It Happened In Rotatona, Sri Lanka
January 1, 2004

C. R. Oliver


January 1, 2004

It Happened In Rotatona, Sri Lanka

This will not only be a concise account about ministry in Sri Lanka, but will be a tribute to the life of the Rev. Stephen Welagadera and his wife, Mabel. These native Sri Lanka pastors dedicated their lives to assisting others, spreading the Gospel and establishing 55 schools and elderly homes in their island nation. Tragically, during a time of sweeping political change, their schools were taken over by the government and turned to secular educational facilities. It broke the heart of Stephen and Mabel as they were up in years when these events took place. Now to the story...

The Lord instructed Stephen Welagadera to board a bus and travel a short distance back to Matale, the old provincial capital of Sri Lanka. (Matale is often pictured as the place where they decorate the elephants and parade them in their bejeweled splendor. Their religion is predominately Hindu and Buddhist [Singalese] and there is a constant battle in Northern Sri Lanka with the Tamel Tigers, an Islamic terrorist group wishing to literally tear off a portion of that paradise island and bring it under their rule. [They are primarily comprised of illegal immigrants coming through the small strait separating India and this republic.] Matale is inland a good way from the current capital of Columbo. Its historic landscapes and wonderfully friendly people, belie the volatility incumbent to its populace. Poverty and ignorance are familiar scenes. [Sri Lanka, when I was there, had native villages where people were very primitive, even to the point of wearing no clothing.] Amid all these factors and interwoven facets, complex issues were constantly before Stephen and Mabel, who depended solely upon hearing from God for their livelihood and that of their mammoth undertakings.)

Upon boarding, Stephen felt strangely drawn to sit beside a certain gentleman—although there were other seats available. They engaged in conversation and, as was the custom of the missionary, he began a witness to him about Jesus. Before the bus arrived at Matale, the man from Rotatona had given his life and heart to Jesus. They departed after exchanging postal data—after all, Stephen always proffered opportunity for future contact (something unheard of these days).

Little did I realize, when assigned by International Committee to minister in the church at Matale, that the following events would be a part of that work. Late, the first Sunday afternoon, a barefoot traveler arrived at the church office. He had been running most of the day; his hair and clothes were dusty. His message was so important to him that before he would accept our hospitalities...he had to deliver it. Would we come to Rotatona on Tuesday? He explained that the man Stephen witnessed to had returned to his village as a new Christian and could not wait until all his friends and relatives could know about his new found Jesus. As he rested from his journey, the Lord gave him a vision. He was to sell his small business, purchase a parcel of land on a mountain side next to his town. He then saw missionaries preaching to the entire village from the large front porch of his dwelling. He also saw, in this vision, 32 people assembled with the missionaries-- receiving instruction on how to receive Jesus, just as Welagadera had instructed him.

The messenger would not rest until we gave an answer: Yes, we would change the schedule for a Tuesday night meeting at the church and change the master program for the rest of the week to accommodate his appeal. He rested briefly, took nourishment and departed to give the news to his benefactor.

As the sun peaked through jungle terrain, our group was well on its way to Rotatona. Stephen hired a car to go as far as the road went and had sent word to those manning a ferry-like crossing the approximate time of our arrival. The road became impassable with deep ruts, rocks, fallen tree trunks and other debris. Our shoes carried us to baptisms of dust and water. After crossing innumerable rice patties, we arrived shortly after noon at the ferry crossing. Elephants were chained by their head pieces to a cable stretched across a swift moving water. We were to mount them and direct them with our feet behind each ear. (If we wished a trek to the right, we pushed the left ear.) These animals were magnificent as they stepped into the water and swam across that divide. Midway, they hesitated just long enough to fill their trunks and spray their riders with refreshing baths of water, irrespective of our being fully clothed. The other side of the ford brought more rice patties and a brief stop over at a wayside home. Although our group was perspiring from the humid heat, the elderly host was shivering under the sway of malaria. We prayed for him, but his Hindu religion kept him from accepting our love.

If all this were not enough surprise, what awaited a few miles down the road would intensify our recollection of the trip. Meeting us at the edge of town was a large cortège of curious adults and children. With a formal greeting from some of the townsmen sent by the new convert, we were also greeted with a fully ensconced witch doctor (a spirit man). He was decked with clanking silver ornaments on his waist, legs and arms. As he jumped, gyrated, whirled and contorted, his mission was plain—he was to drive away the evil spirits from before us. One is never quite ready for the greetings one receives in foreign lands. He did lead the way through town where our parade grew in number, adding children by the dozens. They were anxious to see Americans. We concluded that few ever ventured that deeply into the land of the forest people (the little people, invisible to the unobservant, who were practiced nocturnals traveling in darkness through the jungle with blow guns strapped to them). Although the villagers were not that primitive, we were obliged to give way to a local log hauler in the final stage of our journey to the merchant's home. (The local hauler had a huge Indian Elephant dragging two monstrous mahogany trees, one on each side.)

