Sri Lanka Vineyards in the Aftermath of the Easter 2019 Bombings

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As you are likely aware by now, churches worshiping on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, in six locations across Sri Lanka in the cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa, were interrupted as coordinated bomb attacks ripped through the churches and top-end hotels where they were meeting on this special day, killing more than 250 Christians (and perhaps visitors).

After the fact, investigators found footage of one suspect en route on a perfectly normal day:

An impatient little girl in a pretty dress pulls on the hand of a man, possibly her grandfather, as they cross a brick courtyard outside St. Sebastian's Church on Easter Sunday. Directly in her path a slightly built, bearded man, bent beneath the weight of a large backpack, slows down so he doesn't bump into the girl, his fingers seeming to touch her hair for just an instant as she passes.

And then, CCTV cameras show, they both go about their day, the girl continuing across the courtyard, the man with the pack marching with purpose toward the main church building. [1]

Stories have traversed across social media sites detailing the unexpected horrors of a Sunday School class that vows to give their lives for Christ one minutes and then actually does, the next minute.[2] But the pain is not limited to the injured people (upwards of 500) and the victim’s families. “The sister of the suspected ringleader of Sri Lanka's deadly Easter Sunday bombings has told CNN up to 18 of her family members are missing and feared dead since the attacks and subsequent raids.” She identified some of her brothers by their body parts. [3] (Can we just stop and pray for this woman to have an unforgettable encounter with Jesus that turns her world right-side-up again, and for her to have a redeeming testimony of Jesus’ love to follow her the rest of her days. Her name is Mohamed Hashim Mathaniya).

According to Christianity Today, “Sri Lanka is an odd place for Muslim-Christian tension, which was virtually unknown before the Easter bombings. An island southeast of India, the population is 70 percent Buddhist and 12 percent Hindu. Muslims constitute roughly 10 percent, and Christians 8 percent—predominantly Catholic but with a sizable Protestant majority.”[2]

The next Sunday, a televised broadcast enabled believers to celebrate Mass from home while churches are closed for a recovery period post-violence and while others are rebuilding, according to a FOX News interview. [4]

“This is a time our hearts are tested by the great destruction that took place last Sunday,” Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, shared from his own personal questions in a homily for his clergy and country’s leaders. “This is a time question such as, ‘Does God truly love us?’ ‘Does he have compassion toward us?’, can arise in human hearts.” [4]

Despite the pain and loss and fear and other runaway emotions that are inevitably present in the wake of a senseless terror attack, the answer is yes. A resounding, YES, I LOVE YOU, is roaring out from the Father-heart of God.

The Vineyard Missions office received the following letter three days post attack, from Susan Stokes, the Vineyard Sri Lanka Partnership leader:

Waking up first thing on Easter morning, I did not expect a text from Pastor Samadhi informing me that he and the other Vineyard Pastors and churches had not been involved in the bombings during Easter morning services. To learn that they were not--this time--the target of terrorism and persecution by bombings was of great relief. Then the moment passed as the shock on behalf of Sri Lanka settled with raw pain and grief upon my soul.

The Vineyard Sri Lanka Missions partnership team had been at one of its deepest stages of engagement during its 15-year history.  We were poised to celebrate that anniversary this year with public worship events, expanding though Discovery Bible Study small groups in new multiple locations, and receiving the sense--a felt change in the wind--that almost a decade past the end of a 26-year-long bitter civil war which encompassed the devastating 2004 Tsunami, Sri Lanka stands ready for a new level of Kingdom harvest.

Perhaps you heard, during horrific reports of the carnage and fear inflicted this Easter, the surprised admission by newscasters that the minority Christians of Sri Lanka have enjoyed a long history of peacefully bridging various ethnic groups. Our Vineyard churches have endured, without retaliation, spells of violent persecution at the hands of local Buddhist monks. They pursue the Kingdom of God with such wholehearted, yet humble, zeal, that I feel I am constantly learning from them.

This third day, I find myself reflecting on what God is doing. He is about the work of bringing life out of death. He has been about the work of receiving unknowing martyrs caught worshipping Him in their final moment. He is about the gathering of grieving souls into His flock, and caring for them.

I ask our international Vineyard family, how can we help support our Vineyard Sri Lanka churches walk through this crucial door at this dramatic moment, to reach their nation in a timely season? They have labored with few resources in the face of persecution, and have not lost faith, but grown.

My heart is full: full of the undying grace of God, full of the pain of the world, and full of hope that we might be those who are chosen for such a moment as this. Will you help our Partnership help our Sri Lanka partners?

I thank you for your attention today, and for the prayers, you have already raised. I hope to hear from you as we wade into the next, the unknown, following Jesus, the One who knows the way.

Blessings and peace be upon our aching world,

Susan

Connect with Susan about the Vineyard Sri Lanka Partnership opportunities to get involved for your congregation. Vineyard Sri Lanka Partnership

If you want to put hands and feet to that resounding “Yes, I love you.” from God’s heart to suffering families who need to hear it, there are some fundraising opportunities available that will be distributed with accountability through the Sri Lanka Partnership. Susan says,

Our partnership churches are assembling food packages for 78 families from the church in  Batticaloa, the only one of the bombed churches not receiving government assistance. They need about $28 per package (prices are currently about double in the aftermath), so we’d like to raise about $2,500 U.S. for this project. Donations should be given through the Gilbert Vineyard. They have a Sri Lanka drop-down button on their donation menu on the Give page.

https://www.vineyardaz.com/give/

Or the mailing address, checks need a note in the memo line “for Sri Lanka.”

Vineyard Community Church
601 S. Cooper Road
Gilbert, Arizona 85233

Story sources and quotes compiled from the following news sites. Visit these sources for details on where the investigations are currently:

  1. Fox News. (2019). Retrieved 5-3-19. -https://www.foxnews.com/world/after-grief-and-chaos-picture-of-sri-lanka-bombers-emerges

  2. Christianity Today. (2019). Retrieved 5-3-19. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/april/sri-lanka-easter-isis-zion-sunday-school-sebastian-funerals.html

  3. CNN. (2019). Retrieved 5-3-19 https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/28/asia/sri-lanka-bombings-mohamed-hashim-mathaniya/index.html

  4. Fox News. (2019). Retrieved 5-3-19. https://www.foxnews.com/world/with-churches-shut-down-after-bombings-sri-lankans-hear-mass-on-tv

  5. BBC. (2019). Referenced for details. Retrieved 5-3-19. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48010697

 
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Kim Frolander started attending Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. She spent two years as a volunteer/missionary in Jerusalem, Israel, and upon coming home, she trained with Bubba Justice and led missions at IVC for 3.5 years. Now she uses her experience and degrees in research and writing, (formally known as English and History) for curating resources for Vineyard Missions.

 
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In 2001, God called Gary and Susan Stokes to restart Vineyard City Church in Tucson, AZ. Always engaged in mercy, social justice and compassion ministries, God led Vineyard City Chuch to respond to needs in Sri Lanka after the 2004 Tsunami. Out of this work grew the relationships which currently define the Vineyard Missions Partnership to Sri Lanka.