Three summers ago, I went to Sri Lanka for the first time.
It was on that island I left my teen-years and entered my twenties. It was on that island my sister, mother, aunts, uncle, grandparents and cousins were born and raised.
Connecting with my generational history and roots hugely impacted me. Frequently I asked myself, “What would I be like if was not born in Minnesota?” That’s a tough question considering my parents left Sri Lanka as refugees and entered America under political asylum. When they left Sri Lanka, they left a continuation of pain. I’ve heard stories of Tamil youth being kidnapped and enrolled in the military, killed or drawn to insanity because of the stress civil war brings. That could have been me.
During my three months in Sri lanka, that question plagued me. I looked into the eyes of desperation, poverty and pain. As I stood on a church altar facing a hundred crying faces during a machine gun and grenade fight 15 feet away, I had to wonder, “Why have I been given such a different fate than those around me?” As I rode a motorcycle through the streets while killers fled the police around us, I wondered, “Could I have been a killer?” As I talked to a man with the same age and birthday as me who had been rejected by his whole family because he dedicated his life to Christ and had not spoken with his father for years since, I wondered, “Like Moses was put in a foreign land to change a nation, is the LORD preparing me for reformation?”
Amreitha was abandoned by her parents.
I have no idea what that feels like. I have no idea what kind of questions she’s asking. I imagine there are many.
Where does she begin to ask questions and find answers? Within 24 hours of her birth she was put into the hands of Esther, her Mennonite adoption agent.
Well, I guess she starts by going to India. She’s going in November.
Her experience will be a lot different than mine. While her sister Leslie (the other adopted Indian girl) will meet her family for the first time, Amreitha will not (as things are right now). And just like the answers to her many questions (maybe question she doesn’t know to ask yet), her parents haven’t been identified and found.
I got to meet my grandparents, cousins, aunts and family friends in Sri Lanka. Amreitha may have none of that.
Amreitha’s will be an entirely different experience, but it is entirely necessary. In order to move on with identity issues and personal questions, I believe it is important to wrestle with your past. Jacob did not become Israel until he admitted that he was Jacob (Genesis 32).
Trips like this are hard—most worthwhile achievements and experiences should be, lest they become profane.
Here’s some advice I wish I would have gotten before I went to Sri Lanka (so that the experience isn’t harder than it needs to be) that I’ll pass on to Amreitha and anyone trying to connect with a culture:
1. Don’t be an arrogant American.
• I was. A lot changed inside of me because of Sri Lanka, but I wish I wouldn’t have been such a jerk. Little things show arrogance: not eating and finishing food, not spending time in the house, not asking questions and listening, not learning the language, thinking you know it all, dressing way better than everyone, thinking you are better, etc.
2. Be considerate.
• Realize that when people are taking you into their home, they want to be hospitable (especially if you are American). Even poorer people will bring expensive meals and desserts for you to eat. Please eat the food and enjoy it. Be mindful of you facial expression and body language. Clean and help out without asking, but don’t insist on helping. Sometimes insisting on paying for something or cleaning is an insult to the family (it would be insulting to reject a present on Christmas).
3. Enjoy every experience.
• Even if something is uncomfortable, it will become a great story later on. You’re time is limited on this trip and in life. We don’t have enough time to not enjoy every experience. Learn how to have joy—not just happiness. HAPPiness sometimes only comes when something HAPPENS. Learn to find joy in everything. If you are having a horrible time, your hosts will feel horrible.
4. Be a Learner.
• Ask tons of questions. Learn the language. Learn the customs. Learn names. Learn the national song. Learn the jokes, dances, traditions, history, etc. And when you learn it, write it down!
5. Pray for yourself and the people.
• The Holy Spirit will guide you into all Truth. Involve Him in the experience. Ask for insight and answers to questions about your identity and the identity of the people. Let Him take you by the hand as a tour guide into your land, history, generation curses, blessings and identity. He’s really good. Pray for the people and you will develop a love for them and see your prayers answered.
6. Be Sensitive.
• As a Christian, you are a light to the world. Not only will you receive much from this trip, but you must give. Freely live and freely give. Look for opportunities to share the Gospel, pray for the sick, answer questions, be a listener, give money, a hug, a side hug, an A frame hug, or a letter. Even though I wasn’t perfect in Sri Lanka, I saw legs grow and people get healed and saved.
7. Love the People.
• Love India, but pour that love out on individuals you meet. It’s easy for us to love something or humanity in general, but not really love any human in particular. Grow your love through prayer, interaction and tears.
These are some thoughts. Connecting with the past can be quite painful, but it is necessary for further progress. It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from. My three months in Sri Lanka completely changed my life and worldview. I don’t care if you are from China, India, Sri Lanka or Norway, visit your home. Ask questions. Seek Answers.
“He who seeks finds.” (Matthew 7:8)
If you have any more advice for travelers, culture connecters or Amreitha, leave a comment.