As England plays Sri Lanka in the cricket World Cup, Open Doors speaks to those affected by the Easter church bombings in Sri Lanka.
Two months ago, on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, three bombs exploded in three churches in three different parts of Sri Lanka – St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, and Zion Church in Batticaloa. Three hotels were also targeted. Responsibility for these coordinated attacks, which killed 253 and injured hundreds of others, was later claimed by so-called Islamic State extremists.
Six year old Peter, who died in the blast at Zion Church, loved cricket. His parents have a memorial to him on the floor of their sitting room. His cricket bat stands proudly in the memorial with a teddy and his blue helmet. A framed photo of Peter wearing a shiny silver bowtie leans on a wooden cross engraved with his name.
There’s a cardboard hospital that Peter had made a week before the bombing with a person entering on a stretcher in a brownish red t-shirt. Peter wore the same colour on Easter Sunday.
“I’m glad that he’s with Jesus but it’s painful he’s not with me,” said Peter’s mum. “We’re only stewards of Peter. God took him back,” said his dad.
There were 136 children in Zion Church on Easter Sunday. Fourteen of them died.
Ten year old Nerukesh has shrapnel in his spine from the attack. He is still on strict bedrest at home. Sixteen-year-old Sujiv’s mother died in the church. He said, “She is with God now, and God is with us.”
Senior leaders of Zion Church, Ramesh and Sasi, spoke to the suicide bomber in the church foyer. They stopped him from getting to the main congregation.
Chrishanthini, Ramesh’s wife, said: “We were about five minutes into the worship when we heard a loud bang, but I didn’t know what happened at that time. We thought it was the generator.”
Ramesh and Sasi died instantly.
“If the bomber had gone inside, more than 200 people might have gotten killed,” said Kumaran, an associate pastor of Zion Church.
Pastor Kumaran also lost his son, Malkiya in the attack. “When I think of what happened to my son, there is a pain in my gut,” he said. “But it’s not a question of why it’s happened, no – I’m not going to ask that. It’s a question of, ‘Lord, how can I pass through this? And how long?’
“I am a pastor,” he said. “I have to be strong.”
Twenty year old Hashi lost her aunty, cousin and one of her neighbours in the blast in St. Sebastian’s, Negombo. She ran straight in to look for her family. “A whole choir was sprawled on the floor,” she said. “Limbs were strewn everywhere. In the pews where people knelt, I saw a body without a head, still kneeling with palms together in prayer.”
She hasn’t been able to sleep since.
Tala*, an Open Doors fieldworker, travelled to Sri Lanka just after the attacks took place, to visit the affected Christians.
Open Doors and its local church partners have been helping the affected families in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa since the Easter bombings.
Open Doors has provided traumatised Christians with trauma care and counselling and is running persecution preparedness training in the three affected towns.
Local Open Doors partners are meeting with pastors and Christians from Batticaloa for prayer and encouragement. “That’s good ministry,” said Kumaran, when Open Doors partners visited his house to pray with him. “This is what the people need.”
Through livelihood and education support, Open Doors is helping families get back on their feet. At the beginning of June Open Doors workers went to Batticaloa to buy new motorcycles for six Christians who lost theirs in the explosion. Open Doors worker, Liyoni* said: “Even the managers of the stores were very eager to help and at two stores they gave us very reasonable discounts on the bikes and the registration costs. We were also able to buy helmets for a few of them who did not have any left. The pastor and the believers send their thanks.”
Sri Lanka is number 46 on the Open Doors World Watch List.
Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist nation. Believers from Buddhist or Hindu backgrounds face harassment and discrimination from their families and communities. They are pressured to recant their new faith, as conversion is regarded as a betrayal of their ethnicity. Churches in rural areas have been attacked or closed, and Christians have been assaulted. Islamic extremism has recently emerged as another driver of persecution in Sri Lanka.
*Name changed for security reasons.