200th Anniversary of the Establishment of the American Ceylon Mission

Remarks by Ambassador Atul Keshap

by US Mission to Sri Lanka & Maldives, Colombo, October 31, 2016

[As prepared]

  • Rev. Dr. James Moos, Executive Minister, Co-Executive Global Ministries
  • Rev. Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala,  Area Executive for Southern Asia, Global Ministries
  • Rev Devasagayam Devanesan, Chairperson
  • Rt. Rev Bishop Duleep De Chickera, Former Anglican Bishop of Colombo
  • Rev Asiri P. Perera, President of the Methodist Conference in Sri Lanka
  • Mrs. Lakshani Fernando, General Secretary of the Ceylon Bible Society
  • Rev A.B. Thevathas
  • Respected members of the clergy, lay leaders of the church, and friends:

It is my great honor and privilege to be with you today as we observe the bicentennial of the establishment of the American Ceylon Mission. On behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, please accept my heartfelt congratulations and thanks to everyone who made this great 200 th anniversary celebration possible.

Reverend Samuel Newell, a New England clergyman, was as one of the first American missionaries in Sri Lanka. Newell was a forerunner of the American missionaries who came to the Jaffna Peninsula in 1816 to establish institutions of learning. Far from home, with enormous self-sacrifice, these missionary families spread knowledge of the Bible, but in a uniquely American way that also sought to ensure practical benefits to the people with whom they lived and served.

Since education had been such an important factor in the rapid development of the United States, the American missionaries hoped that founding schools throughout the Jaffna peninsula would help to bring about the social reforms, the elimination of poverty, and overall improvement in the lives of the people. From the opening of the first American missionary school in Tellipalai in 1816, through 1848, one hundred and five Tamil schools and 16 English schools were opened. In 1823, the Americans founded Batticota Seminary at Vaddukoddai with Rev. Dr.Daniel Poor as its first principal.

These hardworking New Englanders also took many important steps to provide educational opportunities for women, which was quite a radical concept at that time. In 1824, Mrs. Harriet Winslow founded the Uduvil Girls’ School, the first girls’ boarding school in Asia. American missionaries also launched the first printing press in the north in 1820 and in 1841 the island’s second oldest newspaper, the Morning Star.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this 200th anniversary celebration serves as a timely reminder that American missionaries and scientists, merchants and tourists, authors and artists, are the true architects of our people-to- people ties. I think you will also agree with me that our two centuries of people-to- people ties are in turn the strong foundation of the enduring relationship between the United States and Sri Lanka.

All of the women and men who have served at the U.S. Embassy since 1948 have been beneficiaries of the legacy of those first missionaries who established institutions and mutually beneficial partnerships that continue to this day.

I am reminded that the famous American author Mark Twain said, of his visit to Ceylon in 1896, “what a dream it was of tropical splendors of bloom and blossom … What through the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle.”

Friends, there is happily a new breeze blowing in Sri Lanka these days, and this is a hopeful time for relations between our two countries. The United States is committed to working closely with the people and government of Sri Lanka to help the people of this ancient land achieve lasting peace and intercommunal harmony based on meaningful reconciliation.

We know this is a difficult task but as Secretary of State John Kerry said in Colombo last May; “True peace is more than the absence of war. True and lasting peace, especially after a civil conflict, requires policies that foster reconciliation, not resentment. It demands that all citizens of the nation be treated with equal respect and equal rights, and that no one be made to feel excluded or subjugated. It calls for a military that projects its power outward to protect its people, not inward to police them. It necessitates, as America’s great president Abraham Lincoln said, binding up the nation’s wounds, with malice towards none and with charity towards all.”

In that spirit, let me conclude by once again thanking the organizers for inviting me to participate today, to mark what, in many ways, was the true beginning two hundred years ago of the enduring relationship between the peoples of the United States of America and Sri Lanka. Thank you.

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