Updates from the Sri Lanka bombings–on-the-ground reports from our field
Editor’s note: This post will be updated as we get more information from the Open Doors field team that is on the ground in Sri Lanka. Please check back regularly for the latest updates on the Sri Lanka bombings as we seek to stand with our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka as they mourn and follow Jesus.
Update April 26, 2019, 10:00 a.m. EDT
The official death toll has been reduced by about 100 people, to 253, according to the BBC. The reduction may be because the devastation of the explosions was so extensive that it is difficult to find out how many people were actually killed in a single blast.
More information has been slowly trickling out about the bombers themselves. The person who is thought to be the ringleader of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group responsible for the bombings was a hardline Muslim radical who preached jihad so publicly that he’d been reported to the Sri Lankan authorities many times. The New York Times reports that the group likely has links to ISIS, a disturbing reminder of so many atrocities against Christians in Iraq and Syria.
The BBC reports that the Roman Catholic Church has canceled church services this weekend because of continued threats—the government suspects there may be more terrorists who have additional attacks planned.
Funerals have continued for Christians killed in the Easter Sunday bombings. Open Doors workers have attended some of the funerals, standing with our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters as they grieve their lost friends and family. Please continue to lift them up in prayer.
The government in Sri Lanka is facing many questions about how it dealt with reported threats and how it will address ongoing security issues. But one government official issued a powerful statement this week in Sri Lanka’s parliament. “I am a Christian and I share in the sorrow of the Christian church in Sri Lanka at this time,” said Honorable M. Abraham Sumanthiran, a member of parliament. “We believe in Jesus Christ, who came into this world, suffered as we do and took the worst of evil onto himself and was crucified unjustly. But he defeated all evil through self-sacrificial love, which is what we celebrate on Easter—Resurrection day. We are grieving—but yet we will not allow hate and revenge to overtake us. I can only quote Rev Fr Jude Fernando, who was celebrating the Easter Mass at Kochchikade St. Anthony’s Church when the explosion took place. I quote:
“’We love peace. We forgive. Our God is a God of peace, he is not a God of revenge. We love each other, we forgive.’”
Pray for Sri Lanka and for your brothers and sisters there. Pray they would be able to feel the hope and comfort of God. Pray they could practice the radical forgiveness of Jesus. And pray for justice to be done, that the perpetrators would be found and prevented from attacking any additional people.
Update April 23, 2019, 12 p.m. EDT:
The following is an update from an Open Doors field worker who is currently in Sri Lanka, visiting Batticaloa, the site of one of the church bombings:
We travelled to Batticaloa early yesterday morning to visit the Zion Church, which was bombed on the morning of Easter Sunday. After speaking to several people who witnessed that day’s events, the following is a detailed account of what had happened:
The suicide bomber, a well-dressed man carrying a backpack, had not specifically targeted the Zion Church. The most well-known church in the area is a Catholic church that is located right on the main road. The bomber had first gone to this church, but their Easter mass had been held the night before. He asked someone there if there are any other services at that time on Sunday and that person had directed him to the Zion Church.
Once he was at the Zion Church, he acted as though he was waiting for someone. When asked, he stated that he was waiting for his sick mother and inquired what time the healing service would start. Several people at the church, including the pastor’s wife, spoke to the suicide bomber that morning. A man who spoke to him recalls that he was sweating profusely. He lingered near the pastor’s office for some time. Several people urged him to go inside the church and take a seat and to take his backpack off. Since Batticaloa was an area that was severely affected by the civil war, the people are still very vigilant.
Thinking his behavior suspicious, a young man from the church was sent to speak to the bomber. The bomber seemed reluctant to go inside and said he needed to make a phone call first. An eyewitness recalls the explosion happened as soon as the man dialed his phone.
At the time of the explosion, the service had just begun. Most of the casualties were children, as they were coming down after Sunday school (which had just ended) to have their breakfast. Since the man was near the parking area when the bomb detonated, most of the damage was caused by the motorcycles that blew up as a result of the bomb.
During our visit, we noticed that armed guards were scattered across the town, and the road leading to the Zion Church has been blocked by the military and only residents are allowed through. Police officers were present at every funeral as well as at the cemetery. Every shop and bank in the area was closed as the townspeople stood in solidarity with the mourning Christians. People were seen putting up black and white flags along the streets.
Many people gathered to pay their respects at the funerals, one of which we were able to attend. It was the funeral of the Sunday school teacher and her nephew (aged 13). The boy’s parents were both present but the teacher’s husband is still at the hospital recovering from his injuries.
Many people were rushing from one funeral to the next.
People are shaken by this incident and are in shock. There is also an ongoing threat of possible attacks all over Sri Lanka. Pray the authorities will be able to apprehend everyone responsible so people can feel safe once more.
The tragic events of Easter Sunday reopened old wounds: The horrors of the war are still fresh in people’s minds. The 30-year-long civil war scarred people, as many lived in constant fear during that time. Please pray for physical, psychological and spiritual healing. Everyone lost someone they knew, a family member or a friend. Pray for God’s strength and comfort upon those affected.
Over the next few days, we will be visiting the funerals of the people who lost their lives during the church attacks.
STAND WITH YOUR FAMILY IN SRI LANKA
Our Christian brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka need to know they’re not alone and the worldwide Body of Christ stands with them through prayer and encouragement. We need to do everything we can to lift them up in prayer—and to strengthen them in the face of great persecution. Here are two ways you can encourage your Christian family in Sri Lanka through prayer.
- Post your prayer on our Sri Lanka Prayer Wall today.
- Post a prayer or an encouraging message on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts using the hashtag: #PrayforSriLanka
Open Doors has been on the ground in Sri Lanka for decades working alongside the church to provide relief for Christians facing violence—as well as providing Bibles, discipleship materials, and training for believers to respond to persecution. Open Doors also offers legal aid and income-generating projects for persecuted and marginalized believers.
In the wake of the devasting Easter attacks, we continue to stand with our suffering family in Sri Lanka, because we are One Church, One Family.
Top photo: A Sri Lankan woman prays during a three minute nationwide silence to pay homage to the victims of Easter Sunday’s blasts outside St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena).