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Bob Porter visits Sri Lanka where he was educational missionary

Streets are now busy with traffic, ruins are rebuilt, rail lines are restored, and efforts continue to document human rights abuses during the civil war that raged during most of Bob Porter’s time as an education missionary in Sri Lanka.

bob porter

Bob Porter at the Uduvil Girls College in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.  Photo courtesy of Bob Porter

In February 2014, 17 years since serving there with the United Church Board of World Ministries, he returned to visit Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ School, where he taught English, plus some classes in German and French, and led the choir and directed student dramas from 1981 to 1998.

Jaffna College is a private school started by American missionaries in 1823 in Vaddukoddai six miles outside of Jaffna. Uduvil Girls’ School, a private school founded in 1816 by the American Ceylon Mission in Jaffna, today offers grades one to 13. Both train teachers.

Bob visited former students, colleagues and friends. At Jaffna College, he also met staff and current students.

The trip came about when Bob met Dr. Mayuran (Mayo) while he studied forensics at Harborview in Seattle.  His wife Dr. Sriklakshi studied radiology in Chapel Hill, N.C.  They invited him to stay in their home near Jaffna Hospital.

Bob, a member of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Seattle, lives at Hilltop House behind Harborview.

In 2014, he was there for the 190th anniversary of Uduvil Girls’ School early in his visit.

“This college was often the scene of multi-college Christmas programs, for which I directed English music,” said Bob.

Staying in a neighborhood near Jaffna Hospital, he found much had changed from the ruined city he left in 1998.

“When I was in Sri Lanka, there was a civil war between the Buddhist majority government and the predominantly Hindu Tamil Tigers.  There were other freedom fighters, too,” he said.  “In 2009, the government slaughtered Tamil Tigers on the East Coast.  The army took over the land.”

Because of the war, no gas, hospital supplies, oil or other resources reached Jaffna in the North.  Bob rode a bicycle the whole time.  The power was off for 10 years.  There was no refrigeration.  They couldn’t use oil stoves.  Because he was single, he was able to endure the inconveniences and stay there.

In 2014, streets were “jammed with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, three wheelers and stray dogs, a new hazard,” said Bob.  “For Buddhists, dogs are like cows are for Hindus, so they are not chained.”

A rail line is completed to the North Coast, and there’s an air-conditioned train to Colombo, the capital.

A friend of Mayo asked Bob and Mayo to dedicate a new school he financed in the Vanni, an area once heavily fought over. They drove back on a new bridge over the Jaffna Lagoon.  When Bob was there, the lagoon had to be crossed illegally in small boats, because the army occupied the only access.

Other trips included a half-day’s drive to Batticaloa on the Southeast Coast where he had a reunion with Dr. Ambalavanar, wife of the previous bishop.  Bob learned that her son Darshan’s wife Marilyn is volunteering to photograph and preserve documents of the many human rights abuses prevalent in the area during the war.

The final week he spent in Colombo.  From there he went by train to Kandy, where he visited a friend, Innocent Ratwatte.  She showed him photos of the Anglican Church’s relief work on the East Coast after the destructive 2004 tsunami.

Back in Jaffna, he visited a former student, Vasuki Rajasingham, and her father, the former vice principal of Jaffna College. They gave him the program from the 25th anniversary remembrance of her sister, Rajani Thiranagama, in September 2014.

“The government attempted to suppress that event by canceling the use of both the library and the university, where she had been the anatomy professor,” Bob said. “The Methodists provided a hall.”

Bob was there in 1989 when Tamil Tigers shot and killed Rajani for her work on human rights abuses by the Tigers, the army and the Indian Peace Keeping Force.

During his time there, he informed the UCC about human rights abuses.

“There were plenty of bad incidents.  The poor were badly abused by the war and the Tigers,” he said.  “I knew the elite in the university system. Some were part of the problem, and some tried to help.”

Rajani’s book, “The Broken Palmyrah,” was published at that time by a brother of a Jaffna University professor who taught at Harvey Mudd College in California.

In Colombo, Bob found a copy of his Dutch friend Ben Bavinck’s volume on the war years.  “Of Tamils and Tigers” filled in many facts he had not known at the time.

Bob now also has a copy of Rajan Hoole’s account of the problems of Tamil people, the growth of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and Rajani’s role at the university, work on human rights abuses and support of women affected by the war.

Hoole’s book, “The Fallen Palmyrah: From Rajani to War’s End,” is an account of the destruction of the Tigers in 2009 and continuing problems of restitution and resettlement.

“People in the North complain that soldiers are everywhere and, although it’s a Hindu area, Buddhist temples are being built, even in the old Vaddukoddai post office,” Bob said.

Bob has served on the PNC/Disciples NW Region joint Global Ministries Committee.  As part of PNC partnerships, he went to Germany and taught English in Seoul.

For information, call 206-706-5693 or email



Copyright © November-December 2015 Pacific Northwest Conference UCC News


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