The Anglican oasis of Kilinochchi | Sunday Observer

The Anglican oasis of Kilinochchi

1 March, 2020

During a recent visit to Jaffna, the early morning drive was beautiful as the sun majestically dispensed her rays across the skyline. The church of St. Paul at Kilinochchi built in 1956 is actually a part of a greater social institution known to Northerners as Karuna Nilayam - which translates as House of Mercy. Senior generations of Anglicans will at once recollect the name of its founder the late Ms. Muriel Violet Hutchins. I walked around this six acre property on the invitation of Anglican Archdeacon of the Northern Province Fr. Sam Ponniah with the resident chaplain Fr. S.K. Daniel and learnt of the good work done here for the past 65 years.

The legacy of Hutchins

Muriel Hutchins was a graduate of Oxford with a Master’s degree. She studied Tamil language in South India, and came to Ceylon in 1927 as a missionary teacher. She initially taught at Ladies’ College, Colombo and then Chundikuli Girls’ College, Jaffna. She later taught at Kopay Christian College. She mastered the Tamil language going to the extent of writing a book.

In 1954 she retired from teaching and returned to Wales. Yet her heart was in Ceylon. She earnestly wanted to serve the poor people of Kilinochchi.

A year later she returned to Ceylon and requested Bishop Graham Campbell and Archdeacon Navaratnam to provide her a chance to work with the poor and the rejected women. Using her own pension she began Karuna Nilayam based on the Bible verse in Matthew 25.40. She kindly admitted 15 orphan girls and unwed mothers offering them hope.

Muriel lavished her love on destitute women. There is a famous story here of an encounter involving wild elephants.

A few weeks after beginning her House of Mercy, one night some elephants had come close to the single building.

There was no electricity. Thinking quickly she lit a fire with a few newspapers and the elephants walked away to the relief of the orphans.

Muriel Hutchins wanted her residents to be empowered. She started a poultry farm. The women grew vegetables. Some cows were gifted to the mission. Muriel took it upon herself to be the warden and accountant. During the intense years of the war the mission faced immense difficulties. The staff stayed with the children and disabled inmates. The chapel miraculously survived.

There is another story of how during this difficult period of scarcity, three of the cows in the farm were able to supply milk for all the orphans, despite not having sufficient grass in the farm. Thankfully Kilinochchi has seen much development after the war. Having inspired and transformed many lives Muriel Hutchins entered her eternal rest in 1996, aged 97. Thousands had gathered in Kilinochchi for her funeral.

Prayer and labour

Fr. Daniel and I walked into the dairy farm. There were many cows and their milk is provided to the residents. I was surprised to notice a vineyard to my left. Fr. Daniel said, ‘We use these local grapes to make wine, which is used by the Anglican churches in the Northern Province for communion.

The harvest depends on the prevailing weather conditions. Sometimes we harvest 3,000 Kg of grapes, at other times about 1,000 Kg. Our fermentation process takes 28 days and we do three filters”.

The large poultry supplies the women and girls with eggs. Karuna Nilayam has a special dorm for mentally challenged women.

As we walked into the small garden about a dozen women were seated.

A few ran up to me to shake hands. These women get so much of care and attention.

Building lives

The girls residing at Karuna Nilayam attend the local schools. Some are sent here by the Child Probation Authority and the Courts. Many have excelled in their studies. Some have married and gone overseas, but always visit and support their home. St. Paul’s Church within this mission is unique in design.

It reflects the indigenous architectural design in 1956 and was built with a donation from a Sinhalese family. Unlike other churches there are no wooden pews, and people sit on the floor. Fr. Daniel added,.