Sri Lanka: Easter terrorist attack leads to new wave of…church planting?

This Easter marks the second anniversary of the deadly 2019 suicide bombing of Zion Church in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. In that bombing, local Islamic jihadists used a so-called “Mother of Satan” bomb similar to the one used in IS-related attacks on churches in Indonesia in 2018. 31 were killed in the Zion Church attack, and Zion Church’s building was destroyed.

But the Easter 2019 attack has not driven Sri Lankan Christians into hiding. In fact, the bombing has resulted in a new wave of evangelism and church planting by Christians in the Muslim and Hindu majority areas of Sri Lanka.

In the case of one Sri Lankan pastor (name and location withheld for security reasons), he has planted a church in a fundamentalist Muslim village on Sri Lanka’s eastern coast. The village where the pastor was sent as a church planter is less than an hour away from the home mosque of the mastermind behind the 2019 Zion Church bombing. His church has grown to about 100 people, although he and his church members receive constant death threats. They have to be careful because of the villagers’ deep animosity toward those who leave Islam. Christian converts routinely suffer family rejection and attacks.

Christians in Sri Lanka are most commonly persecuted by Buddhist militants. Some Buddhist leaders view Christians as a threat to their political dominance. They resent the Christians’ nonconformity with community and cultural norms. Sri Lankan nationalists seek to create a purely Buddhist Sinhalese nation, pushing out minority Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

But the 2019 Easter bombing of Zion Church raised awareness among the Christian community of Sri Lanka about persecution from another source: Muslim radicals connected to IS.

Muslims make up 9.7% of the population in Sri Lanka, but very little Christian outreach was taking place amongst the growing Muslim communities prior to the Easter bombing. Many Christians either didn’t understand their Muslim neighbors, or they were afraid of them. The bombing caused Sri Lankan church leaders to realize the need to train their church members how to evangelize people from Muslim backgrounds and how to best disciple Muslim background believers who accept Christ.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea has agreed to help fund a comprehensive ongoing training program in Muslim evangelism led by Sri Lanka church leaders. The training consists of twice annual trainings for Sri Lanka’s 44 pastors’ fellowships, in addition to regional training events throughout the year and specialized in-depth training for pastors chosen for church planting in Muslim majority areas.

Pastors in Sri Lanka like these expect constant opposition from Buddhist nationals.

As for Zion Church on the second anniversary of the bombing, the church has continued to meet every Sunday at 9AM in a rented church building while a new sanctuary is being built. “Some former church members are afraid to return, while a few others are physically unable because of their injuries. But the church leaders there tell us that they are not aware of anyone who has left the Christian faith because of the bombing. The bombing did not drive Christians away from the church, but it is driving them out into the mission field of Hindu and Muslim majority villages to share the gospel.

If you are interested in helping Sri Lankan pastors through Voice of the Martyrs Korea, visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the phrase “Sri Lanka” on the donation.

The rented fellowship hall where Zion Church presently meets for worship as they rebuild their church building. Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard during the worship service.

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China: Raid on elderly women’s church shows Communist anti-Christian strategy evolving

At approximately 10 am on Sunday February 28, several plainclothes police raided Chongqing Living Fountain Church, breaking up the small house church gathering and arresting two men, one of whom was preaching that day. The police confiscated a church computer and forced those attending to leave. Later, police pressured the landlord of the house hosting the church to gather the names and financial information of the church members.

Church raids seem to be such a common event in China that the Chongqing raid hardly seems newsworthy—except for when considering the church’s membership profile.

Chongqing Living Fountain Church is a church composed almost entirely of elderly women.

Since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, the attitude toward the church has always been, “Educate the young in atheism and let the old Christians die; then the church will cease to exist”. But the Party’s actions in Chongqing and on other smaller and elderly house churches show a changing mindset: Police raids aren’t just for young, growing megachurches anymore.

International media coverage has inadvertently obscured this change of strategy by Communist Party officials. International media tend to focus on high-profile events with impactful photos and videos—events like church demolitions and cross removals. But when a small house church of grandmothers is raided, most of the time no one hears about it. The grandmothers aren’t thinking about recording the raid on their cell phones. Often, no one reports it, and no statistics are kept on it. But clearly the Communist Party is no longer leaving older Christians alone and waiting for them to die off.

