Matthew 7:15-16. “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma: look for character.” The Message
II Peter 1:5. “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character….” The Message
Sri Lanka, February-March 2007
We drove 3,000 kilometers, visited 14 churches, preached or taught daily. Pastor Sritharan Jeyarajah, [“Jey”] of Mississauga Tamil Church and I traveled for 12 days and then we were joined by Rev. Ben Gomez, from Christian Horizons, who attends Wesley Chapel Free Methodist Church. This is a story about the character of one young pastor in Sri Lanka, Michael Ligory.
Character and Money
Character is the key trait that attracts candidates for ministry to our movement in Sri Lanka. Our discernment process and the relationships we have built with pastors there helps us to know who is coming into the movement for the right reasons. Character is displayed in the everyday life particularly when money is involved.
How pastors procure money reveals character. In February, 2006, one pastor got very angry with me for not giving him money now that he was ordained in our movement. Caution lights came on. February 2007, we found out he had been ordained a second time, in a different denomination. He was after more money than we were giving him. This pastor is no longer with our movement. The issue was his character not his need for money. But, this pastor used deception to get more money.
A little from Canada goes a long way in Sri Lanka
Frequently individuals from Canada send small financial gifts with us to Sri Lanka and instructed us to, “use this wherever it is needed, you decide.” These are gifts of $200-$400 Can. [Canadian Funds.] That amount may supply the needs of a pastor with a family for 2-3 months.
Michael Ligory is the pastor at Oruthota Gospel Church, in the Kandy Province. He has just become a Ministerial Candidate [MC] and his church has received Fellowship Status through the FMC-SL BOA. [Free Methodist Church Sri Lanka, Board of Administration]
In the MC interview every candidate is asked Question 9: “Do you realize that the FMC-SL does not pay pastors a salary?” And the follow-up question in #9, “Are you still wanting to become part of us?” Michael answered yes to both questions. Michael, as with all candidates, must build relationship with us by coming to at least 3 of our retreats, which means almost two years. He talked with his congregation as well as his board about affiliating with us. They all received training in their church from Pastor Jeyarajah.
As an MC he is not eligible for submitting a small project [up to $500 CDN] until August 2007 and would receive it, if we can raise the money, in February 2008. Michael has good character, and money is needed right now to help him, but he accepted the policies and would wait.
A divinely appointed gift
Near the end of our trip, Jey, Ben and myself decided to give Michael a small gift from one of these individuals who said, “use it where you think best.” We could see Michael at the Bible school the next day and give him $100 CDN.
The next day, we saw him as planned at the Bible school. Pastor Jey met with him privately and gave him the gift and made it clear, “This is not from the FMC-SL BOA, because you are not eligible for a project yet. It is a gift from a person back in Canada who wants to help a pastor.”
I was in the classroom of the school taking pictures after class when Michael came over to me. It looked like he had been crying. He said, “Thank you, thank you very much.” He repeated those words again, we embraced, and I said, “You are welcome.” I was glad he was so thankful but didn’t know much else.
Pastor Jey told me, “Michael said that it was God who had been speaking to us. He said that last night he had no money for milk for their baby. He had no money for lunch at school today.” Michael has two young children and has adopted two orphans, as well.
I had no idea of just how immediate was his need for a blessing, but God knew.
That wasn’t all. Pastor Jey was at Michael’s church for the service the previous day. Jey reported to me that Michael’s offering from the congregation was very low, RS 350 [Sri Lankan rupees,] about $3.15 CDN. Jey said, “He gave RS 150 to his assistant pastor for bus fare to travel to a village where natives live a primitive lifestyle and a ministry has begun. He put RS 100 towards church expenses and kept RS 100 for his family for the week.” It is not often in my life that the timing of knowing a need and meeting a need came so divinely close together.
Money in God’s Plan
Our team decided to give him another $100 CDN once we found out how desperate was his need. Pastor Jey’s church tries to help relatives, friends, and orphans every time he goes to visit Sri Lanka. The needs are greater than we can meet. God’s plan is for us to be generous in every way that we can, though we are faced with more needs than we can possibly handle.
Character in Action
This is character in action. Michael had a great need. He did not get angry with the BOA or with us from Canada. He did not keep the offering for himself, though he could have without any question. Instead he made sure his assistant could get to the unreached natives 120 kms away. He did not lie or deceive to get money. What we gave him would be enough to get him through for a couple of months. Normally his offerings are bigger, but some busses, the main public transportation in Sri Lanka, were unable to deliver many church members that day which complicated his financial need.
We can build a strong foundation for a church if we can continue to attract, train, and educate pastors like Michael. Character is built over a lifetime. It starts early, and as Peter wrote in his letter to those growing in faith, “complement your basic faith,” your life changing faith, “with good character.” God is forming character in us, and it’s key to building his church.
Rev. Alan Retzman is the Director of Personnel for The Free Methodist Church in Canada.