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Couple will share with PNC churches about life in Sri Lanka         

Gary Loyd and Mary Olney-Loyd have returned from volunteering through Global Ministries in northern Sri Lanka, teaching conversational English.  They are ready share with UCC and Disciples of Christ (DOC) churches in the region to tell them about the global partners they served.

Mary Olney Loyd and Gary Loyd, right, with a Sri Lankan woman and her two sons. Photos courtesy of Mary Olney Loyd

“Global Ministries, the UCC’s world mission unit with the DOC, works with our partner, Churches of American Ceylon Mission,” said Mary. “Beginning in 1816, our ancestors in faith sent missionaries to Ceylon—now Sri Lanka—founding schools and churches.”  

Now Mary and Gary look forward to leading classes or preaching to share their presentation, “12-and-a-half Time Zones Away.”

Mary said “Ceylon” was the name of the island as a British colony. 

In 1948, it became independent, and in 1971, it changed its name to Sri Lanka.

The country southeast of India is 75 percent Sinhalese and 15 percent Tamil.  It was colonized by Portuguese, Dutch and then English. 

“As was common in colonial times, the minority population were administrators, creating tensions when Sri Lanka became independent,” she said.

Gary, in the back, visits a Sri Lankan boys school.

A civil war began in 1983 and “ended” in 2009, said Gary, explaining that the war ended, but the tension continues.

Now the Sinhalese hold most of the government positions, controlling the police, military, coastal area, roads and the economy.

Mary said it will take generations to recover.

The tensions are not only ethnic, but also religious, because the Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist and some are Muslim, while the Tamil majority are Hindu with some Christians.

“Our partners are a minority religion in a minority ethnic group,” Mary said. 

“After World War II, the Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM) became part of the Church of South India (CSI).  About 10 years ago, the CACM churches separated from the CSI,” she said.

Tamils live in rural areas and have poor schools, making it hard for them to go to a university if they do not also go to an after-school program from 4 to 7 p.m., after school from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., she said.

“It’s tough to get a good education. Universities are free, but hard to be accepted to enter,” said Mary.

That’s part of why their presence in Jaffna at the Christian Theological Seminary to teach conversational English was important, and why the partners want others to come to volunteer to teach English. 

Most learn grammar in school, but do not learn to speak English.

The Church of American Ceylon Mission churches reach out to the poorest of the poor,” she said.

Woman sells colorful vegetables at a market.

Two women seminarians lead a war widow’s group, helping them heal memories from the war.  It’s hard for widows to find support.  Most do day labor in rice fields or tobacco farms, Gary added.

The aftermath of the war are evident in transportation, he said. 

Roads are two lanes, so it’s hard to travel around in the country. 

“We took a 245-mile trip and our average speed was 20 mph, so it took us 12 hours.  Roads also go through the center of villages,” he said.  “So it’s hard to build commerce and tourism.”

Another effect is the poor sanitation because of a lack of facilities to collect and dispose of garbage.  In rural areas, they saw no garbage collection, so people burned their garbage. Some trash was dumped by the sides of roads.

“To educate the young so they can solve problems is the biggest single issue,” Gary said.

Mary said the government is supposed to fill jobs for teachers in rural schools, but there are many openings.

“There are still many displaced persons,” she added.  “At a displaced persons camp close to the seminary, young men sit with no work.  They smoke and play music.”

Gary noted there is little begging.  Those with nothing try to sell something.

Mary said churches have preschool programs, training, after-school programs.

CACM trained and sent clergy and lay leaders in March for a listening day to learn about to needs of Hindus and Christians in Venni, the worst war-torn area, which is still recovering from the war. 

The seminary trains pastors and volunteers to visit and listen to people.

Only five seminary students are training to be pastors.  Most are in lay leader training.

Only recently have people felt they could travel to do that.  The seminary principal had not been to that area for 30 years.

“When they went, they did not have in mind a solution, but went to find the needs and help find solutions,” Gary said.

“They thanked us for listening to their war stories,  their pain as widows and orphans, and their pain about the loss of the disappeared,” she said.

Mary said one idea that CACM leaders have been working on is to start a factory to make sanitary napkins at a lower cost to improve women’s health.

For women to have access to low-cost sanitary napkins makes it possible for them to go to school and hold jobs, so they can support their families.

Church leaders from India are helping on the project, she said.

Mary Olney-Loyd and Gary Loyd, center, join in a church meeting.

“The long-term goals of the seminary are to start new churches and to do youth work,” said Mary.

“I have respect for the clergy.  They work hard.  While most pastors are men, there is one ordained woman,” Mary explained.

Most pastors live where their church is, but their wives live where they have jobs or where their children go to school.

In addition to teaching English, Mary preached in eight churches. 

While members are pious, she found that they work to address the people’s need and live a social gospel in a culture in which Christians are a minority.

“Jesus tells us to take care of the poor,” she said. 

“Along with starting new churches, she learned that a women’s fellowship in Venni was giving micro-loans to women,” she reported.

Mary and Gary continue their connections with students they taught on Facebook.

“Even though they are half a world away, they are still our neighbors,” said Mary, telling of using the song “Jesu, Jesu . . . neighbors are near and far away.”

We lift up how small the world is.  Many of the poorest of the poor live not far from us in Seattle, as well as in Sri Lanka,” she said.

To help students in Sri Lanka, Mary and Gary encourage people to connect through the Global Ministries website to send $20 a month to support students.

Now home, Mary continues teaching English as a second language in a class in low-income housing unit in Lake City where many students are Asian, and an immigrant from Togo.

Gary was impressed meeting and working with Sri Lankans who he found to be people with energy and an ability to deal with difficult living conditions.

“Despite their conditions, they offered us generous hospitality,” Mary said.  “Our living conditions there were simple.

No matter where a person is or what gifts and skills we have, we all have something we can give, and there are needs around the world and where we are,” she said.

“We just need to pay attention to find where our gifts intersect with people’s needs,” she said.

Mary is a retired pastor who served both UCC and Disciple congregations. She co-chairs the Global Ministries Committee.

Gary is a retired businessman.

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Pacific Northwest Conference UCC News © Summer 2017


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