Gospel for Asia missionaries work throughout Sri Lanka, ministering to people whose lives have been battered by natural disasters and a 26-year-old civil war. The bill is expected to easily pass when presented for a vote this month.
"Our missionaries only want to share the love of Christ with the people of Sri Lanka," said K.P. Yohannan, president of Gospel for Asia. "They are not forcing anyone to change their faith. The reality is that those who choose to follow Christ know that they are opening themselves up to persecution and ridicule. It is not a decision these people make lightly."
The proposed anti-conversion law, originally submitted 5 years ago, calls for penalties including fines up to 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($4,425) and/or seven years in prison for anyone who tries to convert a Sri Lankan citizen from one religion to another by using "force, fraud or allurement." The harshest punishments are reserved for those convicted of converting women or children.
Buddhist monks lead the Jathika Hela Urumaya political party, which drafted the bill. Buddhism is the official religion of Sri Lanka, followed by 72 percent of the population. Since the number of people choosing to follow the Buddhist teaching has declined, Buddhist leaders have expressed concern about the growth of Christianity. Activists have accused believers of offering jobs or money to get people to convert to Christianity. One of the political party's leaders was quoted as saying that Christian missionaries funded by the U.S. pose one of the greatest threats facing Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan believers say that elements of the bill allow for vast leeway in interpretation. This could result in the criminalization of most Christian activity aimed at helping the poor.
"Our Lord commands us to take the Gospel to all people, both the wealthy and the poor," Yohannan said. "We need prayer that God will grant us the ability to continue ministering to the spiritual needs of all Sri Lankans, and when it is appropriate, the ability to continue providing for the physical needs of the country's poorest residents."
In addition to individual missionaries, GFA has a Bible college, Bridge of Hope and Compassion centers, and radio broadcasts in both languages in Sri Lanka. Join believers in prayer that the bill would not pass into law. Find out how you can help GFA continue their work in Sri Lanka by clicking here.