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.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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