The island nation of Sri Lanka, lying to the south east of India in the Indian Ocean, has had a turbulant history.
Through many invasions and colonial rule, to a growing nationalism and ethnic and religious conflict, this small island nation has seen it all.
With a population of 21 million, 68% Buddhist mainly in the south,14% Hindu mainly in the north east, and 9% each Christian and Muslim spread around the country, there has always been tension between the various groups, leading to frequent outbreaks of violence and persecution.
The recent 30 year war between the majority Sinhalese who are mostly Buddhist, and the minority Tamil Tiger rebels who are mostly Hindu, ended in 2009 with terrible bloodshed. The victorious Buddhist majority then turned on the Christian minority from whatever background, seeing them as a tool of Western Imperialism and a betrayal of Sri Lankan identity.
A further escalation came on Easter Sunday 2019 when Islamic State suicide bombers, in line with hard line Islamists around the world, carried out coordinated attacks on three churches and three hotels leaving 254 people dead and a further 500 injured.
Successive presidential elections have cemented hard line Buddhist Sinhalese policies. Among these the country’s constitution states that Buddhism shall have the “foremost place.” This in turn leads to mistaken ideas of superiority, where minorities like the Christians and Muslims suffer harassment by mobs of the Buddhist majority.
Another statement by the government is that all churches must be officially registered. Christians in Sri Lanka are found amongst both Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups. They frequently suffer attacks or harassment from Bhuddist extremists, and their church services are often disrupted on spurious charges. Individual pastors remain a frequent target of more militant Buddhists.
There are also moves in the east of the country by radical Muslims to get both Christians and Hindu ethnic Tamils to convert to Islam.
Also the majority of state schools do not teach Christianity as a subject, forcing Christian students to resort to studying Buddhism or Hinduism. However there are some strong Christian churches in the country which offer Bible training, theological training, and mission training. Also church planting and mission work in non Christian parts and even in neighbouring countries is expanding.
In spite of this, many of the Sri Lankan Christians work as “day pay labourers” in the tea plantations.They are very poor, living in substandard living conditions and earning about £3 a day, as long as they fulfill their quota. With the arrival of Coronavirus and lockdown, the tea factories closed for a month, leaving the workers with no income. On reopening, they were restricted to half-time work. Their living conditions remain an ongoing concern.
• Thank God for the Sri Lankan Christian Church and its continuing growth.
• Pray for a strengthening of faith in the face of persecution.
• Pray for protection and guidance for pastors and church workers, and also a lessening of harassment and persecution from the civil authorities.
• Pray for the police to be more sympathetic and proactive in dealing with mob violence.
• Pray for the government for a more sympathetic attitude towards the Christian and other minorities. Pray that freedom to worship will not be restricted, and that churches and church activities will be allowed to take place unhindered.
• Thank God that the Bible and other Christian literature is readily available and that it will remain so.
• Pray for more training for pastors and an increase in evangelism, both at home and in other countries.