For 26 years, the beautiful island of Sri Lanka has been torn apart by brutal ethnic conflict that has claimed approximately 100,000 lives. Although the war ended in 2009, the deep physical, emotional and psychological wounds from the war still linger in the people.
Consequently, the war left behind about 40,000 widows in the north. Their husbands died tragically, either trying to flee from aerial shelling, or fighting against the government forces for the liberation of the north.
After years of working among the Dalits in India, my wife Janet and I sensed the call of God to change our focus in missions from India to Sri Lanka. I was born in Sri Lanka and had spent the first 20 years of my life there. Fifteen months ago, we made an exploratory trip to Sri Lanka and spoke with several local Christian leaders about the spiritual needs of the country.
It became obvious to us that the plight of the war widows in the north of Sri Lanka needed desperate attention. Their struggle for basic daily necessities, their vulnerability in a male dominated culture and their silent cry for acceptance moved us to serve them, and we hope to provide them with hope and dignity. After all, even God instructs us in the scripture to have a compassionate heart by looking after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27).
As we met with several widows, most of them belonging to the Hindu religion, in the villages, they expressed their sorrows and heartaches. We heard their pain and prayed for them.
By connecting us with amazing local pastors, God opened the door for us to help 15 widows through sustainable projects, of which we have now completed five. We helped one of the widows to obtain a cow. By selling its milk, she has the means to take care of her two mentally challenged sisters as well as her children, who are all living under the same roof.
Another widow, who lost six of her sons in the war, lived in a crumbling, snake-infested shed, with rainwater constantly leaking through its roof. We have temporarily made the structure more liveable for her.
A third widow received a sewing machine on which she is able to sew school uniforms for a living.
In this region, there is a great need for safe drinking water. Our most recent project is to construct a “tube well” in a small church compound so that women who carry heavy buckets of water do not have to walk such a long distance back to their homes.
Our ultimate goal is that these widows will achieve self-sufficiency, but also seek the “Living Water”, thereby quenching their thirst forever.
The Rev George Barathan is a retired ETAC Elder. He and his wife, Janet, are currently serving with Operation Mobilisation (OM) Canada with a focus on Sri Lanka.
Photos courtesy of the Rev George Barathan