Communist Party officials may be beginning to realize that older Christians are far more committed to their faith and thus far better at spreading it than Party officials previously realized. That’s the same thing we at Voice of the Martyrs Korea learned about North Korean Christians: Old women are the backbone of the church. They are tough. They’re used to getting beat up, neglected, cheated, and left out of just about everything in life. But in this way they learn never to give up. They are willing to endure just about anything for Jesus, and so he uses them powerfully to spread the gospel. Up until now, authorities have underestimated them. But the raids at Chongqing and other small, elderly house churches show that the Chinese authorities are beginning to wake up to who is the real strength of the Chinese church.

One week before the raid, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities from the district Religious Affairs Bureau, the Domestic Security Bureau, and plainclothes police officers showed up at the church during the Sunday service. They requested that the church stop meeting, stating that the church is not registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau.

Authorities were especially troubled that young children were present in the worship time. One of the church members who was present was challenged by a plainclothes police officer, “Did you know that minors are not allowed to enter religious venues?” Some of the larger unregistered churches in China have discontinued their programs for children in order to avoid trouble with the authorities, but these old women at Chongqing Church could not be frightened so easily.

The plainclothes police also cited Coronavirus risks when they shut down the church service on February 28. It’s important to remember that Chinese house church Christians are not able to worship either online or offline; any gathering, even a small home-based one, is considered a violation of the law because the church is not registered.

The Communist Party knows Chongqing Church because they have been gathering for more than 20 years. They have always refused to register with the Religious Affairs Bureau, in order to keep their faith pure, In 2018, Cheng Hairong, the church’s minister signed “A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith”. This so-called China Declaration was launched by Pastor Wang Yi from the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. It called on Chinese authorities to stop repressing and persecuting house churches and to respect the personal faith and freedom of conscience of all Chinese citizens. Since the publication of the statement, CCP officials have targeted many of the pastors, ministers, and elders who signed.

On February 28, in response to the raid, Chongqing Living Fountain Church members circulated an urgent prayer request letter which Voice of the Martyrs Korea received through its network of China church partners. The letter asks Christians around the world to join them in prayer.

Their letter says:

The Lord has protected our church since its founding more than 20 years ago. Most of our members are elderly and women. We pray that God gives us the courage and wisdom to testify His name to the kings and rulers, as well as to soldiers of the earth. May God’s peace be with our detained brothers.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea published translations in Korean, English, and Russian, of the China Declaration at https://chinadeclaration.com. This is the document that had been originally signed by Minister Cheng and 438 other Chinese church leaders. Last year we invited church leaders around the world to sign their names to the document as a show of support for the Chinese church. We ultimately presented 28 pages of signatures from 4,400 Christian leaders to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. Although we are no longer gathering signatures, we encourage all Christians to go to https://chinadeclaration.com and read the declaration and pray for the original 439 signers, including Minister Cheng, Pray also for the brave, elderly saints at Chongqing Living Fountain Church and across China, who now are increasingly coming to the attention of the Chinese Communist Party.”

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BURKINA FASO: CHRISTIAN CHILDREN RETURN TO SCHOOL YEARS AFTER TERRORIST ATTACKS

The Coronavirus delayed the return to school of many children around the world this year, but for Christian children in Burkina Faso, their return comes after a much longer wait. Jihadist groups attacking Christian villages have forced 40,000 Christians out of their homes over the past three years. Those attacks have turned thousands of school-age Christian children into refugees and kept them out of the classroom. Now, a special Voice of the Martyrs Korea program, in partnership with Voice of the Martyrs Poland and other VOMs, has enabled 1,104 of those children, some who are 19 or even older, to return to the classroom and complete their grade school educations. A plan to drill three wells to ensure their access to clean drinking water is currently underway.

