Photo of Commissioner Susan McMillan and young girl in Sri LankaCommissioner Susan McMillan meets a new friend in Sri Lanka (Photo: Joel Johnson)

Dreaming Big

In Sri Lanka, Salvation Army projects support health, housing, education and livelihoods.

February 3, 2017 by Commissioner Susan McMillan


Sri Lanka means “resplendent island,” and it certainly  lives up to its name. I travelled to this lovely place with  our world missions team to view projects supported  by the Canada and Bermuda Territory, and to participate in  filming material for this year’s Partners in Mission campaign.

The island is a jewel, but perhaps the most precious part was  its people: warm, welcoming and proud of their long cultural  heritage. Anthropologists suggest that the Sri Lankan civilization  dates back at least 5,000 years. Yet the ancient and the  modern come together in the commercial capital, Colombo,  and in coastal cities such as Galle and Hikkaduwa.

The people we met who were involved in Salvation Army  ministry were completely committed to helping their fellow Sri  Lankans, providing opportunities for better health, housing,  education and livelihoods. The gospel is preached not only  from pulpits, but also in actions and relationships.

The main project that the Canada and Bermuda Territory  has been working on is known as S.W.A.L.D.: Safe Water and  Livelihood Development. A significant number of communities  in the Polonnaruwa area have exhibited disproportionate  incidences of kidney disease, attributed to the lack of safe  drinking water. As a result, The Salvation Army has been  digging wells and providing filtration equipment to provide  safe water to these communities. It was my great pleasure to  participate in the dedication ceremony for a completed well  project while we were there.

After lighting an elaborate oil lamp with many different  wicks—one for each guest or dignitary—and several speeches, I  was invited to cut the ribbon decorating the door to the pump  house. Upon entering, the engineer asked me to push a button  and the pump motor roared to life. He then gave me a clay  pot to hold under the tap and told me to turn it on. When the  sparkling clean water flowed into the pot, everyone cheered.

The Salvation Army - Salvationist.ca - Dreaming BigAs the pot filled up, I motioned to the engineer that it was  time to turn off the tap, but when he did, the hastily put-together  plumbing gave way. The tap came loose and I was soaked! It  was quickly repaired and everything was in working order as  people from the community lined up with their containers to  take clean water home.

The other focus of the project is livelihood development. We  had the privilege of visiting a family—a mother, two teenagers  and her in-laws—that received a sewing machine and fabric.  Although the mother is suffering from cancer, she has been  the family’s breadwinner since her husband passed away. She  uses the sewing machine to make mosquito nets, which she  sells in the local market.

On Boxing Day 2004, this resplendent island was devastated  by the tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean.  Approximately 30,000 people were killed, 20,000 were injured  and more than a million were displaced. The loss of homes,  business and agricultural land was staggering.

The Salvation Army responded to the disaster with relief  and recovery efforts, supporting housing projects and helping  local businesses re-open. We visited one such businessman  who runs a metalwork shop. The Army helped rebuild the  workshop and replaced some of the needed equipment. Now,  he has several employees who also make their living from  the shop. His daughter is able to study at university, and is  working on an accounting degree—a woman after my own  heart. I was happy to see the lasting benefit that came from  investing in this project.

Perhaps my most significant memory is of the children we  met who are being cared for by The Salvation Army. When we  asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, their  responses included lawyers, teachers, engineers, and quite a  few Salvation Army officers. They are big dreams, but because  people in Canada and Bermuda care enough to sponsor children  through our Brighter Futures program, they can come true.

As we start our 2017 Partners in Mission campaign, I challenge  our territory to dream big as well, and consider what  we can do to help people for whom life is a daily struggle for  survival.

Commissioner Susan McMillan is the territorial commander of the Canada and  Bermuda Territory. Follow her at facebook.com/susanmcmillantc and twitter.com/salvationarmytc.   

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