Sri Lanka: Anti-Christian Violence Suddenly Escalates; plus Iraq update

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 469 |

On 16 January 2008, after almost two years of escalating but
unofficial renewed civil war, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL)
officially pulled out of the 2002 ceasefire agreement. The war
pitting the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE)
against the Sinhalese Buddhist dominated GoSL is now officially on
again. LTTE (a recognised terrorist organisation) is fighting for
an independent Tamil state, 'Tamil Elam', encompassing the north
and east of the island nation. Ethnic and religious tensions are
being heightened by the conflict, which is being prolonged and
escalated by increased radicalisation and intransigence on both
sides. The Church bridges the Tamil-Sinhalese divide, thus
demonstrating a peaceful unity through Christ that undermines the
extremist messages of the LTTE and the GoSL and makes it the target
of the warring militants of both.

But that is only the beginning of the Church's security problems.
Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists view Tamils and Christians as a
threat to their hegemony. Like India's Hindutva protagonists, Sri
Lanka's Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists foster paranoia and fear
amongst the masses for political gain. They label Tamils as
separatist subversive agents of India and Christians as LTTE
supporters and subversive agents of the West, inciting violence
against them. Furthermore, the civil war gives Buddhist
nationalists an opportunity to attack Christians under the cover of
chaos, or even to 'kill two birds with one stone' by attacking
Christians and blaming LTTE in the hope that the Sri Lankan Army
will 'respond' against the Tamils. Therefore it is not surprising
to find that violence against the Church is escalating now that the
war is official again.

Religiously motivated violence, including arson, threats and
intimidation, has been escalating unchecked in the volatile eastern
district of Ampara for some time. On 17 February 2008 Pastor Neil
Edirisinghe (37), who was leader of The House of the Lord
fellowship in Ampara, was fatally shot in the chest while his wife
Shiromi (31) was shot in the stomach and critically wounded. Their
young son received minor injuries and shock. Investigations exposed
this as a contract killing organised by a local Buddhist
nationalist angered by Pastor Edirisinghe's ministry.

Also on 17 February, a mob of some 50 angry locals attacked
believers attending Sunday worship at King's Revival Church,
Mathugama (in the south-west), with Tamil Christians singled out
for more severe treatment. The following Sunday the attackers
returned and stopped the believers meeting. On the evening of 2
March, ten students of the Believers Church Bible College, Lunuwila
(north-west), were walking from the railway station when they were
ambushed by a group of about 10 masked men who kicked and bashed
them mercilessly. On 3 March, Zion Mount Prayer House in Mulaitivu
District (south-west) was set on fire while the pastor, his family
and guests were inside -- fortunately they all escaped.


* in his mercy will raise up Sri Lankan voices for justice,
rights, equality and peace, at every level -- local, district
and national -- in the Church, media and politics. May church
voices be empowered with great wisdom and effectiveness amidst
the turmoil.

* by his ever-present Holy Spirit will bring healing and peace to
Shiromi Edirisinghe and all other believers who are now bearing
on their bodies the marks of Jesus (Galatians 6:17).

* will work amidst this suffering, sanctifying the Sri Lankan
Church, cultivating prayerfulness, strengthening faith and
building community. 'For we are God's workmanship, created in
Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for
us to do.' (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)




Ethnic and religious tensions have grown again in Sri Lanka over
the past two years as hostilities between Tamil separatists and the
Sinhalese-dominated government have escalated. The Church bridges
the Tamil-Sinhalese divide and is therefore targeted by extremist
militants from both sides. The war, which officially resumed mid-
January 2008, gives Buddhist nationalists a perfect opportunity to
attack the Church under the cover of the prevailing chaos, and even
blame the Tamil separatists. Christians have been the targets of
several appallingly violent attacks in recent weeks. In Ampara on
17 February, Pastor Neil Edirisinghe (37) was fatally shot in a
contract killing, while his wife Shiromi (31) was critically
wounded. Please pray for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.



There has been no word from Archbishop Rahho since his abduction
and, while the kidnappers have twice raised the ransom price, they
refuse to give any proof he is alive. Archbishop Louis Sako of
Kirkuk told Aid to the Church in Need that they are deeply worried
that Archbishop Rahho is either extremely ill or dead. Further to
this, 20 March marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the US-
led war on Iraq. Terrorists have vowed that on this anniversary
they will 'open a new page in the fighting' and focus on operations
that will 'cause the maximum pain and bewilderment to the enemy'.
This might be sheer bluster, or it might be a legitimate threat.
Please pray that God will protect his remnant Church in Iraq.

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RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
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Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.