For the Salvation of India

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Arnolis Weerasooriya (1857-1888)

“You’re stubborn,” usually isn’t taken as a compliment. More often it means you’re hardheaded, close-minded, incapable of changing, or won’t listen to reason. But depending on the situation, stubbornness can be a positive. Perhaps you’re not easily swayed and have solid opinions, you persevere through tough times, and you hold firm to your values.

Arnolis Weerasooriya could certainly be called stubborn. He was only a Salvationist for four years, but his ability to move beyond blind faith, and subsequently hold firm to his beliefs, pushed him to a point of dedication that was respected by many.

TIED UP FOR LIFE

The son of a wealthy Buddhist family, Weerasooriya grew up in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). From his youth, his future was set. His parents dedicated him to Buddha, and he would serve as a Buddhist priest when he was old enough. To mark the commitment, a special thread was tied on his arm by a high priest.

These plans were soon derailed. Weerasooriya’s father was actively seeking Truth and became a Christian after conversing with Christians, reading the Bible, studying Christian literature, and seeking a personal relationship with God.

FLAMES OF RAGE

However, the conversion wasn’t a smooth one; his wife left him, taking their four children with her.

Through God’s grace, his wife eventually reunited with her husband and became a Christian as well. Before she and her children converted though, Arnolis’s father had decided that Buddha would no longer be served under their roof. He cut the sacred thread Arnolis had on his arm, which outraged his young son. To retaliate, a headstrong Arnolis burned every Christian book in the house.

 FROM DEATH UNTO LIFE

The consistent Christ-like behavior eventually rubbed off on the whole family. Arnolis later went to Trinity College, a Christian school that was one of the best in the area. Upon graduating, he joined the teaching staff at the college.

During this time, Weerasooriya read a book called From Death Unto Life and understood that he was only a Christian by name—he didn’t really live the faith. Because of his stubborn and dedicated nature, he would never give anything a half-hearted effort. His search for God and salvation consumed him. He desperately wanted to experience God’s immeasurable love, fidelity, and joy (1 Peter 1:8). Repeatedly he prayed for God to save him.

GOD SPEAKS

One Sunday in 1882, Weerasooriya attended a service at Trinity College Chapel. There he heard the voice of God say within his soul, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” This filled him with joy and He experienced a glimpse of the extreme love of God.

Weerasooriya immediately seized every opportunity to tell others about Christ. He even converted someone within an hour of this experience.

Afterwards he wrote his father, “The first and chief news I have to tell you is that I have found Jesus. I cannot express how happy the mind is. It is a great reality and a treasure not to be given up for the world. This love I wish to be telling always.”

His wish became reality. Weerasooriya held prayer meetings and preached at the college, in the streets, and practically everywhere he went. Many came to know Christ because of him.

THE GAME CHANGER

When a Salvation Army officer from England arrived in Weerasooriya’s town, he was struck by how this man gave up luxuries to preach the Gospel. The way the officer wore simple Indian clothes to relate to the people convicted Weerasooriya greatly, for even though he wanted to love Christ more than anybody else, he didn’t want to give up the things of this world.

The game changer came when Weerasooriya realized that Christ did exactly that for him. He gave up His heavenly home to be with fallen humanity, die for them, and save them. So, to win souls for Christ and spread His message throughout India, Weerasooriya vowed to sacrifice his comforts. He swapped his English clothes for Indian clothes, and started working with The Salvation Army as a cadet.

During his travels as a cadet, Weerasooriya met Major Frederick Booth-Tucker in Bombay. They had much in common and teamed up for some evangelical traveling in the surrounding villages.

80 VILLAGES & 20 PRIESTS

Before venturing anywhere, the pair would fast and pray that God would guide them to the right place. After arriving at Ahmedabad, Booth-Tucker was called back to Bombay. Weerasooriya stayed and testified of the power and love of God. Within a month, more than 1,000 people converted to Christianity. A few months beyond that, The Salvation Army was present in 80 villages, with hundreds of people seeking Christ.

Stopping to preach in his hometown, Weerasooriya’s uncle, a Buddhist priest, called him to the temple. His uncle said, “Arnolis, you are living as our Buddha said you ought to live. You have no lust for the world, you are humble and patient; but you must not say it was Christ who changed you; you should say that you acquired virtue by your own exertions.” Weerasooriya battled this prideful attack by continuing to boast in the Lord. His father also spoke to the 20 priests who were there: “Have any one of you acquired these good qualities by your own power?” They had no reply.

HOLDING FIRM

Weerasooriya continued preaching and ministering to people throughout his Army tenure. When fellow Christians faced persecution for their faith and wanted to abandon Christ, Weerasooriya encouraged them to hold on. Through regular prayer, fasting, and the grace of God, the villagers regained their courage; and several became officers.

On one of Weerasooriya’s trips, he visited an officer who was suffering from cholera. By the time he returned to Bombay, he caught the disease and died two days later. During his suffering, his praising of God did not cease. “It’s nice to be saved” and  “I will trust Thee, all my life Thou shalt control,” were a few phrases he said on his deathbed. As he began to lose consciousness, Weerasooriya thought he was dictating a letter. He signed off with his final words: “Yours for the salvation of India!”

Image — Portrait of Arnolis Weerasooriya

TO LIVE FOR OTHERS

Servanthood is Christianity. It may not sound appealing at first, but in praying for continued humility, we’ll find it to be an honor. Weerasooriya gave himself in total service and dedication to God. He felt it was a privilege to serve others because he understood that they are the very images and creation of God Himself. When he loved others, he was truly loving God.

John tells us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
(1 John 4:20, NKJV).

Amazingly, the more we come to know Christ and become like Him, others can more easily see Him in us. A Salvationist once said of Weerasooriya, “When he spoke of Christ his face shone with such beauty that one felt that he must actually look like the Savior.”

FINDING GOD

To hear God speak and have a relationship with our living God, we cannot ignore Him. We must make time to be with Him and pray, and remember the importance of our neighbor. For those we like, this can be easy. But for those we don’t, the challenge is to see them as the image of God—to see them as someone whom Christ loves just as much as He loves us.

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania puts it this way: “Always remember that at the Last Judgment [Matthew 25:31-46], we are judged for loving Him, or failing to love Him, in the least person.”

— Mariam Aburdeineh, Editorial Assistant, Young Salvationist