Christianity in Sri Lanka
Child Action is a non-faith based charity, their ethos are Christians as many other charities’ are but they wouldn’t be allowed to be a Christian charity anyway as they would get into trouble then and they have been questioned multiple times, if they were found to be Christians they would have to close down. Child Action is funded by foreign churches support, what a great experience seeing money and donations being used in the best way possible. They work with disadvantaged children, we visited the centre in Kandy that mainly works with beggars’ children, a lot of them go through various types of abuse and are traumatised as well. We saw many cute children and they were very friendly and smiley. We had to read and sign their child protection policy which included no photos so we won’t be able to show you pictures.
The centre was a day centre, the younger children are dropped off by parents in the morning and then they have a shower and are given breakfast and they will also do various activities throughout the day. There are really young babies and toddlers as well, there is a Creche for them. Those children that are school age are only allowed to come after school hours so that they go to school in the day, their parents don’t like the children to go to school as they get less money if they don’t have their children with them when they are begging so Child Action buys the children their uniforms and other necessary items for school.
The school children arrive in the afternoon and they have multiple classes in the afternoon while the younger children are asleep. Denise who showed us around has been a volunteer for about a year and she said one of her main struggles has been the education system and that even after school the children are not allowed to have fun and just play games and study interactively but they have more structured classes that focus more on memorisation so they have no time to enjoy their childhood.
Denise has slowly been introducing some changes but this has been a challenge because education seen as the most important factor for a child’s future in the eyes of Sri Lankans and they only see education in one way and when we think back to our childhood and how much we remember from our education with the memorisation strategy, it will pretty much come to 0 memory. She has also built a sensory room which looked the most child friendly room in the centre. She told us about her difficulties building the room and clashing with the unorganisation of the builders and helpers.
Teachers are allowed to use canes in Sri Lanka but fortunately, this is no longer allowed in Kandy.
If you would like to donate to a worthwhile charity (Child Action Lanka), click here
The Messy Church
We learnt that there are churches that trick people into becoming Christians through giving them things and also through telling them that once they become Christians life will be easy, many people become Christians in times of trouble when they pray and God responds by healing or miracles but then trouble comes again and God doesn’t deliver or do what they want Him to do, they turn away from Christianity again. So it seems like lot of the negative influence is coming from America (prosperity theology) and it isn’t really helpful, what the new converts need is real discipleship and a real understanding of why Jesus came and suffered for us which does not mean that humanity will not suffer while we are on earth.
After the tsunami, there were many donations coming in from the West but not much of them were going to people in need. There are two issues here: the first issue revolved around customs, the donations arrived in huge shipping containers but the people could not afford to pay the import tax on the items. The government did not care for their people, and would not remove these charges and that is why there are still containers full of donations just rotting in the ports around the country. The other issue was that many pastors and church leaders have started to become rich suddenly, it seemed that because of the lack of accountability some of the church leaders instead of giving to those who these donations were intended for, they kept them for themselves.
There have been times when there was real Christian persecution in Sri Lanka, many churches burnt down and church leaders beaten up. This persecution is more hidden now especially in the small villages around the country. It doesn’t get much media attention as Christians are the minority and gets swept under the mat when something happens. In Sri Lanka, new churches cannot be registered, so many of them end up being small house groups that come together and worship together inside someone’s home.
Consequently, to the outsider there is freedom of religion but to those who live in the country, those who are not Buddhists there isn’t. We asked about how Muslims are treated as they are also a minority, they are not really persecuted because if there is an issue they are supported by Muslims around the world, so the Buddhists are more scared of treating them harshly. A Sri Lankan couple that we met felt that the Christian world isn’t as supportive when it comes to persecution in Sri Lanka, I would say perhaps because the Christian world doesn’t know about this as it is more under the surface and many churches focus on countries where the persecution is a lot more apparent, furthermore Christians should never use force or threat, therefore they wouldn’t come across as scary perhaps anyway.
Evangelism in Sri Lanka
We asked a couple of Sri Lankans and also missionaries who have been living in the country for many years what it’s like talking about Christianity in Sri Lanka, how do they share God’s truth with others in a country where they are such a minority. They said that we had an advantage with being foreigners and people will probably listen to us a lot more as they wouldn’t really expect these conversations from tourists who are staying in the country short term, plus they would have to be nice to us so that we give them money. For both locals and missionaries, evangelism comes down to personal relationships and friendships but even locals must be more careful as there is still conflict between the two tribes in Sri Lanka: Tamils and Sinha just again the conflict is more underneath such as if you are from a Tamil family, a Sinha family might not allow their children to mix or invite a Tamil child into their homes. Tamils (minority) have to be even more cautious, if you are a Sinha you have an advantage just by being Sinha and you might be listened to and respected more.
As a foreigner, there are many issues around visas, the couple (the husband was American and the wife German) we met who have lived in the country for 30 years don’t have permanent residence and need to renew their visa annually. They have children who have to live in the USA as they are now adults, they have no right to live in Sri Lanka even though they have lived in the country and were born there. Many volunteers come to Sri Lanka using a tourist visa, but if you intend on staying for a longer period there are other options but they have become harder to get. Americans can use a 5 year multi entry visa but have to leave every 6 months, so the family we met would fly to a nearby countries to make sure they adhere to the visa rules.
They said that they don’t really do upfront evangelism because of restrictions and respect for the country but if you are called to be in Sri Lanka, you will be supporting the local Christians and helping them and training them as your main responsibility. For example many Christian marriages fall apart because of arranged marriages, this is a real struggle for locals who work in ministry so they run marriage courses as a new venture. This way, there will be no real mess ups like there was in the past with accountability etc..
In summary, Sri Lanka is not very open to Christian support, church is made up of humans and has caused a mess in the past by being greedy, if you want to volunteer or work in Sri Lanka as a foreigner, you will have lots of visa challenges to overcome, the churches that we went to made us feel like we were part of them and church members have invited us into their homes.
Please pray for the Sri Lankans Christians, pray for wisdom and courage to be able to share the Good News with their neighbours, friends and family and for open ears.