much-needed refurbishment of two pre-schools, and the replacement of a bee-infested door at a pre-school!
The mission trip, a first for most, taught the youths many things. It was eye-opening to experience the vastly different living conditions of a war-torn area just five hours away from Singapore. The youths realised that it was indeed much more blessed to give than to receive, and with so many needs around the world, they should be focusing their energies and doing their part to help fulfil them. They learnt that a little help can go a long way.
At the end of the 10-day trip, the youths returned to Singapore with a new-found perspective of life, and a shared burden of wanting to do something sustainable for the people of Jaffna. It was a meaningful trip, and the first of many to come.
Anna Asirpatham is a member of the Tamil Methodist Church, Short Street.