A spring military surge against Tamil-minority secessionists killed and displaced thousands yet brought an improbable end to 26 years of violent religious and racial conflict. Now Sri Lankan evangelicals are appealing to the global church for help in healing their island nation.
The scale of relief efforts needed for the thousands now displaced in military camps is daunting, but local evangelical leaders feel hopeful about attempts at reconciliation.
"All Buddhists in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese, and all Hindus are Tamils. It is only in Christianity that you find both ethnic groups belonging to one religion," said Godfrey Yogarajah, general secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL). "The church needs to practically demonstrate what it means to be salt and light in this situation of deterioration and decay."
Sri Lanka's Protestant community represents only 1 percent of the population of 20 million. But a remarkable 30 to 40 percent of the Tamil ethnic minority group is Christian, according to Yogarajah. "This is a model of what a united Sri Lanka can be," he said.
Suresh Bartlett, national director for World Vision in Sri Lanka, said that two major challenges to reconciliation are limited freedom of movement between the north and south and inadequate means of communication. For nearly three decades, both have severely curtailed interaction between northern Tamils and southern Sinhalese.
"In the north they're setting up a number of police stations and other security apparatus … and most of the security forces, if not all, speak only Sinhalese and don't speak Tamil," Bartlett said. "It's difficult to build trust … [without] a common language."
In response, the NCEASL has implemented ...1
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