A Heart Aflame
By Lois J. Stucky
"Our Saviour spared not His own life in order that we might live...I don’t want to spare any pains for Him," wrote Brother E. G. Dias-Abeyesinghe, editor of the Sinhalese Herald in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). His life and labors reveal a heart aflame for God. He expended himself for his Lord until ill health compelled him to gradually cease his labors these past few years and hand the torch to others.
A valued member of the Herald International team, Brother Abeyesinghe was released from his ailing body to go to be with his Lord in October, 1998. For at least thirty years he had put heart blood into publishing "Pera Maga Doothaya," the Sinhalese Herald, as well as multiplied tens of thousands of the Sinhalese Salvation Herald, "Pera Maga"--Narrow Way. Who can express what such a life has meant to the Kingdom of God?
Being Sinhala himself, Brother Abeyesinghe had a great burden that the Sinhala people might come to know the living God he knew and for whom he lived. "Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare His praise in the islands!" (Isaiah 42:12).
The two main groups of people in Sri Lanka are the Sinhala and the Tamil. About 70% are Sinhala and they are almost all Buddhist. The vast majority of the Tamils are Hindu, comprising about 14% of the population. Muslims account for about 7%. Less than one-half percent of Sri Lanka’s eighteen million people are Evangelical Christians.
"We want to be spent on behalf of the Lord in giving out the Gospel to this Satan-bound land," Brother Abeyesinghe wrote. "Only Jesus can break the fetters that bind the people of Sri Lanka in sin and superstition and spiritualism."
"So Much To Do By So Few"
Brother Abeyesinghe’s excellent command of both English and Sinhalese fitted him well to serve as translator and editor of the Sinhalese edition of Herald of His Coming. It also made him much in demand by various Christian organizations for translating Gospel tracts, booklets and books. He was often called to interpret for visiting speakers at church meetings and crusades. He helped in local weekly church services and radio broadcasts. "So much to do and so little time!" he wrote us. "I work almost around the clock to complete the task that God has entrusted me with."
He supported himself, his wife and two children with a government position. After careful investigation, he was chosen because of his integrity to be Office Assistant to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He served three succeeding Prime Ministers in this position. He was chosen not because he was in politics, but because he could not be corrupted. Honesty and faithfulness are virtues too seldom found in non-Christian countries.
Then he felt the call of the Lord to leave the government and work full time for the Lord. He felt well rewarded for this decision, for although his pension was small, he was able to devote more time to prayer, and waiting on the Lord for guidance for his labors. The results were clearly seen in the increase of testimonies about the blessing readers received through the literature he produced.
Some of the needs and problems Brother Abeyesinghe faced in publishing the Sinhalese Herald he shared in letters with us for prayer. Gladly we stood with him, for it seemed to us that it was enough to discourage the stoutest worker. But Brother Abeyesinghe had a soldier heart for his Lord Jesus Christ, heeding the exhortation in 2 Timothy 2:1,3: "Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus...Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
It was a constant battle to obtain newsprint on which to print the papers. This was his responsibility and not that of the printer. Oftentimes it took repeated trips and persuasive talking in order to obtain it at a reasonable price. There was frequently a shortage of newsprint in the country, and sometimes a government permit was required to procure paper. That which was available was needed by the government or clamored for by business ventures. Since providing paper for Christian literature was not a priority in a Buddhist country, this could involve further struggle and persuasion. Time and again printing the Herald was delayed while he sought for the needed paper.
It was no less a problem to find an affordable printer, for neither was there an eagerness with some printers to deal with a Christian paper. To print as economically as possible, he had to search out several bids. Even those agreeing to print might put more lucrative work ahead of the Sinhalese Herald and delay its printing. Then there was the trial of breakdowns of printing equipment with a long time to repair. With what joy he wrote us a few years ago that a Christian printer had visited him and offered to print the paper.
Keeping pace with rising paper costs were rising postage costs. To keep expenses down, he was able to send some packages to distributors by rail, or ask them to come and pick up their packages in person if they lived near enough. In early days Brother Abeyesinghe’s transportation for taking mail to the post office was motor bike and later, motorcycle.
Herald of His Coming office gladly responded with the finances Brother Abeyesinghe required to publish, unless we ourselves were short of finances. Eagerly he awaited our supporting gifts. Sometimes they seemed long in reaching him, but we only recall one letter conveying needed funds being lost or stolen enroute.
