May 22, 2009
Sri Lankan Christians Hope to Serve Vast Refugee Population
Hundreds of thousands are living in tents and looking for family members.
Last Tuesday, the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka announced the end of a 26-year struggle with the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tamil Tiger leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, two of his key associates had been killed, and the formal conflict was now over.
Every war, however, has an aftermath. And in the case of Sri Lanka, that will involve the resettlement of some 280,000 refugees. According to a report in todayâ€™s New York Times, aid groups are encountering government resistance as they attempt to bring relief to the refugee camps.
What will be the challenge for Sri Lankan Christians? What special role can they play? At about 7 percent of the Sri Lankan population, Christians are a small minority compared to the majority Sinhalese Buddhists (about 70 percent of the population) and the high-profile Tamil Hindu minority (about 15 percent). The Protestant evangelical component is quite small, but dedicated to service.
Weâ€™ve received some initial comments through friends at John Stott Ministries, which sponsors graduate educations for promising majority world scholars. One of their alums, who wishes not to be identified for security reasons, writes that there are
many years of work â€¦ to be done to reconstruct and rehabilitate people involved in the conflict. Thousands of Tamil people have to be resettled in their homes who got caught in the conflict. Most of these â€¦ are peasant people. I am told many areas of the North have been landmined and all that â€¦ has to be cleared before civilians can move back in to their homes and farms.
The governmentâ€™s big task now is to create harmony and unity between the Sinhala and Tamil people. The war first started because the Tamil people felt discriminated against by successive Sinhala governments. This problem has gone on for the past 50 years. The Tamil, people especially in the north and east, must feel they are part of the nation. There are many thousands of Tamil-speaking people living among Sinhala people in the south. Many fled south due to the war. Thousands have also left the country.
The Christian church was the only place where Sinhala and Tamil people and in fact all ethnic groups, could safely gather each week. It was a place of unity, love, and understanding. The church could engage in rehab work in the post war period. I believe Hospital Christian Fellowship is already up in the North assessing how they could help.
How can we pray for Sri Lanka? Our John Stott Ministries correspondent suggests that we pray
- for the ongoing rehab. efforts
- for open doors to go and meet the civilian refugee population and counsel and care for them. They are presently housed in tents. Many families have lost their loved ones, parents are missing children and canâ€™t find them among the many thousands of displaced people. Some 30 elderly people have died due to starvation it was reported.
- for the many Christians among the civilian refugee population. Worship and prayer services could be held for them to comfort and encourage them in their predicament.