Sri Lanka (MNN) — Sri Lanka is known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. The moniker describes a beautiful picture, but the struggles reveal something darker.
It’s considered the third most religious country in the world. Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom while favoring Buddhism, minority Protestants have experienced violent persecution as well as discrimination.
Although it is legal to convert to Christianity in Sri Lanka, Christians often face opposition from politically active Buddhist monks. The Voice of the Martyrs notes the persecution of Christians has escalated in recent years with the rise of militant Buddhist nationalist groups in Sri Lanka. In fact, more than 250 churches have been destroyed or damaged in sectarian violence.
Asian Access has a presence in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, they are not immune to the trouble. Adrian DeVisser is the national director for Asian Access/Sri Lanka and A2 vice president for Partnership Development. He describes what happened to a church plant on January 5th.
“This church was attacked. They threatened the pastor, the leader of the church and said if they go to the police, they’ll kill the entire family, and then they burned the church down.”
Police were slow to respond to calls for help, and as of Friday morning, no arrests had been made.
The church, he goes on to explain, was fairly new and growing quickly. It was one that was drawing the ire of the militants in the area because, “Almost 100 percent of the believers in the church — it is not a very large church — they are all people from other faiths. Pray for their faith, that persecution will not discourage them, but rather, strengthen their walk with God. Pray for our leader that he will be able to give leadership to his own people. He, himself, is a new believer.”
How this man and his family came to Christ was also well known. “This family, the leader, they came to know the Lord because the wife, she was demon-possessed and she was delivered. The people in the area knew she was demon-possessed and they also knew even though they had been to the religious leaders, they couldn’t get any help.”
The attackers, also known. “We know the leaders who were responsible for it; these were some of the religious leaders in the vicinity. I was able to contact some of the police officials and I requested they take action and we also sent our lawyer to represent our leaders.”
Meanwhile, death threats have come in against the church leader and his family. His church has been destroyed. Yet, DeVisser says, “The church leader wants to remain there. He’s not willing to move out. There is a threat on his life. We have now provided some of the food stuffs they need. Some of our workers reached out to him, but he’s determined to ride the wave of persecution.”
Will you pray for the safety of the family and also that God will use this situation for His glory? Persecution never destroyed a church and never will, adds DeVisser. Suffering isn’t new, and won’t be going away anytime soon.
“We have been through a civil war between two ethnic groups. Now that the war is over, it seems to me that the extremists would want to incite a religious war, and they want to use the Christians as the scapegoat for the problems in the country.”
Ask the Lord to work in the hearts of those targeting Sri Lankan believers so they will repent and come to faith in Him. Pray that Christians in Sri Lanka will continue to share the news of God’s grace.