Worst Attack on Christians in Asia in Recent History

April 22, 2019 by Robert Kenna in Stories of Persecution

Photo: Relatives of serial blast victims mourn outside a police morgue in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, April 22, 2019. A government crime investigator says the coordinated Easter bombings that ripped through Sri Lankan churches and luxury hotels were carried out by seven suicide bombers which killed and injured hundreds of people, was Sri Lanka’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne )

Our Christian family in Sri Lanka has suffered one of its greatest attacks in recent history.

Our hearts sank on Easter Sunday to hear from our Open Doors field workers that terrorists attacked three churches during Easter services and three hotels in Sri Lanka. The latest death toll is nearly 300, with 500 more wounded.

These deadly bombings will affect the lives of thousands of Christians in the country. 

Open Doors has served the church in Sri Lanka for decades and religious attacks of this scale and severity are unprecedented. In the past, attacks on Christian churches and believers have been confined to certain areas of the country, usually at the village level, and with no bombs or sophisticated plots involved.

But on Sunday, that all changed.

Christians in South Asia pray for their brothers and sisters in nearby Sri Lanka. “This is the persecuted church interceding for the persecuted church,” an Open Doors field worker shared.

The six initial blasts occurred in St. Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo; St. Sebestian’s Church in Negombo; Zion Church in Batticaloa; and at the Kingsbury Hotel and the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo. The five-star hotels all offered special Easter-themed breakfasts, while all churches celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ with an Easter service. One explosion occurred in the residential district Dematagoda and one in a hotel near Dehiwala Zoo.

Our team is on the ground meeting with church leaders and believers—to encourage them and to evaluate the situation to determine the greatest needs moving forward.

Who’s responsible?

No group has claimed responsibility yet, but police officials report the arrests of 24 people suspected to have played a part in the attacks. Reportedly, the attacks were carried out by seven suicide bombers, all Sri Lankans. The Sri Lankan government has asked the media not to publish the names of the suspects, as releasing the names could give other extremist groups the opportunity to exploit the situation further.

Recent reports indicate the government blames little known Jihadist group, National Thoweed Jamathfor the bombings.

A note from the field

Open Doors worker, Sunil Kumar, shares specific prayer requests and gives insight into the situation and general feeling in Sri Lanka:

“Please pray for all the people who were affected by this. Many are injured or grieving the loss of loved ones. Pray for strength and comfort and for His healing hand upon them.”

“At the church in Batticaloa, even though only 28 people have been confirmed dead, many more people (mostly children) are still missing,” Kumar says. “The police have enforced a curfew until further notice, and all social media has been blocked. I can’t send or receive messages on Viber or Whatsapp. So much traffic on the main roads as people rush to go home but other roads are deserted.”

Background on Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, ranked #46 on the 2019 World Watch List, is predominantly Buddhist and ethnic Sinhala (80 percent of the population). The country has a long and violent history for religious and ethnic reasons.

After decades of ethnic tension, a full-fledged civil war broke out in 1983. The Sinhalese Buddhist majority fought against the Tamil minority (mostly Hindu, but including a considerable number of Christians). There was a high death toll on both sides. The war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamils, especially the Tamil Tigers group (LTTE), but true peace and reconciliation are still far off.

Due to this history, religious nationalism has thrived in Sri Lanka. Radical Buddhist groups have sprouted up across the country and were used by the previous government as a means of keeping religious minorities in check.  

Easter attacks

Terrorists have used Easter to launch deadly attacks in the past as well. Two of the most brutal killings took place on Palm Sunday 2017 in Egypt (45 dead) and Easter 2017 in Lahore, Pakistan (75 dead).

In many countries where faith costs the most, Christians run a higher risk of being assaulted during Christian holy days such as Christmas and Easter. In countries like Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan, worshipping on these special days often comes with potential danger.

“In the midst of all these terrible events, we take comfort in the truth that He is risen. Thank you all for mobilizing prayer for Sri Lanka. Let‘s continue to be on our knees.”
—The Open Doors field team.

Stand with your persecuted family in Sri Lanka

Share Your Prayers

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.

  1. Post your prayer on our Sri Lanka Prayer Wall today.
  2. Post a prayer or an encouraging message on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts using the hashtag: #PrayforSriLanka

Give Today

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.

You can stand with them too, through a gift today.

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