Ed: Tell us a little about yourself.
Leslie: I am a church planter and a senior pastor of a multiethnic church in a suburb of Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. I am the President of the Foursquare Church in Sri Lanka. My wife, Belen, and I are church planters, having come to Sri Lanka 38 years ago, with a call to reach this nation with the love of Christ.
We began in our mission, called distinctly to live with the poorest of the poor in the slums of Colombo. The miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit was on display, and through that power and God’s faithfulness and compassion, many were healed.
As this occurred, people began to seek the Lord and his ways. The first church plant was in these humble beginnings. Out of our first church, many other churches have been planted, as disciples became disciplers and pastors were called to begin church plants throughout the land.
I’ve also been incredibly blessed to have been called to minister personally to those in the highest positions of power in the government. Miraculously, the Lord opened doors to me, even though I could never have imagined such opportunities, especially since I am often shy and uncertain. Yet in Christ, there is a work of faith and trust that has compelled me to be the prophetic voice to many cultures and people groups, both in Sri Lanka and beyond.
Ed: Tell me about the religious situation in Sri Lanka.
Leslie: We are a multi-religious nation: 70% of the people are Buddhist, 16% are Hindus, 8% are Muslim, 6% are Christian. The majority of the Christians are Roman Catholic. Each of these religions are steeped in deep tradition, and families have allegiance to the ties of their heritage.
To walk away from these traditions brings shame and dishonor. A key need we have as Christians is to realize that the Lord is Lord of all—above tradition, family ties, and human bonds.
Although we must respect culture and learn ways of honoring people and their histories, we must never be intimidated by the entrenched cultural norms of any nation or religion. We must have faith that the Lord knows what to do and how to reach families who have been, in their perspective, shamed by those who convert to Christianity.
Such faith strengthens our resolve to reach – beyond religion and tradition – to bring the living Word to all people of all religions.
Ed: Is religious violence common in Sri Lanka?
Leslie: Yes, religious violence is common in Sri Lanka. During the years of 2003 - 2009, religious violence against the evangelical church was very bad. Now, this recent attack of the churches on Easter Sunday came as an enormous shock to us after all of these years. It was a tragedy of the highest proportions, and frankly, heartbreaking and deeply unsettling as we look to our future.
Ed: How are the churches responding?
Leslie: The churches in Sri Lanka have always responded to violence through a commitment to maintain peace. We have always reported such violence to the government.
Our highest priority has been to pray. Prayer has been something we always engaged in during seasons of persecution. In fact, such difficulties have helped to unify our voices, our worship, and our loving commitment to this nation. Our response to this most recent violence is the same. Across the world, Sri Lankans and many others have come together to pray fervently for this crippled and wounded land.
Ed: Please share ways we can pray with and for you.
Leslie: Let me share a number of prayer points.
Please pray God’s comfort for everyone who lost loved ones during Easter bombings.
Please pray for a powerful intervention – for God’s kingdom to come to earth – to touch us, to motivate us and to transform us by his power. There is no event, no tragedy, and no struggle that is beyond God’s reach to bring the victory of heaven to bear and to awaken his people to the high calling of seeing all come to Christ. In fact, we are energized by his call, knowing that our Sovereign God reigns, in the face of what now appears to be so hopeless.
Pray that violence will be under control.
Pray that there will be no more attacks on churches and believers.
Pray that courage will rise in our hearts in the face of danger.
Pray that we will continue to witness the love of Christ and that we will forgive the perpetrators.