During the month of April, the NCEASL facilitated several seminars on ‘Standing Strong Through the Storm’ for pastors, church leaders and others involved in ministry. The seminars were held in Sinhala and Tamil for a total of 395 participants from the Districts of Galle, Polonnaruwa, Mullaitivu and other selected Districts. Whilst focusing on equipping the participants on how to effectively respond to religious persecution, the seminar also included sessions on family and youth counselling. Pastor Alahakoon, a participant who is serving in Habarana for the past 18 years, said that even though he had not experienced resistance to his church and ministry by the villagers, he has gained much from this seminar. “The learnings would be a great help to my future ministry. This programme has equipped me to face persecution, to remain strong and continue my ministry.”
Pastor Ajith and his wife Shiromi travel from Halawatha, located in the North Western Province, to Polonnaruwa, in the North Central Province each week. The distance of over 200 kilometres is of no consequence to them. It does not deter them from taking this arduous journey every Thursday to minister to their flock at Sevanapitiya, Polonnaruwa. A year ago, Pastor Ajith felt the dire need to reach out to those who were discouraged and living in hopeless situations in Sevanapitiya. What started as a small cell group has now grown to a gathering of 60 persons who meet every Saturday at a believer’s house. “Due to the lack of space and a hall to meet, we still meet in small groups, where we also hold Sunday school and the women’s ministry which is mainly intercessory prayers” explained Shiromi. “After the service we head back home on Saturday in order to conduct the Sunday service for our Halawatha church at Arachchikattuwa.”
Pastor Ajith and Shiromi were from a different faith. “We both met after receiving salvation and whilst involved in ministry work” she said with a shy smile. With two teenage sons of 13 and 15 years, the pastor and his wife juggle their responsibilities as dutiful parents and as caring shepherds to their flock.
“Although we have not faced adverse persecution from the villagers of Sevanapitiya, we had some resistance and faced trials in Halawatha, but God has strengthened us through them” said Shiromi. “The SSTS teachings and the session on family counselling were very useful to us. We meet people with so many different problems. While strengthening ourselves to face the future, we are now empowered to help those in distress.”
Stella and Jayasena were also among the many couples that attended a session specially conducted for married couples titled ‘Family Life’. “I meet many people from different walks of life; mothers who are my children’s friends who attend tuition classes and mothers in the community where I live.” She explained how she gets the opportunity to counsel those whom she meets daily. “I have a small livelihood where I visit homes door to door and sell educational books for preschool to A Level students and other books pertaining to higher studies. When I visit these homes most often the women share sad stories of their family lives with me and confide in me about their personal lives even though I meet them for the first time.” Stella values her livelihood as it gives her an opportunity to counsel families. She thanked the NCEASL for giving her an opportunity to enhance her knowledge and understanding to counsel others. “Now I am better equipped to counsel those whose family lives are broken.”
Jayasena, Stella’s husband, works in the fisheries business. His job also involves working with communities. “Like my wife I too meet people from various walks of life. Today’s training has helped me to take my understanding on the subject to a higher level. Now I can counsel and help those who need my help” he said.
The SSTS programme is designed to motivate the Church to press on in times of adversity while preparing them for pressures and religious persecution.