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For the Feast of Tabernacles this year I traveled with my husband, father, sister, her husband and his parents (Mr. and Mrs. Schreiber) to Sri Lanka. What follows is a bit of what we experienced.

The island of Sri Lanka: tropical, lively, intensely colorful. We landed in Colombo, the capital, and felt the heavy heat, the moisture in the air. We asked at the counter for a taxi to the Cinnamon Red Hotel; they took us to the Cinnamon Grand. We laughed because with their accent “grand” sounds exactly like how I would say “red.” But we got where we were going eventually.

That night, the start of the Sabbath before the Feast, we went to visit local brethren with the Schreibers. First stop—Grace and her sister. The Schreibers asked Grace about life and her years in the church. She says she can’t do much at her age, but she does what she can with her hands: cooking, making, comforting. The Schreibers praise her about how she talks to everyone about God and encourages them in the Way.

Then we drove to join the weekly Friday night dinner in Colombo, a tradition that’s continued for 20 years without interruption. The group welcomed us with their special Sri Lankan greeting: a quick kiss on each cheek. It was already after 8 p.m., but that’s normal for them, eating late and staying late together. They made us rice, vegetables and chicken, warning us about the spicy sauce. The Schreibers led a Bible study, and we listened to the local members share stories. Many seemed reluctant to speak to the whole group at first, but after a little coaxing, spoke passionately about being tested over the Sabbath at work, wondering about how to best deal with different relationship trials and interacting with family members who have different religious beliefs.

We shared the Sabbath with them, and then got up at 4 a.m. on Sunday to pile into a big bus and begin the long ride east across the island to Passikudah, a resort town built up after the 25-year civil war ended in 2009. We picked up a few local Church members on the way, somehow finding them in the dark at, what seemed to me, random spots on the road. The trip was seven hours of narrow streets, our driver competing energetically with other cars, trucks, tractors and countless tuk tuks (small, 3-wheeled taxis). As it grew light, there was time for talking—new friendships formed, political and spiritual discussions explored and lots of group singing accompanied by a guitar and drum that appeared from somewhere. A handful of smaller children wandered up and down the aisle between seats, connecting us.

After we were settled in, the Feast got going with a flurry of activity and food and fellowship. At this site, one of their favorite things is family day: palm trees, the sun and a welcome afternoon breeze. Tiny ants in the grass biting our bare toes. Throwing wooden skewers into watermelon halves while blindfolded. Sack races favoring smaller bodies. One strong young man turning the tide in tug-of-war. A frantic water-balloon toss, young and old participating side by side. A million quick inside jokes that result in immediate laughter. Letting children try the games even though they are too young to do them on their own. The competition ending with a race for two teams to each make a kite with string, sticks, glue and tissue paper. Be the first one to make it fly. A sudden chatter of ideas, leaders step forward, the kites begin to take shape. Finally success as dusk settles. A boy runs with the kite in his hand, launches it into the air to a background of cheers.

Over a short time, people who were strangers to us became real friends: whole, complex people, dealing with, at a deep level, similar issues and struggles, although sometimes manifested differently. They were just as weak, just as strong, as the people closest to me, as I am, but perhaps more generous, more joyful, more grateful than I am, learning and discovering the truth in a world that’s full of everything else.

Your friend,

Kourtney Kovanis, Managing editor | kourtney.kovanis@gmail.com