Sri Lanka: a nation in mourning
It's been more than 100 days since the Sri Lanka Easter bombings. Pray with BMS World Mission as we remember a nation in mourning
Voices rise in sung worship as a procession winds through the streets. Shadows shorten as the sun rises over the beach where a crowd gathers for a morning service. 2,000 years since that first Easter when Jesus met his disciples on a beach at dawn, Sri Lankan Christians process back to church for breakfast. Then, the world splinters.
Roshan Mendis was leading the service that day when an elder approached him during one of the hymns. There had been an attack, and a church had been the target. A terrible question presented itself: was this congregation at risk too? Minds raced as the worshippers sang. Then, news of the second attack came through. A hotel known for hosting church services had also been bombed.
Stepping outside his church as the sermon began, Roshan saw members of the police and military gathered by the gate. Roshan’s church was filled to overflowing that day, with additional seating placed outside. Not wishing to panic the congregation, he allowed the meeting to end before safely dispersing the crowd.
Three churches in Colombo and three hotels were the targets of terrorist suicide bombings on Easter Sunday morning 2019. Later that day and back at home, Roshan felt the reverberations from a blast in Dehiwala less than a kilometre away. A final bomb went off in Dematagoda when police entered the home of a suspect. The implications of the bomb targets were clear – the terrible thought now a kernel of fear rooted and growing fast. They were places of Christian (and perceived western expatriate) influence.
Roshan is the CEO of long-time BMS partner organisation Leads, a relief recovery and development agency working in Sri Lanka. He’s lived through 2004’s tsunami and three decades of civil war alongside Buddhist, Muslim and Tamil people who found themselves targets of unsparing insurgent violence. He’s survived being shot at in a case of mistaken identity – “the gun jammed” – has been caught in crossfire, and witnessed a bus being blown up by a mine. “I don’t claim to be brave,” says Roshan, “but none of those things gives me the same feeling of vulnerability as now. Then, I knew I was not being targeted – but now I feel it could be me.”
Leads has worked in the aftermath of all kinds of disaster, helping children and families in distress. But they themselves are far from immune from the trauma they address. It’s part of the integrated disaster response BMS partners aim for. What happens when the staff of an organisation well-acquainted with trauma experience it so acutely, in such a new way? Leads was invited to take charge of trauma triage at a national level after the bombings, but providing psychosocial ‘first aid’ in the form of group work and activity packs for so many has wrung thin their capacity. Staff also experience secondary trauma from listening to the many distressing accounts of the day.
Your support through BMS is keeping them going, and they need your prayer. As does the nation of Sri Lanka.
The Easter Sunday bombings killed over 250 people, and the backlash has been significant. Various faith-groups have been stirred to violent action. There has been increased monitoring of religious activity, and an emergency ban issued on the wearing of burqas and niqabs. The government-imposed curfews that promote safety also disrupt a suffering nation from returning to everyday life. Sri Lanka is a nation in sequestered mourning.
Roshan’s fellowship met for the first time as a church on 12 May, three weeks after the attacks took place. Not all were ready to attend. John 16: 2 came to mind: …in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God
. “The sense that it can happen to anyone, anywhere is very high,” says Roshan. The psychological implications for ordinary people reverberate far beyond Sri Lanka’s borders. The loss of at least 38 foreign nationals in the blasts is keenly felt. Tourism will undoubtably suffer. Before he gives talks, Roshan plays a slideshow of richly colourful photographs: wildlife, nature, culture. “A reminder that Sri Lanka is still a beautiful country.”
There is another photograph that did the rounds of the news outlets after the bombings: a statue of Jesus spattered in blood. It speaks to Roshan not of injustice, but of sacrifice. “It encapsulates a level of pain in what we are called to do.” Roshan has to tell the story of Good Friday, of taking up our cross, of the seed of the Church. But Good Friday is never the end. For Christians, the message of Easter is forgiveness. The response of the Christian community in Sri Lanka has been a powerful means of witness, of ‘living by the Bible’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ noted by Buddhist and Muslim neighbours.
Roshan’s prayer is that his country’s leaders will act with wisdom and integrity and that families seeking answers from the crucible of their pain will find answers. As for us, the Global Church, Roshan believes Christians should lobby for our freedom of religion – now as one of the most persecuted faith groups. And we should also be quick to listen to the World Church, supporting local believers as they lead mission, so that Christianity is no longer seen as a western imposition. So that Christianity is no longer seen as a threat.
Please pray for Sri Lanka. Pray for its Christians and all its people. For wise leaders and peaceful communities. Pray for Roshan and his team, and for BMS work all over a world that hasn’t yet embraced the hope offered by that first Easter.
Please pray for Anita*: she was severely injured in the blasts. Pray that her brain surgery would be successful.
Pray that the resilience programme for local Christian trauma counsellors would be effective and that it would enable them to help others who are also suffering.
Hold Sri Lanka up to God. Pray for peace in Sri Lanka and for recovery for Roshan and others who are suffering.
This story was originally published on the BMS World Mission website and is used with permission.