Less than a week ago, I sat here contemplating the similarities between the burning of Notre Dame, the arson of three black churches in Louisiana, and the torching of bibles in India. This week, I am beginning to wonder when stories of churches being destroyed and religious minorities being threatened will stop dominating the headlines.
On Easter Sunday, over 300 people were killed by six coordinated suicide bombings across the island nation of Sri Lanka. The stories that have followed the headlines include details about the pained and complicated Sri Lankan history that paints the backdrop of this current crisis. From the early 1980s until only a decade ago, Sri Lanka was engaged in a brutal civil war that claimed the lives of nearly 100,000 people.
This small country also endured the 2004 Christmas Day tsunami that claimed the lives of over 30,000 people. Compassion Radio’s former president, Norm Nelson, travelled to Sri Lanka days after this horrific natural disaster as part of one of the very first relief teams providing basic needs like food, water, and shelter. In 2014, I, Dempsey Floria, travelled there as part of a team documenting the changes and rebuilding efforts in the wake of the massive waves. The ripples were figuratively still being felt. Tamil Christians, a minority of a minority, had been relocated away from the shore to camps unfurnished with running water or waste disposal. There were still stretches of beach that were considered unsafe to walk on, known as “landmine beaches,” due to leftover civil war landmines being picked up and put down haphazardly by the tsunami. Women who had been raped, watched their husbands killed and their sons forcefully conscripted into the Tamil Tigers rebel forces were now living in complete destitution, unable to recover from yet another disaster. (More on that trip, here).
Sri Lankans are no strangers to suffering and massive loss of life.
As Christians have buried their dead, the world has mourned the loss not only of lives but of precarious peace. Sri Lanka has maintained a semblance of stability since the civil war through strict authoritarian leadership and governmental control, most of which has been contested by human rights organizations around the world. The Buddhist majority fiercely persecuted both the Christian and Muslim minorities until recently. And warnings of islamic extremism have been raised by Muslim leaders within Sri Lanka and intelligence agencies around the world.
How is the Sri Lankan church responding? And how can we pray?
The BBC shares a short clip of an interview with a young Sri Lanka Christian who said that his church is asking themselves three questions. This young man poses questions that Christians around the world need to hear. He asks,
“How will we not let these external factors influence our daily life? We still have a Christian life that we need to live… The second is, what do we as Christians lack at this moment? Are we failing to share our love? Are we judging a community by what has happened today?… The third thing is, what would Jesus expect us to do at this point? Is he going to tell us, ‘your safety is first; you have to stay home; your family is important? Or would he expect us to go out into the world to comfort the families of the victims and share our love?”Listen to the audio recording of this here.
This young man’s courageous words ought to inspire us to pray boldly for the Christians of Sri Lanka as they strive to live as Jesus would in a country that is teetering on the edge of chaos.
- Governmental stability that provides protections for minority groups.
- An end to the political tensions that have kept Sri Lankan authorities from doing their jobs.
- The Christian minority in Sri Lanka to draw together and be strengthened in the Spirit.
- Unity between Protestant and Catholic Christians in Sri Lanka.
- Protection for Christians and Muslims who have spoken out against violence and retaliatory actions.