Category Archives: Sri Lanka

“He Knew!” Persecution Eases in Sri Lanka

I read regular commentaries on the persecuted church, but one in particular has stuck in my mind. It is a chilling 2013 article in America’s Baptist Press titled “Sri Lankan churches attacked, closed.”

It detailed an escalating series of attacks on churches by mobs of Buddhist extremists. In many cases local authorities refused help, sometimes even effectively endorsing the violence. According to the report, some people had become afraid of stepping foot in church.

But it was something else that caught my attention and has remained in my memory. For the article said that the attacks and church closings had not hampered the spread of the gospel. It quoted a pastor as follows: “God has been preparing us for this persecution all along. He knew!…He opened our minds to a new way of doing ‘church’ last year. Before this even started happening, we were training lay leaders to lead house churches in their homes.”

So as official churches were closing, house churches were starting up, “in someone’s house, a business or even outside under a shade tree.”

One pastor said his church had started meeting in 16 different homes and was growing for the first time in years. Another said his church had separated into eight groups, and these were reproducing and starting new churches.

According to the report: “Those who were once afraid to go to a religious place for fear of a mob or the monks asking questions are not concerned about going to a friend’s home.”

In 2013 Sri Lanka gave the impression that it might become a country like Pakistan is today, with a Christian minority living in fear of the increasing aggression of belligerent extremists from the religious majority. In 2014 Sri Lanka was ranked at No. 29 in the annual Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith.

But then in 2015 it fell sharply to No. 44. And in the 2016 list, released this January, it has dropped out altogether.

Open Doors commented: “A dictatorial president, Mahina Rajapaksa, was unexpectedly defeated in January [2015] elections after appearing confident of victory. He had close ties to two radical Buddhist movements and, since then, both movements have been quiet.

“Churches are still attacked by local communities, but nationally-approved violence seems to be on the decrease, even if it continues to make little difference if Christians complain after an attack.”

I do not know enough about current conditions in Sri Lanka to be able to draw a direct connection between the rise of the house church movement and the decline in persecution. But that pastor’s beautiful comment has remained lodged in my brain: “God has been preparing us for this persecution all along. He knew!”

As we witness the dramatic escalation in the persecution of Christians in so many countries we should heed what has happened in Sri Lanka and we should remember that pastor’s words.

God knows! He is in control. That is a message of hope for all Christians.

“Deeply Troubling” – Terrorism Now the Biggest Threat to Christians

Christians will find little of comfort in the US State Department’s newly released International Religious Freedom Report. For, sadly, it confirms what many of us already knew – that the new phenomenon of non-state terrorism has supplanted oppression by government to become the main threat to religious freedom. And conditions are getting worse.

In the words of US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David N. Saperstein, speaking to journalists in Washington DC on October 14th at the release of the report: “The single greatest challenge to religious freedom worldwide, or certainly the single greatest emerging challenge…is the abhorrent acts of terror committed by those who falsely claim the mantle of religion to justify their wanton destruction.”

He singled out Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for particular condemnation, along with Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

But a second challenge is also sadly familiar to Christians – blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan that are used to oppress minorities, especially Christians, whose religious beliefs offend the majority.

Nevertheless, the report did find a modicum of good news amidst the gloom. It noted “encouraging improvements in the status of Christians in Egypt,” including court convictions for some of the perpetrators of violence against Copts.

It applauded the new Egyptian constitution for providing increased human rights protections, including a stipulation of equality before the law irrespective of religion. “It also requires that parliament pass a new law facilitating the construction and renovation of Christian churches, which is without precedent,” said the report.

In his remarks to journalists, Ambassador Saperstein noted another pleasing development. He said he had visited China and found that, despite continuing abuses and restrictions, “many places of worship were nonetheless full and flourishing. In areas of the country where the government’s hand was lighter, faith-based social service and welfare agencies operating homeless shelters, orphanages and soup kitchens made highly positive contributions to the wellbeing of their society.”

He also found in Sri Lanka that, after some years of growing religious conflict, a new government was working to ease tensions.