Our focus has been on three groups of children. First, 350 Christian orphans who lost their parents in the terrorist attacks. Second, 500 pastors’ children who have been unable to attend school due to the violence. And third, 254 children from Christian families who lost everything due to persecution.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea contributed 15,000 USD of the schooling project’s 73,000 USD total budget, with the remainder of the funds coming from Voice of the Martyrs Poland and other Voice of the Martyrs organizations worldwide.

The main objective of the project has been to get the children of persecuted Burkina Faso Christians back in school as quickly as possible. Most of these children have been out of school for one year, and many have been out for as long as three years, due to the jihadist attacks that forced them from their homes. Their parents have had to prioritize other needs like food and shelter. Local churches across Burkina Faso have been helping them as much as possible, opening their homes and sharing their food. But providing education to these Christian refugee children was simply beyond their capacity.

That is one of the seldom-noted long-term results of persecution: Children of Christians in situations like this are unable to complete even grade school levels of education, and this causes them to fall to the lowest level of society, while the children of their persecutors rise to the top. It becomes a vicious cycle. That should not happen, especially when the Christians are families of martyrs who died because of their faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

Consider Christine, a widow. Christine’s husband was a pastor in Burkina Faso who was killed by a group of jihadists immediately after he finished leading Sunday worship at his church. Christine wrote, “From that moment, we were refugees in our own country. We couldn’t take anything with us. We lost everything.” Now, we have been able to get all eight of Christine’s children back in school to complete their grade school education. The eldest is 23, the youngest is 6. Christine wrote, “Our life has changed. We received your gift for our children, and they can go to school. We stopped crying; we have hope.”

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, a total of 339,909 students nationwide in Burkina Faso were deprived of education, with 2,512 schools closed. Schools re-opened in November 2020, enabling most students to return to the classroom. But the improvement of the COVID-19 situation generally in Burkina Faso did not mean improvement of the situation of the persecuted Christian families. They still cannot return to their home villages, and they have numerous needs, including access to clean water. Sending their children to school significantly reduces the demands on them as parents and caregivers. This is because in our Voice of the Martyrs program we have been able to cover each of the 1,104 children’s school costs, which includes an enrollment fee, a PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) fee, a school uniform, and one meal per day for the whole school year. That means one meal less each day that these Christian refugee parents have to find some way to provide. We also equipped each of the children with school supplies–a backpack, notebooks, books, pens, and crayons.

The situation facing Christians in Burkina Faso remains unstable and extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, the jihadists continue their attacks in new places, especially in the Christian villages close to the Mali border. But with many of these Christian refugee children having been out of school for as long as three years, we agreed with the local believers that we had to get the children back into school now. We couldn’t wait any longer for the situation to improve. If we did, a whole generation of Christians in Burkina Faso could lose out on education and slide further into poverty and social disadvantage.

While funding for the Burkina Faso schooling project is now complete for this year, Voice of the Martyrs Korea is currently seeking to raise 36,000,000 KRW (roughly $36,000 USD) to drill three clean drinking water wells in the locations in Burkina Faso with the most severe water shortage and the highest number of Christian refugees.

In one of the cities where we will be drilling a well, there are more than 80,000 refugees. When information spreads that help is coming, everyone runs to line up. Unfortunately, the local officials that distribute the help are mainly non-Christians. Every refugee must provide an ID card. That card allows officials to know who is Christian. The officials do not openly turn away Christians, but they say things like, “Oh, I need to confirm more information about your situation.” In this way, Christians are moved to the end of the line and often receive nothing. So the Voice of the Martyrs coalition has arranged to drill wells administered by local churches where Christian refugees will not be turned away.

The well-drilling project is an expansion of one that Voice of the Martyrs Poland began for Christian refugees in Burkina Faso in 2020.  

To help the Christians refugees most effectively, our goal is to drill the wells before May, which is the hottest and driest month in Burkina Faso. Voice of the Martyrs Korea is designating donations made to its Families of Martyrs and Prisoners fund in March to the Burkina Faso well-drilling project. Individuals interested in donating can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donate or give via electronic transfer to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s Families of Martyrs and Prisoners fund.

국민은행 463501-01-243303

예금주: (사)순교자의소리

Please include the phrase “FOM/FOP” on the donation.

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