Sri Lanka (MNN) ― A decades-long civil war appears to be coming to an end in Sri Lanka. In the meantime, however, a humanitarian crisis is developing.
Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in a tiny area less than two miles square, between the government forces and the last holdouts of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Many thousands more have fled the area and are living as refugees.
"You have a lot of refugees running out of the area that's hit so hard," said Joe Handley of Asian Access. "And there's no way of getting relief into the areas that are hit. So the challenge is trying to come alongside these people that are in trauma."
The situation is impacting the ministry of Christian churches and pastors in the area, says Handley. Asian Access has trained and supported a number of pastors in Sri Lanka. Some live in the northern area, where the war is going on. Their churches are working to help those impacted by the conflict.
"The churches we work with are trying to come alongside of these folks who are escaping and trying to help them out -- people with no homes, a sense of loss, a sense of trauma, and whose lives are being impacted so strongly," Handley said.
Handley said that the church in Sri Lanka tries to influence the government positively to promote peace, but generally avoids taking political stances because of the country's religious climate. 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, 15 percent are Hindus, and only 8 percent are Christian. The rest are Muslims.
"They just want to be the church, and be available in the midst of the crisis," Handley explained. "They don't want to be limited from providing the relief that they can, so they put most of their efforts into that part."
Pastors associated with Asian Access are very involved with providing relief for the refugees. "The leader of our work there in Sri Lanka is actually helping and sending folks in and trying to do counseling and all sorts of help for safe homes, those types of things, livelihood projects," Handley said.
The Gospel is spreading, as suffering people search for spiritual answers.
"Anytime that you have a crisis of this proportion, people do show an interest in spiritual things," Handley explained. "The counseling and the crisis relief efforts are seeing that, in the midst of this, [people] appreciate the spiritual help that they're being offered. People are much more open to hearing about religious things."
The pastors are recommending that Asian Access add some material to its pastor-training curriculum, so they will be more prepared to deal with humanitarian crises in the future.
The curriculum would deal with issues like "How do you come alongside of people that are hurting and in need and in poverty, impacted by an ongoing war?" Handley explained. "That is the kind of training that we haven't been offering, and thus our leader in Sri Lanka is suggesting [that] we need to offer some new, specified leadership training courses to help the church in this humanitarian crisis."
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