“Gospel Splendor in Sri Lanka,” Ensign, Aug. 1995, 78–79
In 1977 Sunil Arsecularatne met Elder and Sister Stanley C. Kimball, the Church’s first missionaries to Sri Lanka since two elders visited briefly in 1853. Touched that Elder Kimball pronounced “Sunil” exactly like Sunil’s father did while he was alive, Sunil agreed to read Joseph Smith’s testimony. He immediately knew it was true. However, when Sunil’s mother found out he was studying about the Church, she considered disowning him. Elder Kimball advised Sunil to show his mother an increase of love and respect, and soon her heart softened and she said, “Son, you have my blessing.”
Located twenty miles off the southeast coast of India, Sri Lanka is a beautiful tropical island about the size of Ireland, with a population of eighteen million. Known earlier as Ceylon, the country gained its independence in 1948 after 450 years of European rule. As an important Asian crossroads, Sri Lanka boasts a rich ethnic background. Most citizens trace their ancestry to Sinhalese and Tamil settlers from India; Arab Moor traders; Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonists; or Malaysians.
Sunil remembers attending a 1979 ceremony in capital city Colombo’s Victoria Park at which Elder James E. Faust, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated Sri Lanka for the preaching of the gospel. A senior public service official, Sunil has twice served as president of Sri Lanka’s sole Church unit, the Colombo Branch. His wife, Lilani, has served as the branch’s Relief Society president. Today, sixteen years after the Church’s legal incorporation in Sri Lanka, the Colombo Branch has 125 members.
When Colombo resident Nancy Ferdinando attended her first Church meeting on Easter Sunday in 1980, she felt that the branch was “a warm, peaceful place.” Hospitalized at one point after she became a member, she was told in a blessing that she would be a missionary tool. Sure enough, a hospital receptionist named Patrick Janssen and his wife, Iroma, joined the Church as a result of contact with branch members visiting Nancy. She has served as the branch’s Relief Society president and has worked for ten years in the name extraction program, and she currently serves as branch librarian. Her son served in the Singapore Mission, and her daughter is serving in the Australia Brisbane Mission. Nancy works in a home for the elderly.
Raised in a Christian family and long interested in other religions, Anton Kumaraswamy was intrigued by an anti-Latter-day Saint book he came across while in a Colombo bookstore. The book’s strong negative bias made him want to hear Latter-day Saint teachings firsthand. He finally met two native Sri Lankan missionaries a year and a half later and soon became converted to the gospel. His father initially opposed Anton’s baptism, but when ill fortune forced the father to seek work in the Middle East, he was fellowshipped by Church members there. He then supported Anton’s desire to be baptized and was soon baptized himself. Today, Anton’s mother, father, and brother are all active Church members. Anton serves as a counselor in the Colombo Branch presidency and is completing medical school.
The name Sri Lanka means “resplendent land.” As Church members continue increasing in spiritual strength and adding to their numbers, the land’s splendor will intensify as the light of the restored gospel shines forth.