Why it’s so hard to build a church in Sri Lanka

September 7, 2022 by Noah Cassetto in Asia

How difficult can it be to build a church? The answer varies all over the world. In the United States, for instance, churches need resources to buy or rent a plot of land to meet on. Once the capital is acquired, all that’s left to do is build. In Sri Lanka, however, believers have to contend with widespread hostility.

Pastor Peter leads a church in northeastern Sri Lanka. The church has grown to over 400 congregants, many of whom were former Hindus. God has blessed the ministry greatly, to the point that the church needs a new building to fit everyone. With confidence that the Lord would provide, Pastor Peter began the search. 

The answer came in the form of a plot of land situated between a Hindu village and a Buddhist village. “I was almost tricked into buying this property because I was not aware of the surrounding areas,” Pastor Peter said with a wistful smile. Nevertheless, the building of the church commenced, and the foundations were laid. 

About halfway through construction, however, local authorities came by and ordered Pastor Peter to stop all construction. They said the neighboring villagers had signed a petition against the building, giving a myriad of reasons why they could not build on the land. To be able to keep building, Pastor Peter would need to receive explicit permission from the government. The momentum ground to a halt. 

It wasn’t easy, but six months later, Pastor Peter finally thought he had what the church needed to resume construction. By that time, however, Sri Lanka was embroiled in a paralyzing economic crisis—inflation is still rampant and supplies, including fuel and food, are increasingly scarce. The church couldn’t provide the funds necessary to finish the building. While the crisis persisted, Pastor Peter decided to erect a simple tent where they could meet until they had the necessary resources. 

Just when Pastor Peter was ready to resume building, a new challenge arose: Two extremist groups filed a petition against the church. Construction stopped again. 

“An extremist Hindu group was behind this; they initiated it,” Pastor Peter said. “The second group had some Christians and few Buddhists, they have also reported us to the police.” 

The authorities haven’t been helpful to the Christians, either. “They keep complicating the process by requiring new documents,” Pastor Peter said. “One officer recently asked for a 30-year-old document from me, which is non-existent. The local authorities are being influenced heavily by Hindus and extremists in the village. A lot of new Hindu temples are being built without any permission, but we are being treated unfairly because we are Christians.” 

Pastor Peter is on the frontlines of persecution. What started as an easy decision to build a new church building has turned into a story of persecution, courage and resolve to stay faithful to God.  

Today, the church is conducting their weekly gatherings in a rented facility while also meeting in believers’ homes. Despite the challenges, Pastor Peter is hopeful about the future of the church. “Regardless of setbacks, I am certain that God will build his church.” 

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Pastor Peter and his church need our prayers as they continue to face obstacles to their building. Let’s boldly ask God to give the police, extremist groups and neighbors a change of heart, that they would welcome Christians with open arms. We know that nothing can stand in the way of God’s plan, even threats from extremist groups. Praise the Lord for Pastor Peter’s resolve and his leadership during such difficult times in Sri Lanka.