On Easter Sunday, the children and teachers of Zion Church’s Sunday school in Sri Lanka were on their way back to the main service for breakfast when a bomb was detonated – one of the six attacks that took place across the country, targeting both churches and hotels. Among those who lost their lives were 13-year-old Jackson and his Sunday school teacher and aunt, Verlini. Verlini’s husband, Ranjith, also died. Open Doors field workers, including Tala*, visited Arasaratnam Verl – Jackson’s father and Verlini’s brother.
On Easter Sunday, the children and teachers of Zion Church’s Sunday school in Sri Lanka were on their way back to the main service for breakfast when a bomb was detonated – one of the six attacks that took place across the country, targeting both churches and hotels.
Among those who lost their lives were 13-year-old Jackson and his Sunday school teacher and aunt, Verlini. Verlini’s husband, Ranjith, also died (all three are pictured above). Verlini and Ranjith leave behind two children, Eliza (6) and Rufus Isaac (8).
Open Doors field workers, including Tala*, visited Arasaratnam Verl – Jackson’s father and Verlini’s brother (pictured below, right, with his brother Nithan, left).
"My son, Jackson, and my sister died on the spot," Verl said. "My brother-in-law died a week after the incident in the hospital. He had a black belt in karate. He was an engineer. His kidneys stopped functioning and he had third-degree burns. Eventually, he too passed.
"Jackson was team captain of his basketball team," Verl continued. "He used to compete in many places like Jaffna, Colombo. He’s the best in everything. He’s my only son."
Verl also spoke about Verlini’s rich spirituality: "She read the Bible from cover to cover 27 times."
He also said Verlini was the one who taught the children about sin before they went down before the blast. "She made sure the children confessed their sins and accepted Jesus in the lesson," he shared. "After that, she and the children went down for breakfast and the explosion went off."
"Losing someone hurts," Verl told the team. "They are special people. They were not killed. They were sown. They are like seeds. And the blood of the martyrs are the seeds of the church.
"Jesus died on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday, He was resurrected. My son, sister, and brother-in-law died, but they were resurrected with Jesus on that day."
Despite the heartache, grief and loss, Verl committed to dedicating his life to God, even after the accident. "God is good," he said. "God is great. My foundation is Jesus Christ. I’m zero. Jesus is everything."
He continued, "My son was mine for 13 years, but he is His forever."
The atmosphere remains tense in Sri Lanka. "The military is everywhere – closing roads, searching vehicles, checking for suspicious materials," Tala says. "While passing through Kurunegala, a city halfway through to Batticaloa, we saw a bus terminal (pictured below) completely halted from operations due to another bomb threat.
"Tourism also plummeted. One hotel supervisor told us they’ve received 40 cancellations after news of the bombings broke. At the time of our conversation, he said only our small team was checked in. The government also apparently cancelled all the Buddhist festivals in the country, including Vesak, the grandest one.
"In the course of three days, our van was pulled over at checkpoints more than ten times. Locals said all these checking and questioning reminded them of ten years ago during the war. There is confusion and anger, but much of what the people feel is fear.
"Places of worship are now heavily guarded. Catholic, Methodist, charismatic churches, mosques - all entrances are punctuated by army men, and the entrance to Zion Church was no exception."
On the morning of Sunday 5 May, Tala and the team attended a church service at Zion Church. Snipers decked the roof of the community centre where the congregation are temporarily holding their services after the attack. "There were two rifled men standing at the front, and three more standing at the back," Tala reports. "A military truck was parked outside. All of this is to make sure the worshippers are safe. The original church, though nearby, is still cordoned off.
"Prior to entering the community centre, one church member told us to leave everything but our Bibles and IDs. No photos and videos, he said. Especially no bags.
"When we stepped inside the church, it was a disarming sight - hundreds of worshippers filled the hall, their hands thrown to the sky, shouting 'Amen! Hallelujah!'"
Pastor Roshan Mahesan stood in front and honoured the dead. In the blast, 29 people from Zion Church lost their lives. Fourteen of them were children who went down from Sunday school.
"They are martyrs," Pastor Roshan said. "Now they are home with Jesus."
He read the names of the injured, stopping after every couple of names to give people time to pray. Five members of the church are in Colombo hospital. Some are in another hospital in Kandy. Four others are in an intensive care unit.
Tala talks about the atmosphere inside the church. "The shrapnel had taken life and limb, but the believers knelt, stood, and sang. They banged on heaven’s gates for healing and asked God to help them love and forgive.
"It was a kind of wailing I have never heard before."
The pastor’s message for the day was Daniel 3, when the prophet Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the furnace. When thrown in the fire, they didn’t get burned; instead, a fourth man appeared, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego emerged from the flames, unscathed.
"Why do we have to walk through this fire?" asked Pastor Roshan. "At this point we may not know why, but God is in the fire with us. God is with us in our suffering. He walks with us and cries with us. He’s the fourth man."
Tala asks for prayer.
"We are thankful to be able to visit nine families of the deceased and seven of the injured Zion church members in the hospital. When we were with them, there was nothing else to do but cry and pray. Some of these families lost more than one member. There was one family completely killed in the blast. There is so much pain still, but God grieves with them, and He is at work. Please pray for God’s healing to be upon His people, and the entire nation of Sri Lanka.
"Verl is but one of the hundreds of people whose lives changed forever after the bomb attacks. Please pray for him, his family, and the countless other mourning families, that they would find solace and strength in the Lord during this time.
"Please pray too for peace in the country. It is so easy for hatred to be sown at this time. The Christians are scared, but so are the Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. The Muslims right now are in fear of retaliation. Because of fear, locals have boycotted their shops. Some have been driven out of their homes. Pray for love to conquer fear among different communities in this country."
In amidst the devastation, Tala’s visit ends with hope.
"Pastor Kumaran, Assistant Pastor of Zion Church, lost his 14-year-old son Malkiya in the attack. Tearfully, this is what he said to us: 'I’m not asking God why, I’m only asking how I can pass through this, and how long.'
This is the promise of God in Romans 8:35-39:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
'No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
No one can separate our Sri Lanka brethren from the love of Jesus.
Thank you for your prayers. Grace and peace."
*name changed for security reasons
What happened in those churches on Easter Sunday will affect people for the rest of their lives. But your gifts will provide long-term trauma care and counselling, and help families who have lost their main breadwinner to survive. We’ll support approximately 250 families in the affected areas. And this is entirely due to you. Open Doors partners will also host persecution survival training seminars, because, sadly, we cannot assume the threat has gone away.
This is actually the kind of training that Open Doors has offered globally for decades. One of the most shocking, outrageous things about this event is that what happened in Sri Lanka is not unique. Every week, Christians around the world risk their lives by going to church.
But there is hope. When I see the church in the UK and Ireland acting, praying and giving, I know that these people are not alone. The Open Doors partners who, even now, are gathering Sri Lankan pastors and believers together for support, are simply putting your love and concern into real, tangible form.
Thank you. Please continue to stand with them.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.