Sri Lanka (MNN) — On May 19, Sri Lanka marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the war with the Tamil rebels.
Even amidst celebration, the specter of a new terror threat prompted the president, Maithripala Sirisena, to remind people that defeating the separatist guerrillas a decade ago meant Sri Lanka would meet the challenge from extremists now. He also vowed to crush the militants responsible for the Easter bombings that claimed 258 lives.
Dealing with unrest
The aftermath of the Easter attacks rattled citizens and led to an outbreak of more violence. A week ago, Sri Lanka imposed a curfew after mobs attacked mosques and the homes of Muslims.
We spoke with an Asian Access worker whom we’ll call ‘Sachini’ who confirms the tensions. Sachini says, “We were concerned that the country would break into riots. But thankfully, the Christian community — especially that was attacked — remained calm and peaceful. We were led by the Christian leaders in the country to forgive, to love, to move past this, and to hope for a better and safer place in Sri Lanka.”
While the Armed Forces were uncovering the people behind the Easter attacks, social media saw a volatile reaction.
Sachini explains that while some of the backlash violence may have had a political motivation, the mob attacks on Muslims were “actually fueled by a lot of hate speech that was going on, on social media, which is why we experienced a social media ban for quite some time after the attacks. But then they lifted the ban, and then there was a lot of hate speech going on circulating around social media.”
Sri Lanka remains under a state of emergency. The fear is, “Are we stepping into another era of violence now with a different ethnic group,” Sachini wonders. “There’s a lot of concern. Schools are still shut down. Parents are afraid to send their children to school. There is a growing sense of caution and fear throughout the entire island right now.”
In explaining the impact of the terror attacks and reprisal violence, she says there are two layers of things that Sri Lankans face. First, “People are still concerned and afraid of potential attacks. Until just a few days ago, there were threats of a second wave of attacks. The armed forces are now starting to assure us that they have everybody arrested, but they still feel like at least two percent of the terrorists — or at least people who supported the terrorists — are still on the loose.”
Second, within the Church, “People still afraid to conduct services, so we’re still moving with caution. That’s one thing that the Church is dealing with is thinking about people’s safety. Is it okay for us to meet back [in] usual places of worship? And, in terms of all the violence, I think the Christians are continuing to speak out of forgiveness and love and patience.”
Hope for the future
Confusion, misinformation, hate speech, and fear make recovery chaotic.
“There are people who [are] also spreading a lot of rumors, just suspicion in general. Who do we trust? [Who] can we trust? Who are the terrorists? So there’s just that natural fear, but in general, I think the Christian community is choosing to remain peaceful.”
Sachini emphasizes that last point. Christians in Sri Lanka are just normal people, subject to the emotional reaction the Easter Sunday attacks created. However, their response as a community is worthy of note.
“We have been praying for revival in Sri Lanka for quite some time now — more specifically, within the last year, and we have really been believing that God is about to do something big. Of course, we didn’t expect something this devastating to take place. But unlike other situations where we endured devastation, this time there is a sense of hope within the Church.”
In sharing their stories, Sachini says the most common thing emerging from the Body of Christ in Sri Lanka is that revival doesn’t come easy. Christians understand that and expect it. Now, they’re expectant that God will do an amazing thing through their struggle, and they’re inviting us to pray with them.
The days ahead are full of possibilities. “We have an election coming up and we are praying for good leaders, good governance, [and] new leaders. We’re praying against corruption. We are praying for the safety of people. We’re praying for this cycle of disaster and devastation almost every five years to end, and that we will have a season of just experiencing God’s goodness and faithfulness.”
Header photo courtesy Marco Verch (trendingtopics)/Flickr/CC