Dearest young believers in Sri Lanka,
My first hope for you is that I hope your faith continues to grow strong and that you can find a way to be people of the Gospel. Most of all that you can grow in the ability to love and make the world a better place, the way that Jesus intended.
Your country Sri Lanka is a very beautiful country. I know as a nation you are moving out of the debris of a thirty-year-old war which cost hundreds of thousand innocent people their limbs and lives. I feel it is time that you start to seriously establish peace and reconciliation among all the people of your motherland. As young people, you are the spinal cord of the nation and you have a mammoth responsibility in doing this Herculean and urgent task regardless of whether you belong to the majority or the minority. In fact, if you’re a majority the obligation is on you more than it is on the minority.
I am both fascinated and frightened by the world that you live in where so much is possible, and everything moves so fast – it must be quite a challenge; you are probably used to and find such a life exciting. Our world changed pretty slowly. I can’t even think of a single invention that was founded during my span of life. As a leatherworker and tent maker I used the same tools all through my career. I really wonder how you live with all these changes, and how you determine what is worth keeping and what is worth letting go. You certainly don’t seem to use things for long before they find themselves being thrown out . It was much simpler for us I suppose -we just used things till they wore out!
One of the big surprises for me is that Jesus hasn’t returned like I expected and that the church has become so big. In the days of mine we didn’t have buildings to gather in on Sundays and to compare clothing like many of you do in your day. We met wherever we could – in houses mainly, or in common areas in apartment buildings, in fact, anywhere we could find. We were pretty much an underground movement so I’m a bit, a lot to be honest, shocked and pleased to see Cathedrals mounting high, schools, universities and hospitals, and all other social welfare systems that you have set in place.
This is something we could have never even dreamed of. We were always pretty concerned about the Roman Empire and not being seen as trouble makers. In our day we were seen as a superstition and not an official religion at all . I’m really amazed how the world has changed. It has left me wondering about how you can use the influence you have to improve things and make Jesus’ vision for the world come about. I met with the occasional Roman authority, but most often these instances were when I was under suspicion and was called upon to defend being a Christian. You, on the other hand have the kind of voice we would never have imagined in our widest of dreams. I hope you use it well. We had our differences in the early church but we were all one movement. Now to have so many different ways of being Christian – Catholic , Anglican, Uniting Church, Salvation Army, Orthodox et cetera and not to mention the various Christian Fundamentalist groups, and within the Catholic Church itself you have so many different religious congregations, it must be very confusing for you, confusing for me too I assure you. The main thing I have learnt is that you can see the that barriers are broken down by dialogue and cooperation between churches, and when Christians of different traditions become friends and even get married.
The ways that you can contact each other any time or anywhere has made me very envious. In my day it could take weeks or months to get news to our scattered communities. Trying to give support or advice was painfully slow. For me getting the word out, or contacting my communities in Corinth, Galatia, or Ephesus, took for ever and I was always on the road from one place to another. It would have saved my me any number of shipwrecks, robberies, and imprisonments if I could have simply sent an email or used Viber to call my communities to encourage them, or give them the advice they asked when they needed it rather than having to wait so long for a reply. Now you can even see each other through your phones or over the Internet. Now you have so many social media apps like Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Imo, Instagram, to name a few, which help you immensely to keep in touch with each other and share your good times with your friends. What an amazing world you live in! I couldn’t help but notice that people on buses and trains don’t seem to talk to one another much with their headphones on with their iPads, iPods and tablets connected to the virtual world. Don’t you think it odd that everyone is connected, but not with the people in front of you? It leaves me worry to see how so many young people have misused these ultra modern facilities you have and have been even victimised by the wrong use of them. Don’t worry we were pretty good at ignoring each other in my day too- especially those that didn’t belong to the same class, speak the same language, or belong to the same occupation. Nevertheless I’m very sure that you can use modern technology effectively to make Jesus known to many people.
One of the many things that have struck me about your world is that everyone gets a vote and a say in how things should be. In my world of the Roman Empire many people were slaves and most people who were free had little say in the life of a city. Our household church communities were precious for our members because they became part of a community where they could be together whether they were slaves or free, woman or man Jew or Greek. We were united in our belief in each person’s dignity as a child of God and as a brother and sister of Jesus. Sometime I’m really shocked by the way your world is endangered by terrorism and religious extremism which has lead to deprive many people of their dignity.
I have been looking at the language that you use in church and I was surprised to see that much of the language that I used in my day to describe the difference that Jesus makes- words like redemption, Salvation, reconciliation are still being used. While I’m flattered it does strike me as a little odd. I notice that friendship is a really important value for you and that’s a great place to start. In the end it is all about relationships and I am pleased to see that they are so important to you too. May be we should sit down together and have a chat to see what would be the best language to use these days. You’d have to guide me because you know your world best.
By the way I think Pope Francis is doing an amazing job because he really gets how we need to be radical in finding new and creative ways of bringing the Gospel message to the world of today. I had to do it in my time and you have to do it in yours. Wishing you all the best, I’m sure with the Spirit to guide you and with a bit of ingenuity, creativity and courage you will do a great job. The Church needs you.
Your friend in Christ the Redeemer ,
Paul of Tarsus.
Written by Bro. Rajith Fernando