It was approximately 3:15pm. The lush greenery spreading across adjacent tea plantations was a constant refreshment to our eyes. Greetings ensued upon our arrival, as we were ushered to the rear of the house to be served tea and cookies. The shortbread cookies looked inviting until I noticed a small ant depart from his mini-domain. Deciding that the best behavior on my part would be drink some more tea, it became evident I was the only one who had not received a cookie. I took one, drank more tea while inspecting the ant equation. I dropped the cookie twice on the small saucer of my tea cup—two more little intruders emerged and departed. Subsequent dropping failed to produce any more of the little creatures, and I proceeded to enjoy what the Lord had provided. (All this occurred while listening to a local language interpreter about the conversion experience of my host and his subsequent vision and obedience to the Spirit. (It occurs to me that simple obedience without so much interruptive "training" might be applicable to converts here as well.)

As I enjoyed my tea and cookie, a drum beat began emanating from the front lawn area. Peering through a window which was to my right, I saw three elderly ladies seated around what I knew in my Southern upbringing as a "wash pot." The large black metal pot had water in it, a fire beneath it and an elephant skin stretched across the entire top. The skin was tightly stretched by pegs punched into the ground at several locations and turned for sound differentiation. The rhythmic drumming was calling in a way no voice could, to an unseen audience to an important assembly (many of whom did not know the purpose, but the alarm had been sounded nonetheless).

If one could estimate the number of respondents, 400-500 would be the range of attendees. They assembled under the trees and were impervious to the large rain clouds which gathered. We were taken to the front porch, leaving our ant cookies to new foragers.

Approximate time: 4 pm.
As Carlos Gruber, my partner, fellow missionary evangelist ( par excellance) and violinist began to play a medley of Christian Songs, he was joined by a chorus of joyous children, whom he taught-- Jesus loves me. We were informed no one aside from our host was a believer---the entire village was Hindu. No evangelism had ever taken place there...this was a first. My brain was active with thoughts of where to start...for those who knew no Bible, never having known the Christian traditions, presented a challenge beyond man's capabilities. My belief that the word of God under the power of the Holy Spirit can supernaturally transform any living soul into a believer was on the line. The Spirit quickened Acts 17 to my heart. I knew this was IT. The gospel was presented to them in the same manner as Paul spoke to those on Mars Hill. I knew they worshipped upward of 700 deities in their religious community. Proclaiming that the "unknown" God had sent me 18,500 miles to deliver them a message called upon every once of anointing upon my life. I ended with an appeal to join Carlos and me on the porch if they were willing to abandon their lifelong religion and embrace the Son of the Living God as theirs. I explained to them that they were like the Grecians were to Paul. They had basically three choices: they could accept the Word presented as the true witness; they could walk away in disbelief; they could opt to wait and gain further knowledge. I further explained there would be no "other" day because ours was a one day venture. I appealed to the inner man and to let the voice of God speak to them. (During the message, it had begun to rain—I rebuked it—it stopped. This made a marked impression on the crowd. The rain did not begin again until after the meeting.)

Thirty-two people came forward and joined us on the porch of this young believer. They were the ones we spent time with as Stephen Welagadera addressed in impassioned "quick teaching" about their choice of making Jesus their Lord, not Krishna. Weeping, tears of repentance, joyous awakening proceeded through this group. THEN, we walked in a light rain to the acreage on the hillside to dedicate it to the Lord and ask Him to help build a place to worship. That was the most heart rending journey a missionary evangelist could have taken. Tears flowed down my eyes as I took the hands of those in the circle of dedication and listened as new Christians prayed! (The dalliance of modern urban Christianity stands in judgment to these children of God!)

Today, a church stands in Rotatona because a young believer did what God instructed him to do. It took no mission offering, it required no board approval to establish a first-century church. No ordained clergy, no interruptive council, NONE of the artifacts of pagan religious authority was needed to accomplish the work of the Lord. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet...

It happened in Rotatona. It will happen again when the only thing important in the lives of those who serve Him is to serve Him.

Until Next month,

Dr. Cosby R. Oliver, PhD.


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