Buddhist and Sinhala holidays sometimes delayed business also. Too often Brother Abeyesinghe was caught between the delayed printings and the readers who wrote eagerly inquiring for the next issue. All must be borne patiently for the sake of the Gospel. He was not exaggerating when he wrote that he was "working against the odds." His perseverance was remarkable. But "at any cost" was the set of his heart.
About fifteen years ago serious ethnic conflict broke out between the Tamils and Sinhalas. Even areas not involved with open war experienced rounds of strikes, curfews, killings, lootings, arson, explosions and the like. At times this brought further disruption to the printing schedule. It did result, however, in some people who were unable or unwilling because of danger to attend church meetings, taking literature into their homes and learning the Gospel in this way. Doors were opened into prisons as well. The violence in the country resulted in increased imprisonments. There were Christians who took up the challenge to take Sinhalese literature to the prisoners. Trouble has a way of opening some hearts to their need of God.
On the other hand, some distributors became reluctant to go out evangelizing with literature lest they be suspected of distributing political propaganda and endanger themselves. So the flow of the Sinhalese literature ebbed and abounded as circumstances changed.
Life’s Hardest Blow
When about fifty years of age, a very heavy blow came to Brother Abeyesinghe when his wife, a "saint of first grade," who labored wholeheartedly with him and prevailed in prayer for the needs of the work, was stricken with cancer and died. They had been praying and believing for her healing. By God’s grace he bore the sorrow and carried on. About a year later God gave him another companion who worked untiringly by his side and who survives him.
As Brother and Sister Abeyesinghe aged, they needed additional help to wrap and address the papers for mailing and to pack the bundles for distributors. Brother Abeyesinghe’s wife, son and daughter gave good help until circumstances took the young people elsewhere. His mother as well helped until she passed away. "There are many sympathizers but few helpers," Brother Abeyesinghe discovered. It was difficult to find volunteers willing to put sacrifice into the work. As heavy toil took its toll on the Abeyesinghes physically, he said, "We are living more on prayer than on material food."
Time and again Brother Abeyesinghe printed tens of thousands of Sinhalese Salvation heralds. Eager evangelists came to take quantities to distribute even in remotest parts of the country. These were distributed mostly to Buddhists. Workers belonging to practically all denominations were helping to distribute, for there was a scarcity of Sinhalese Gospel literature. It was very rewarding to learn of sinners who were coming to repentance and believers being added to the church. Even an occasional Buddhist clergy came to Christ as he read. Once at a baptismal service for 80 converts, it was learned that most of them had come to Christ through literature and much of the literature had been obtained from Brother Abeyesinghe.
The more Salvation papers there were distributed, the more mail came to Brother Abeyesinghe to respond to, for Christianity was new to many and they had questions about the fundamentals. New converts might have no church or pastor for miles and miles and needed counseling.
He was unable to find a mature Sinhalese Christian to help and so handled the correspondence himself. Sinhalese typewriters were hard to find, and expensive, but imagine writing Sinhalese by longhand! Eventually he was able to procure both an English and a Sinhalese typewriter with funds from an interested U.S. friend. That helped him greatly to keep pace with the flow of letters he had to answer.
Pera Maga Doothaya
The Sinhalese Herald was welcomed by Sinhalese Christians. "Thanks for not letting our hearts run dry by supplying the Word of God," wrote one grateful reader. It was difficult to obtain Sinhalese Christian literature elsewhere. A time or two Brother Abeyesinghe told us about writing and preparing the message of the cross in ballad form. He explained, "The rural people love to sit in their huts in the evening after a hard day’s work and recite these verses to the popular, simple tune they love so well. In this manner they will read the verses several times over and the truths of the cross will sink down in their hearts. Besides, when these verses are recited aloud, the neighbours too will get the message."
As Brother Abeyesinghe saw needs being met by the messages, he expressed gratitude again and again to U.S. Christians who provided the funds we were able to send for printing and distributing. Only God knows the fruit of Brother Abeyesinghe’s "on-fire" life. We thank God over and over for the privilege of co-working with Brother and Sister Abeyesinghe through the years. You who have prayed and given share in the precious fruit gathered in.
Now the torch is being handed to another. Brother W. Nissanka is accepting the editorship of Pera Maga Doothaya. Conditions in the country have changed since Brother Abeyesinghe pioneered the Sinhalese Herald, but there remain economic and political hindrances to the Gospel, and especially spiritual strongholds to hinder the flow and reception of the Gospel. Let us uphold Brother Nissanka and co-workers in prayer. Ask for the mighty help of God as they undertake this ministry.