Sri Lanka once was known for its tolerance and non-violence. For centuries it was a Buddhist kingdom that welcomed refugees from India (Hindu, Muslim, Christian). But Buddhist extremism has grown in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic country. Many reacted to the Tamil violence, to Muslim growth, or to inappropriate methods of Christian evangelism. Persecution against Christians comes in waves, and at least 250 churches were destroyed or damaged in recent years. Beneath the layers of Buddhism and Hinduism the ancient spirits, gods, and demons still hold power. Pray for the power of Christ to break these strongholds.
Traditional mainline Churches have declined from 21% of the population in 1722 to 7% in 2010. The causes - nominalism, theological liberalism, insufficient outreach and lack of indigeneity. Aggressive Buddhist proselytism and emigration of Tamil Christians steadily whittle away their flocks. Praise God for growing evangelical movements in most of the Protestant denominations today. Pray for renewal that will correct the above shortcomings and see God shape a purified, biblically sound indigenous Church with a focus on extending the love and truth of Christ in word and deed to all of Sri Lanka.
The growth of evangelicals is both quantitative and qualitative, but it has a long way to go before maturity and fullness. Numbers continue to surge upward, and Sri Lanka sees the emergence of maturing, faith-filled congregations. This relatively small Christian community produces an impressive number of top-quality, global Christian leaders, thinkers and writers. Pray also for:
- Increased unity. The Church as a whole is divided - between Tamil and Sinhalese, between Catholic and Protestant, between mainline and evangelical, even between older Pentecostal and newer neo-Pentecostal. These divisions offer a poor testimony, give ammunition for opponents of Christianity and hinder progress in evangelization. Pray for the vital work of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance, the National Christian Council and the National Christian Fellowship of Sri Lanka, the last of which is the network for many of the Sri Lankan indigenous denominations. There are also a significant number of regional pastoral fellowships. Relying on foreign denominational structures and finance can also cause divisions.
- The potential of the Church as a channel for reconciliation. Ultimately, no other national structure can meaningfully bring together the bitterly divided ethnic communities with their various castes and political expressions except a flourishing biblical Christianity. Pray that the universal love of God and authority of Christ might catalyze both Church and Sri Lankan society toward reconciliation.
Christian presence in Sri Lanka is patchy and uneven, but this is changing rapidly. Most Christians are concentrated in the urban areas of Colombo and Jaffna and on the northwest coast. However, recent evangelism sees Christian witness extending into every administrative division of Sri Lanka. Many trained workers emigrate, and few are willing to work in the less-privileged areas. There are many new Christians from the Buddhist and Hindu communities. Pray for ministers who are willing to serve in the humble and challenging - but responsive and open - rural environments.
Persecution comes in waves and is sporadic, but it is intense when it occurs. Over 250 churches have been destroyed or damaged in recent years. This persecution is a double-edged sword; it threatens believers, but also fuels church growth and spiritual passion. Its causes are multiple - the hatred of the enemy for God's people, the extremist agendas of some Buddhist and Hindu groups, the historic association of Christianity with foreign oppressors and the inappropriate, insensitive methods adopted by some evangelists and church planters.
Special ministry challenges:
- The Lanka Tamil community, once relatively prosperous but now undone and scattered by the violence perpetrated by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military. The diaspora is over 700,000 strong; pray for the many churches among them to be forces for the evangelization of Sri Lanka, rather than agitators pushing for an independent Tamil state.
- The Estate Tamils have long been a despised, poverty-stricken and marginalized community, but growing numbers are turning to Christ. A significant amount of outreach is directed toward them by the Free Churches Fellowship, AoG and the Smyrna Church.
- Young people. Ministry to young people in Sri Lanka is a growing area, but still needs more attention. Many congregations have no resources for ministry to youth and children.
- The villages still present a challenge. There remain 25,000 villages without a church. Many are devoid of any witness. The ravaged villages of the north and east are particularly needy. Ministries are recognizing the need for specialized training and strategy for rural ministry.
- Compassionate ministry to victims of the tsunami's destruction, the civil war and general poverty. There must be a clear separation of physical assistance and gospel outreach in a society highly sensitized to issues of proselytism, Western money and buying converts. Many local ministries operate aid programmes independently of their outreach work; pray for wisdom for and response to both.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.