June, Not a Good Month for Christians in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka saw six cases of religious persecution in the month of June alone, all of which took place in the eastern and southern districts of Hambanthota, Batticaloa, Kegalle, and Kaluthara.
“After a relative lull during the month of May, incidents of religious persecution once again increased during this month,” according to the June 2013 Incident Report of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), an umbrella organization of evangelical churches and denominations in the Sinhala-Buddhist majority country.
The report lists three incidents in the south:
On June 5, four unidentified persons attempted to burn the St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic church in Angulana, Moratuwa, and Kaluthara District. They broke into the church during the night and to poured petrol on the Blessed Sacrament,” said NCEASL in its incident report. “However, it had not caught fire and about thirty lit matches were found on the premises.”
The perpetrators also damaged a 143-year-old statue of the church’s Blessed Virgin Mary and destroyed sound system. According to local news, the perpetrators were later apprehended and subsequently released upon request of the Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Arch Bishop of the Catholic Church.
In the same district, two days later, a Kings Revival Church pastor was interrogated on June 7, by two policemen about his church activities in the village of Ingiriya. His church is composed of 60-70 members. The officers informed him of the many posters scattered all over the town that spoke against the Christian churches; “We don’t need a church in the village; all we need is a Buddhist temple. Chase the Christian pastor from the village!”
In another incident On June 15, Buddhist monks and villagers, among who were several Hindus, held a protest meeting against the Christians living in Gangavereliya, a village Kegalle District in the southwest. Posters were spread the village informing people about the meeting. “The purpose of the meeting was to restrict activities of the churches and unethical conversions,” said NCEASL. “At least one pastor in the area had received threats to stop worship services.”
The report lists three incidents in the East:
In Hambantota District, 218 km. southeast of capital city Colombo, Buddhist monks accosted an Assemblies of God (AOG) pastor after accusing him of taking pictures and videos of their meeting on June 16. The accusers were members of an extremist group, Ravana Balaya, and the said meeting was held as a “protest against Christians” according to NCEASL. In response to the accusations, the pastor said that while on his way to village shops, and was merely passing by the meeting, when the Ravana Balaya monks spotted him. They then forced the pastor to come up on stage but he fled from the area and went straight to the police station. “However, the Buddhist monks pursued him to the police station,” reported NCEASL, “and falsely accused him of taking pictures and videos of the meeting. The pastor denied the allegations to the Officer in Charge (OIC).”
As the AOG pastor was fleeing from the Ravana Balaya Buddhist monks, a Methodist church in Batticaloa District was raided on the morning of June 16. The congregation was holding a worship service when the attackers barged in and started shouting at the pastor and church members. Armed with clubs, knives, and swords, the attackers demanded for the on-going service to stop and for the church to be closed down permanently. “They beat up the worshippers and the pastor causing injury,” wrote NCEASL in its June 2013 Incident Report. “Some of the injured victims were admitted to the Valachchenai hospital. The mob further caused serious damage to the modest church building.”
The next day, on June 17, another pastor in the same district was attacked at around 9:00 a.m. Five Buddhist monks and some 30 locals surrounded the pastor’s place and hurled threats at him. “They demanded that the worship services be discontinued,” said NCEASL. “The presence of the police prevented the attackers from entering the (pastor’s) premises. The police succeeded in sending the mob away.” The assaulted pastor continues to receive threats almost on a daily basis.
NCEASL has documented 45 incidents of religious persecution between January and May this year, a steep increase from 2012’s total count of 52.
Father, our concerns are that the persecution of Christians may be on the rise. Often we do not know how to pray for those who are directly affected; help us to pray “according to Your will” so that our hearts are in harmony with Yours. Today Father, we join in prayer with believers in Sri Lanka who are facing threats and aggression because they have put their trust in You. Carry them, sustain them and strengthen them in such a way, that it will be obvious to those who intend harm, will see Your love, grace and hope. May many come into the kingdom because of their faithful witness. In Jesus’ name, the great “I Am,” we pray. Amen