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Tsunami strengthens Auckland-Sri Lanka ties

The presence of a Sri Lankan community in Auckland enabled local Methodists to make a direct contribution to the relief effort in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Henderson Methodist minister Rev Prince Devanandan helped church people channel food, clothing, and medical supplies to air shipments organised in the days immediately following the tragedy.

Prince says the Auckland-based United Sri Lanka Association organised the shipments of relief supplies. Initially material went to the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in Otahuhu where volunteers stacked it on pallets and packed it into a container Singapore Airlines transported to Sri Lanka. Additional material went to a Sri Lankan Elim Church in Botany Downs and was shipped by sea.

“Among the groups that contributed to the first batch were churches in Mt Albert, Takapuna, and Remuera. Trinity Theological Colleges, Te Rau Kahikatea, St Johns Theological College and Methodist Mission Northern also contributed,” Prince says.

Trinity College principal Rev Mary Caygill says she contacted friends and colleagues to get donated food and clothing, which was initially collected at the Mission. Mary was also put in contact with a Mt Albert parishioner who is a doctor and was able to get donations of medicine from drug companies.

“Trinity College also made a financial contribution to the Theological College of Lanka, which cancelled its classes and sent its students into the community to work with those affected by tsumai,” Mary says.

Theological College of Lanka (TCL) is in Kandy. While Kandy was not affected by the disaster, some of its students were. The tsunami struck when the students were on Christmas vacation and the college management decided to postpone lectures by a month so students could join in the relief effort and ‘do theology’.

The theology students were divided into seven teams. Five went into communities, the sixth joined the relief efforts of the Christian Theological Seminary in Jaffna, and the seventh remained at TCL to coordinate the work of the teams.

Students set out to identify the needs of the people and the team at the college then strove to supply the things that would meet those needs. All the groups were given basic medical kits, essentials and some money for food and travelling as they move to the affected areas.

The students returned to TCL after living and working among refugees for about three weeks. They had two days of reporting and reflection and then returned to their assigned areas.

TLC principal Albert Jebanesan says the students’ stories were shocking and dreadful. Some raised issues about the role of the Church among the affected people. Others had to cope with people who shouted, scolded and rebuked God in their anguish. “We cannot preach or talk theology only, sit with people and identify ourselves with their grief and suffering,” he says.

All the students who worked with refugees expressed their willingness to continue the work for a longer period and requested the College to let them do so.