Date: January 29, 2016
By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (BosNewsLife)-- Sri Lanka has been rocked by attacks and threats against individual Christians, their pastors and congregations as part of a new wave of violence and intimidation by suspected Buddhist and Hindu militants that began three months ago, BosNewsLife established.
Christians in Sri Lanka's Kagelle District have been especially targeted, with reports that at least three pastors and their congregations have been attacked by militants in the area. "They have been insulted verbally, had their properties burned, and undergone severe pressure to close their church doors,"said well-informed advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), which closely monitors the situation.
The latest wave of violence began October 16 last year when some 300 villagers in a remote area of Sri Lanka reportedly prevented a Christian family from performing a burial service at a public cemetery, saying the burial could only take place according to Hindu rituals.
"Unable to bury the body at the public cemetery, the pastor attempted to perform the burial on church grounds instead," VOMC told BosNewsLife. However "the mob" then entered the church premises "by force, breaking the fence and setting fire to two motorbikes that were parked on the property," the group added.
After the police obtained "an order" from the regional Magistrates Court, the family was "forced to bury the body of their loved one outside the village at a cemetery" 23 kilometres (14 miles) away, VOMC said.
Additionally intimidation against Christian believers in Sri Lanka have taken place, Christians said. In one incident, a sub-inspector from a regional area police station demanded a pastor to see the church's registration papers, Christians said.
The pastor, who served in the area for the past 18 years, never received any notification of required registration, VOMC explained adding that
there is no legislation regarding the registration of religious worship places in Sri Lanka.
It comes amid concerns among rights activists that those involved in attacks against Christians and other religious minorities are rarely prosecuted.
Most attacks in this heavily Buddhist nation have been linked to followers of the 'Bodu Bala Sena' or 'Buddhist Power Force', which targets minority Christians as well as Muslims, as well as Hindu hardliners.
The Open Doors advocacy and aid group has expressed concern over "Buddhist extremists" in eastern and southern Sri Lanka have been involved in threats to pastors "with growing ministries" as well as "harassment of congregations attending Sunday worship, destruction of church buildings, and shutdown of Christian ministries."
Amid ongoing attacks an increasing number of Sri Lankan pastors are reportedly holding worship services in homes, among small groups of believers, travelling from village to village.
Yet, Open Doors has in the past cautioned that the number of Christian churches in northern Sri Lanka is growing, "not because of increased evangelism, but because of church splits".
After the Sinhala-Tamil civil war ended, foreign funds poured into the north, "enticing Christians to break away and start their own congregations, causing division in the body of Christ," Open Doors said.
However, Open Doors expressed hope about the future. "During the 30-year civil war in north Sri Lanka, many evangelical Christians have chosen to stay in the war-torn districts, and continued their ministries. Because of this, they enjoy a degree of goodwill among the Sri Lankan Tamils. It can be an open door for God's people to be channels of his peace and reconciliation."
It also noted a "deep spiritual hunger among the Buddhist youths" as "more of them are coming to Jesus Christ every day." However the group said the church in Sri Lanka, a nation of some 22-million people, "needs to be prepared in discipling a new generation of believers", a reference to teaching and encouraging people choosing to believe in, and follow, Jesus Christ.