In Matthew’ s Gospel, Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44). But what does loving our enemies look like?
Sri Lanka is a country where Christians face persecution for choosing to follow Jesus – and in recent years, this persecution has been especially violent. In 2019, a series of Easter Sunday bomb attacks killed hundreds of believers and injured many more. This attack saw worldwide coverage, but the Sri Lankan church faces violence on a hidden level, too.
In a village in Sri Lanka’ s Eastern Province, Pastor Shiyanth*, who leads a small Christian community, faced repeated attempts by local devout Hindus to shut down their church. The police ruled in the Christians’ favour, reminding the community that Christians are permitted to gather for worship as guaranteed in Sri Lanka’ s constitution. But this result did not deter the persecutors. “If you don’ t give us a solution, we will solve this problem our way,” they shouted as they stormed out of the police station.
Later, one Sunday, Kumar* was on his way to church when two of his cousins began to attack him – quickly followed by a mob. Kumar’ s wife and three other women from the local church rushed to his aid, only to be beaten up themselves. They were beaten, stoned, and pelted with garbage.
Seven months after this incident, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka was put under an island-wide lockdown for over a month. With most of the villagers in this community being from low-income households, and the curfew forcing everyone indoors, they had no means of providing for their families. The church, seeing this great need, stepped in to help: Pastor Shiyanth requested support to provide dry rations for the entire village – including the people who had attacked Kumar.
With the assistance of Open Doors, Pastor Shiyanth’ s church was able to provide dry rations for 100 families through the local government representative in the village. The people who had attacked believers from the church were deeply moved by the gesture. They later discussed this amongst themselves. “Why did we do so much against them?” they asked.
This act of love has opened new doors to reach out to that community. Pastor Shiyanth shared, “Doing this gave us more opportunities to share the gospel and show the love of Christ to people. More people are eager to know the Lord.
“I see a great renewal within the church. Even the local government representative in the village has changed in his attitude towards the Christian community. We are building better relationships with the people now.”
Pastor Shiyanth and his church understood Jesus’ words in Matthew. The church didn’ t serve their community conditionally, or even in the hopes that they would stop being persecuted. They shared what they had because of their love for Jesus, and their love for their community. And because of this, a door is open for God to work in people’ s lives through His church.
- Give thank for Pastor Shiyanth and his church’ s response to God’ s love in serving their community; pray that God will continue to move among them and reveal more of His love
- That God will continue to strengthen the church in Sri Lanka to be salt and light in their communities
- For persecuted Christians around the world who are sharing God’ s love in the darkest places, that God would be at work in them and through them to reach others.
Discover more stories of courageous faith from the persecuted church at opendoorsuk.org.
*Name changed for security reasons