But overall there was little to reassure Christians. When asked by a journalist if conditions were getting better or worse, the ambassador stated bluntly that over the past several years there has been a steady increase in the percentage of people living in countries with serious restrictions on religious freedom.

Then he added: “And of course…the escalation of the violence perpetrated by non-state actors, often in the name of their interpretation of religion, is a new phenomenon that has really escalated in the last 18 months. So on that level, there are trends that are deeply troubling.”

“God Has Been Preparing Us” – Persecution of Christians Growing in Buddhist Sri Lanka

Many people – even Christians – are startled to learn that among the groups persecuting Christians are Buddhists.

Several Buddhist countries are on the latest Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians face the most hardships, including Laos, Vietnam, Bhutan and Myanmar.

But recently it has been Sri Lanka where Christians have been facing some particularly vile incidents of persecution.

Now the Baptist Press, which has excelled with some superb reporting on churches around the world that are under attack, has published an excellent feature, “Sri Lankan churches violently attacked, closed.”

It goes into great detail, and you should read it all. Here is a brief excerpt:

Sri Lanka is the world’s oldest continually Buddhist nation, and extremists told a TIME reporter last month that they want it to stay that way. As a result, persecution is on the rise. Attacks on Muslims have hit the headlines, but the increasing incidence of Christian persecution has received very little attention.

“People are afraid to step foot in a church or any religious place,” [Pastor] Perera [not his real name] says. “We cannot start new churches. Churches cannot rent or buy houses anymore…. 

“Our constitution gives us freedom of religion, but in practice it is Buddhist and there will not be any other religion welcome,” the pastor warns. “This [persecution] is going to spread quickly from one district to another.”

The veteran pastor is no stranger to persecution. The country suffered through two decades of civil war. Pastors had to walk the perimeter of their church building to check for landmines every Sunday morning. Before the 2004 tsunami hit the island, churches were burned, bombed and shut down. Things settled down and Sri Lanka disappeared off the World Watch List’s top 50 persecuted countries. 

But now, it has started up again. Almost every week, a church or Muslim business is attacked in some way or another. Despite this persecution, Perera assures that the church closings and attacks have not hampered spreading the Gospel. 

“God has been preparing us for this persecution all along. He knew!” Perera says, suppressing a chuckle of amazement. “He opened our minds to a new way of doing ‘church’ last year. Before this even started happening, we were training lay leaders to lead house churches in their homes.”

Time to Recognize Buddhist Persecution of Christians

By Martin Roth

Time magazine confirms what many Christians already knew – that Buddhism too has its extremists, and persecution of Christians is a fact in parts of the Buddhist world.

Laos – a Buddhist and a Marxist-Leninist nation – ranks at Number 18 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians face the harshest persecution. Vietnam is Number 21 and Myanmar is Number 32.

The Time report concerns mainly Buddhist opposition to Islam, though it notes: “In Sri Lanka, where a conservative, pro-Buddhist government reigns, Buddhist nationalist groups are operating with apparent impunity, looting Muslim and Christian establishments.”

The Baptist Press has an excellent summary of a growing wave of disturbing incidents in Sri Lanka:

International Christian Concern reported that 2012 and 2013 have seen a dramatic increase in Christian persecution in Sri Lanka, including Christians being attacked in more than 50 incidents in 2012 alone for practicing their faith. Reports of Christian pastors and their families being threatened and having their homes firebombed have almost become common, ICC said.

Catholic World News cited a bishop May 1 in Sri Lanka who said the cause of the uptick in persecution is the growth of what he calls the “Buddhist Taliban.”

…In March, a large mob attacked a pastor’s home while the family was away and began damaging the property, demanding an end to the church services in the home, ICC said May 5. 

The same pastor had been accosted and threatened by a group of Buddhists telling him to close down the church late last year, the human rights organization said. The protesters returned the next day and attacked the building during a worship service, injuring the pastor.

Also in March, more than 10 churches faced persecution in the form of threats, disturbances, harassment or attacks, mostly from Buddhist monks but sometimes with the assistance of the police or a mob, ICC said. 

Last summer, a 14-year-old boy, the only Christian in his class at school, reportedly was severely beaten and threatened with death if he did not stop spreading Christianity.