In 1989, Ajith Fernando returned to his Sri Lankan home from a six-month sabbatical at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts. "It was heaven," he says of the time away.
Sometimes referred to as "the Asian John Stott," Fernando loves quiet study. The seminary offered an excellent library and very few of the interruptions that constantly occur at home in Sri Lanka. He wrote two books, Crucial Questions about Hell and Reclaiming Friendship: Relating to Each Other in a Frenzied World. Besides studying and writing, he taught from the Bible in many locations, and in his spare time he taught himself to type on a computer. His wife, Nelun, and two children, Nirmali and Asiri, were with him. It was a happy, busy, secure time.
Fernando returned to a nation at war with itself. Right in the heart of the capital, Colombo, not far from his home, he saw corpses floating in the murky Kelani River—bodies of young men he had tried to reach through his organization, Youth for Christ (YFC). At home or at the office, he met desperate family members seeking their missing sons.
Schools were closed, and public transport shut down. As Fernando drove the dingy, pothole-ridden streets, people would lean into his car window and ask for rides. He usually took them where they wanted to go, even knowing that if the police found that his riders were terrorist Tamil Tigers, he himself would be killed with them.
Many hours of each day went into driving YFC staff to and from their homes—Fernando hates driving—and the staff, too, were subject to accusations of terrorism. Why else would young people from different ethnic groups be gathering?
Angry young people bombarded YFC with despairing complaints. At ...