The pastors who serve in predominantly Sinhala-Buddhist areas in the country, continue to face many struggles and hardships in their ministries. The NCEASL frequently conducts instruction and counsel to such pastors through its programme titled Standing Strong through the Storm, preparing them to face crises and pressures from persecution whilst pressing on in their efforts of ministering to the nation.
Pastor *Srilal always had the desire to serve the Lord in a place where both Sinhalese and Tamils resided. In 1994 he encountered a vision where the Lord showed him a certain town. Thereafter, he was led to serve in this town, through the guidance he received from God through three different people. God’s plan was revealed to him in this way. Having lived in Ja-Ela – a suburban city in Colombo – Pastor Srilal had no clue about this town. As there was no internet technology at the time, the pastor searched the newspapers and television and finally referred to a map which showed that this town was located in the south of Sri Lanka. When he realised that it was a predominantly Sinhala town, the pastor was very disappointed. “One day I met an old friend who lived in this town. He told me that there is a small Tamil population residing there. Therefore I was very happy to realise that God had seen the desire in my heart and I was happy to commence my ministry in this town” said Pastor Srilal as he explained the long and tedious journey in ministering in the south.
When he initially went to this town in 1994, he looked for accommodation but many were reluctant to give him lodging when they learned that he didn’t have a permanent job. After six months of searching for a place, he gave up and decided to come back to Colombo. Exasperated, he asked God if it was really His will for him to do ministry in a town where he was yet to find a place to live in. Having made up his mind to go back to Colombo, he found himself at the bus stop, waiting for the bus back to Colombo. While waiting for the bus to Colombo, a man came up and spoke to him, curious as to what he was in search for having seen him walking the streets from morning to dusk. “I explained that I was looking for a room but hadn’t found one”, said the Pas. Srilal. “Then he took me to one of the places that had refused me lodging. I was a bit frightened as the owners had not wanted to give me a room in their house. But at the request of this man, the house owner agreed to give me lodging. Now I know God sent this man to help me because I never met him after this incident”, said the pastor, explaining how God had ensured that his plan for him would be fulfilled.
Pastor Srilal started serving in this town in 1995. For 12 years, the pastor moved from place to place in this village facing many challenges. Some home owners even chased him out of their houses overnight.
“We are grateful to God as I now own a plot of land with a house. God has made me self-sufficient and provided for all my needs. Today I have a congregation of over 200 believers and I have no problems from my neighbourhood” said the pastor. “When I started my ministry, one thing I asked God was to show me how I can win the hearts of my neighbours. And the Lord instructed me to point my hands at my neighbours’ homes and bless them each morning. I’ve been praying for my neighbours in this way for the past 20 years and to date I’ve never had any problems from my neighbours” said the pastor thankfully.
However, Pastor Srilal did face adversity; opposition against his ministry, came from people living about two kilometres away from his church. The main inciters were Buddhist monks and politicians. This happened about 2 years ago when he least expected it. He felt it was a politically motivated attack on him. “When my wife and I were visiting a church member, a mob surrounded us and attacked us. I even received death threats during that time. My neighbours told me that there was a plan to kill me and advised me to flee to a safer place. I had a great inner strength and boldness even though at that time I had not learnt how to go through storms in life. God’s grace helped me to face the trial before me. For the sake of my family I was willing to move to a safer location, but we didn’t have a place to go to. It was the NCEASL that came to our rescue and relocated us at a safe location for a week. During this time, the NCEASL was a great source of strength for us. Even the Anglican Bishop of Colombo and the entire Church of God stood with us, without any denominational differences. This gave us great encouragement and strengthened us further.”
Following this incident, the pastor feared returning home. He was concerned for the safety of his children. His worst fears were realised when he was attacked again while returning home. The attack was so violent that his wife’s clothes were torn by the perpetrators. “We ran into the house and closed the door behind us” recalled Pastor Srilal. “We knelt and prayed to God to help us face this attack. No one knew we were in the house. We were filled with a surprising amount of courage and peace of mind after we prayed” related the pastor whilst explaining how he was able to react to this situation. “That night we quickly referred to the ‘Book of Acts’ to see how the Church reacted in times of persecution. We took note of some of the things and applied it immediately to our situation. For example, through times of persecution we must stay strong in the Lord, be brave, love our enemies and forgive those who hurt us. I believe the Lord helped us to look at persecution in the correct way” he said.
This state of unrest remained for about one month; they even broke into the pastor’s house. “It was definitely not God’s will that I should die at the hands of these perpetrators. But they came to kill me. They accused us of helping the Tamil rebels and that we were betraying our country to foreigners. We were considered traitors. These accusations resulted in them trying to attack us, attempting to burn our house and even trying to kill us”. The persecutors had already acquired a land belonging to another church and four families had built their homes on these premises. As Pastor Srilal explained, their plan was to acquire his church premises as well. This revolt was backed by a powerful politician who had planned to confiscate the pastor’s property for the state. They threatened the pastor and demanded that he leave his land and that he stop all religious activities with immediate effect. “They tried to force me to agree to their threat. God asked me to keep silent. They took me by my collar and tried to force me to agree to leave” said the pastor. In a miraculous twist of events some of those who persecuted the pastor then have now become his good friends. God has not permitted anyone to acquire even an inch of land from the pastor’s premises. The mob who claimed that everything in the town where we lived should happen according to their will, have now lost all their authority and power and their hands are tied. “My prayer is that God will change the heart of the top politician who incited the attack. God has also given me the grace to work along with the government officials now.”
The pastor went on to explain how some of the mob who came to attack him, later confessed before him and asked for pardon. “We knew there was no truth in the accusations that were levelled against you” they said.
Today, Pastor Srilal has a congregation of 200 believers who stand with him even in the face of trials that come his way. On commenting on the SSTS seminar conducted by the NCEASL for the pastors of the South he said, “I am very happy about today’s programme. What was taught to us very specially on setting goals for our churches was an important learning for all the pastors who attended it.”
*The name of the pastor has been changed