COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (BP)–Silva wants his daughter to remember Dec. 26, 2004, to know for certain her young life is a miracle for which he is forever grateful.
“I want her to know how her mother [saved] her in the tsunami -– not her father, because I was away,” he said.
Having worked the past six years in Saudi Arabia, Silva, 32, had been home only once for a short visit after his daughter’s birth. That changed Dec. 26, when a friend called to ask whether he had heard about the tsunami. He hadn’t.
“Whatever I earned, everything was gone in five minutes” to support his family back home, he said. “I am keeping positive hopes that it will come back. Not overnight, it will take time, but I am hoping God will help me.”
Silva’s wife, Ranjani*, tried to outrun the tsunami waves while carrying their only child, a 17-month-old daughter. The force of the waves proved too strong for her, as rushing, murky water covered the earth beneath her feet. The mother and daughter fell into a shallow well. Ranjani struggled to get out of the well, crying out for those around her to help. But in the frenzy of panic, no one responded.
Ranjani’s husband had been gone from the country for several months. In her terror, she wondered whether she would ever see him again -– and whether he would ever see their daughter a second time.
As Ranjani continued to yell for help, an elderly woman suddenly appeared. The woman somehow found a stick and helped pull Ranjani and her daughter out of the well. They found refuge on the roof of a two-story building until the raging waters subsided. Then, like so many others, she made her way to the higher ground of a nearby Buddhist temple.
“I am lucky to see her again,” Silva said. “I thank God because [Ranjani saved] my daughter.”
When Silva talked with Ranjani by telephone and heard her account of the horrendous events, he decided to write a letter to his daughter.
In the letter he wrote: “Thousands of people were swept away by the water. … I must pay my gratitude to your mother because she’s now given you to me a second time in my lifetime” -– once at birth and once in the tsunami.
Silva returned to Sri Lanka and his family last January after friends collected money for his plane ticket. Reunited with his wife and daughter, he had no job to provide for them. He found temporary work translating for English-speaking disaster relief teams –- Southern Baptist workers and volunteers.
For months, Silva quietly listened to conversations. He watched Southern Baptists interact with the Sri Lankan people and care for them. He observed them give thanks to God in prayer.
By June, Silva was beginning to ask questions about their faith. Then he, his brother-in-law and a few others watched the “JESUS” film.
“We thought that in Jesus’ character and reading the Bible stories, there is something we can get for our lives,” Silva said. “It’s teaching us to become a good person.”
Before the tsunami, the only Christian he knew was his Buddhist brother’s wife. He had never heard about Jesus and His sacrifice to pay the price for the sins of man.
“Before Jesus, I was in Saudi Arabia trying to earn money,” Silva said. “After the tsunami, I came to Sri Lanka and I learned about Jesus.”
Other new Sri Lankan believers baptized Silva in the Indian Ocean in mid-September. He attends leadership training classes regularly, and he said he is sharing his faith with family and friends. He asks Christians to pray for his family, for their health and for his small business, which Southern Baptist gifts recently helped him start. He still works with volunteer teams as much as possible while his wife manages their shop.
“She is not a Christian,” Silva said of Ranjani. “I am giving her time. Maybe she will join in the future. I am telling her some of the stories.”
Silva said he knows for certain now that God saved his family. His wife gave his daughter new life by saving her in the tsunami. Jesus has given him new life by saving him from his sin.
“Today, I know what is the truth,” he said. “I want to help the people, and I am so happy. [The tsunami] changed my life.”
*Names changed for security reasons. Goldie Frances is a missionary writer serving in the South Asia region.