Sri Lanka: Reflections on the church, life as a Christian, and the plight of the poor
Climate change and other disasters affect the poor
Article by the Ven Dr Rienzie Perera, Archdeacon of Galle in the Diocese of Colombo.
Sri Lanka is one of the beautiful countries in the world. The church here is a small Christian minority living amid a majority who are influenced by Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic scriptures.
We are each influenced by our own spiritualities to take care of the planet – but today we are faced with floods and earth slips which have devastated two thirds of the country.
People have lost homes, belongings and livestock. Roads are blocked, making it difficult to reach victims with the basic necessities they need to survive. Many are suffering, especially the poor.
In times of suffering, people cry out to God. Some question God – even questioning the existence of God – but others find their love and devotion to God is affirmed. For such as these ‘…neither death nor life, nor angels, no principalities, nor things present, nor things to come… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8: 38-39). Or in the words of Psalm 46: ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change.’
I have visited areas of devastation and met people who have held onto their faith despite great suffering, even having lost loved ones. Such people have a deep spirituality that understands God can make the impossible possible. This is the God of surprises we encounter in the Bible.
Young Christians in Sri Lanka face challenges
Article by Ms Samanali Rodrigo, development worker and lay member of Colombo Diocese. Us works in close partnership with church leaders in Sri Lanka.
Young Christians in Sri Lanka face many challenges, not least the demands of the competitive modern world. Studying, looking for a job or having a job take up a great deal of time, which means young people cannot devote themselves to their spiritual life.
Sadly, many young people are forced to choose between church or career – with many dropping out of church altogether.
Alarmingly, we have seen an increase in suicides among young Christians. I believe this is because young people have not been able to root themselves in their faith and in biblical values.
Another challenge facing young Christians is that they are rarely trusted to join decision-making committees and rarely given opportunities to lead. I would like those in leadership positions to try and understand the modern generation, rather than criticise it. Sadly, many gifted young people have become so discouraged they have left the church.
So it is difficult for young people – difficult to find time to attend church. And, when they do, they often find they are not encouraged to develop their skills.
Christians can build bridges between Tamil and Sinhalese
Article by the Revd Nishantha Fernando, tutor at the Theological College of Lanka (TCL), and a priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala.
As Christians, we are the only religious group that represents both of Sri Lanka’s main ethnic groups; we have both Singhalese and Tamil students at the Theological College of Lanka.
In 2012, in the aftermath of our 30-year civil war [in which the Tamil Tigers sought independence from the Sinhalese government], we organised month-long exposure visits, sending our students out as bridge builders to our wounded communities.
I sent a group of Tamil students to the remote Sinhala area Tanamalwila, and a group of Sinhala candidates to Kilinochchi, a former Tamil war zone.
Later, I visited the students. In Tanamalwila, I found the Tamil student Kandeepan living in a village home; the grandmother and the children were crying and begging him not to leave.
Similarly, in Kilinochchi, our students became a part of the community. Sinhalese student Prasanga said: ‘These people cooked their best food for us and offered us their hearts as if we were family.’
It is God’s will that we, as Sri Lankan Christians, take the initiative to break down barriers, build bridges and lay the foundations for a better future.
Pray for reconciliation following years of civil war
Article by Rienzie Perera, Director of the Reconciliation and Peace Desk, in the Diocese of Colombo.
The end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in 2009, brought many good things. The Tamil Tigers, who were fighting for an independent Tamil state, no longer carry out bombings in market places and on public transport. And there are no more roadblocks, curfews and child soldiers.
And yet many people are feeling bitter and angry. There is a feeling that Sri Lanka’s government and the military continue to celebrate their victory to try and divert people’s attention from pressing life-threatening issues, such as an ongoing lack of food, drinking water, health, education and security.
There is a need for healing the nation and bitter memories. Around the country, widows and parents cry out for missing or lost relatives. Until they are consoled our nation will remain bleeding and broken.
I believe that those of us who claim to be members of the Body of Christ are called on to imitate Christ, who came to mend broken relationships. I therefore urge you to pray that our nation will experience the power and comfort of God’s healing.
Church is playing a prophetic role
Article by Fr Lakshman Daniel, of the Church of Ceylon.
Sri Lanka is still recovering from a 30-year civil war. Though fighting stopped in 2009, people in the north face hardships due to ongoing militarisation, the occupation of their land, and an inability to recover ancestral properties.
Clearly, there is a need for reconciliation between the minority Tamils in the north and the majority Sinhalese in the south.
New infrastructure is being developed, with many projects to improve standards of living. However, the benefits are not reaching those most in need.
In recent years, we have seen a rise in extremist forces who are trying to silence unrest among minority groups. These extremists are not being opposed.
We have seen a breakdown in law and order. We witness injustice, exploitation and crime. It is in this context that in January the nation voted into power a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, as the representative for all parties opposing former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was seeking a third term in office. The new president is promising to fight corruption and uphold good governance.
In the role of prophet, the Church of Ceylon is standing on the side of the poor and the oppressed.