I believe most Christians, like myself, struggle with their faith throughout their life, but especially during difficult times. In these darkest moments, I often find myself angry or confused with God and isolating myself from Him. This is usually when I remind myself of the stories my mother told me of her life, especially of her relationship with God through the Sri Lankan civil war. I find her stories and her steadfast faith in God during hardships that I cannot even imagine incredibly inspirational, and so I wanted to share pieces of her story in the hope that it will also encourage others. I’ve titled this ‘Simple Faith’ because whenever I start worrying she says “all you need is simple faith”. Her ‘simple’ faith got her through the war and kept her throughout her life, and I hope it will encourage others who are going through difficult times.
My mother grew up in Uduvil, Jaffna, which is located in the north of Sri Lanka. Her family were regular church-goers, but she only began developing a personal relationship with God in the latter years of high-school.
In 1983, as she was applying to university, the Sri Lankan civil war began, triggered by anti-Tamil riots and a Tamil terrorist group's uprising. This year, my mother remembers going to church for ‘chain-prayer’ – a 24-hour long event where people would take turns praying in church for the war to end soon. At the time, she felt sure that God would listen to their prayers and end the war, but instead, it only worsened and continued for 26 more years. I’ve often asked her whether she was ever angry at God for not listening to her prayers and for allowing so much suffering. My mother immediately replies “No. How could I be angry at God for suffering caused by human evil? The racism, fear, and greed that fueled this war was not His doing, so why would I be angry with Him?”. She reminds me instead to think of the blessings He gives in times of darkness.
“No. How could I be angry at God for suffering caused by human evil? The racism, fear, and greed that fueled this war was not His doing, so why would I be angry with Him?”.
For example, around 1986, when the war was getting more violent there was a strict all-day curfew imposed in Jaffna. Since Jaffna was the base of the terrorist organization and was mostly populated by Tamils, heavy fighting happened there in the beginning stages of the war. For the first few months, they managed to survive on dry rations and herbs from the garden, but this began to run out around three months into the curfew. My mother recounts that it was then that she truly understood and prayed intently the part of the Lord’s prayer that says “give us this day our daily bread”, as she just asked for food to survive the day. As the food situation got dire, her father, with a few of his neighborhood friends, decided to find someone who had food. Since there was a curfew, anyone seen outside their homes could be shot dead, and so they walked with a white flag, hoping it would preserve their lives. They eventually found an army commander who gave them a sack of rice to share, which they were able to bring back to their homes unharmed. These instances, she reminds me, were ways in which God listened to her and answered her prayers, and blessed her family in small ways. At the same time, throughout the following years, there would be periods of severe aerial bombing since Jaffna was practically a battlefield. My mother recounts sleeping beneath the stairs at night in case of bombings, building a bunker with her siblings, bullets whizzing into their house and barely missing them, and jumping off her bike on the way to college and running for shelter when she heard missiles. Hearing these stories now, I am filled with fear just imagining having to live constantly on the edge of death. But surprisingly, when my mother relates these to me, she doesn’t emphasize her fear, although I am sure that was present, but rather how she felt God closer to her. She tells me, “Of course I was terrified, but I just kept praying, and God helped me rely on Him and refocus my fears by reminding me that He will never leave my side.” As shells rained around her and her family, my mother found comfort in the fact that as scary as human weapons and power can be, it is nothing compared to God’s strength and his loving desire to take care of His people.
...when my mother relates these to me, she doesn’t emphasize her fear, although I am sure that was present, but rather how she felt God closer to her. She tells me, “Of course I was terrified, but I just kept praying, and God helped me rely on Him and refocus my fears by reminding me that He will never leave my side.”
My mother was admitted into the Jaffna government medical university in 1984. However, due to intense fighting and danger to students, the university was closed for 2 years from 1987 to 1989. During this time, many of her batchmates saw no future in Sri Lanka and left to study in other countries. She struggled with what she should do but felt called to remain in Sri Lanka and stayed back, trusting that God had a plan for her. A 5-year course became a 9-year course because of continuous closures and lack of teaching staff who had also left because of the war. Studying itself was anything but easy. For example, she had to wait in line for 2-3 hours for kerosene oil given in limited supply to university students since there was no electricity. My mother says that this taught her patience and forced her to keep trusting that God had a plan for her and would preserve her throughout her education so that she could use it to help others. This came true when she graduated in 1993 and was then able to use her skills as a doctor during the war, and later the tsunami, and now as a doctor at a Christian charity hospital. She says now that all that struggle to get her degree was worth it and that she can see God guiding her through it all.
I can see the effects of the war on her faith now. She is very rarely disturbed by frightening events – even during the Easter bombings in 2019, and the ongoing pandemic, she doesn’t fear for her life, but instead prays for the world’s safety and comforts those around her. I know that others had very different experiences than my mother during the war – some better, and some much worse as many lost loved ones during the war. It was terrifying and cruel, and no one should ever have to feel that fear or loss. However, through the suffering, grief, and fear that constantly surrounded her, my mother was able to find hope in God, who refused to leave her side throughout her time in Jaffna.
What I, and I hope you, learn from my mother’s story is that God is always faithful especially in times of darkness and hopelessness, even if it is not in the way we might want him to be. I find it comforting sometimes to just know that he is with me. It doesn’t make me any less angry with the people who fuel these wars or any less saddened by loss, and I don’t think God expects us to be either. All that is important is knowing that God is with us and will remain faithful to us and never leaves our side, especially when we are afraid or hurting. That itself is comforting to me, and I hope it is to you as well.
What I, and I hope you, learn from my mother’s story is that God is always faithful especially in times of darkness and hopelessness, even if it is not in the way we might want him to be
This is part 2 of 3 of Ben's reflections on belonging and the Church.
Indy and Erin share the Our Church Too Christmas letter from them to you.