Q&A: Sri Lankan believers discuss persecution
SRI LANKA (BP) -- We sat there drinking tea; just a small group of people gathered for house church in Sri Lanka. I casually mentioned that some friends in America sent questions for me to ask persecuted Christians and wondered if they'd mind answering.
Everyone in the room went dead silent.
Finally, Thilini Liyanage* said, "Sister, we are not persecuted. Oh, to be worthy of such an honor for our Lord and Savior! The most that ever happens here is that we are kicked out of our homes; people stop buying from our businesses or selling food or other items to us; we might get beaten; our families might never speak to us again; and there's always a visit from the head monk (Buddhist) to try to convince us to return to the religion of our families.
"This is just the normal way of life for those who choose to leave Buddhism and follow Jesus," she concluded.
I nodded my head, thinking this sounded exactly like persecution to me. The ugly truth is that persecution of Christians is on the rise in Sri Lanka, barely receiving any outside attention. With this in mind, I dove in with the questions submitted by hundreds of readers via Facebook and Twitter.
As believer after believer responded, I realized that we were uncovering a side of persecution that's rarely talked about because it doesn't always end in jail time, bloody beatings or death. It doesn't register on the World Watch List's top 50 persecuted countries or stories for the year. What you will find here are Sri Lankan Christians explaining to other Christians (not journalists) about a subtle persecution of isolation and family pressure that is common throughout the Buddhist world. You will also discover a passion and urgency to share the Gospel in the midst of persecution.
Q: What kinds of persecution have you been subjected to?
A: In the past, there have been beatings and churches burned down but we are modern now. What is happening is that churches are being shut down through local laws and orders. We are in high court now, asking for the right to have church in rented houses. Currently, we are not allowed to start a new church or rent a building for a church. It is thought that by taking away our meeting places that our growth will stop. They have closed down eight churches now in this way. But the truth is that we are growing without buildings. Our groups are multiplying. -- Saman Perera,* pastor
A: After someone shared their testimony with me and a Bible, I decided to believe in Jesus. I was so excited that I shared with my parents. They were angry and chased me from their home with sticks and throwing stones at me. I had to live on the street until a Christian family took me in and discipled me. I have not seen my family in 13 years. They refuse me because I am following Jesus. -- Harsha Fernando,* 29-year-old man who was next in line to be a Buddhist dignitary
Q: Do you see persecution coming or is it unexpected?
A: Sometimes you cannot know persecution is coming to you. Earlier this year, we were singing and praising the Lord at church. Then, the head Buddhist monk charged in. He had around 1,000 people with him. They screamed and shouted for us to stop the service. It was very intimidating. The police were very angry. They made us stop the service. The police told everyone to go home then they searched the house to clear every last person out. They had a court order to stop the church from meeting and told the people that they could only come to visit me but there was to be no church or learning. Before this day, we did not have this type of problem. -- Saman Perera,* pastor
Q: Are you able to submit to the Holy Spirit immediately or is it a struggle?
A: You do not think about it. You just obey the prompting of the Spirit. Like one time I was presiding over a funeral. It was a man who committed suicide. The family could not have the funeral in the normal way because of the circumstance. We did not want this man to be buried like a dog, so we offered to help. When I got up to preach about hope at the funeral, big arguments broke out. The priests, monks and their followers tried to hit me and silence me but I preached on. ... At the end, the whole family came to accept Christ and we started a ministry in that village. -- Thilak Jayawickrama,* pastor
Q: What emotions do you experience in times of persecution?
A: Love! I experience Jesus' love, and I don't want to leave that feeling. Once you experience this, you don't want to go back to Buddhism. The hardships do not matter when compared to this love. -- Chandana Dias,* 20-something man
Q: What Bible passages are most encouraging during times of persecution?
A: "I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.... He will not allow your foot to slip; your protector will not slumber," Psalm 121.
My family still holds fast to Buddhism. Our entire village is Buddhist. In the beginning, no one was happy that we converted to Christianity. Our family shunned us, and the village tried to get us to turn back. We became third-class citizens in our community when we decided to follow Christ. This verse reminds me that no matter what happens, God will protect us and we are first-class in His eyes. -- Thilini Liyanage,* 36-year-old woman
Q: What makes you willing to put up with persecution?
A: Jesus gave us the greatest gift in grace and salvation. We have something to share. Jesus instructs us to share this gift. He doesn't want us to hide it and be selfish. -- Gayani Ranatunga,* businesswoman
A: I have tasted the fruits of God and the peace that brings. I want others to taste it as well. My God leaves a better taste in your mouth than worshipping idols. My God is better tasting than drugs or alcohol. By seeing my life, people should get a small taste of God and want more, and I will introduce them to this wonderful taste of eternal life. -- Harsha Fernando,* 29-year-old man
A: I have the answer to the questions of life ... JESUS! Why should I be quiet? -- Nathasha Fernando,* young wife
Q: How can we best pray for you and others in your situation?
A: Pray for the court case. Our church was closed down by police. A monk and a thousand people came to close it down. Many churches like us petitioned the courts to allow meetings. Pray that this right to meet as an organized church will not be taken away. -- Saman Perera,* pastor
A: Pray for the wisdom of Christian leaders. It is a time in our country when we need to adjust our traditional thinking of church and spread the Gospel in ways that do not draw widespread public attention. We need to adjust without endangering the work of spreading the Gospel. Pray that we are able to follow the example set forth in the Book of Acts. -- Ruwan Ranatunga,* pastor
A: Pray for our families. It's a slow process of re-establishing relationships. We tell stories of Christ's power and Scripture. They see miraculous healings and know that God is Supreme.... Yet, it is hard for them to leave their history and follow Jesus publically. Just by talking to us, they will receive a visit from the head monk. Pray our families will come to a point where they not only hear the Gospel but will openly accept it. -- Nathasha Fernando,* young wife
*Name changed. Susie Rain is a writer in Southeast Asia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).