Ecumenical Mission Team to Visit Local Church Communities in Sri Lanka

War-torn Sri Lanka is to receive the first of a series of ecumenical 'living letters' teams which will visit Christian communities facing situations of violence in different regions of the world.

The initiative is taking place in the run up to the 2011 International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, which is being organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The ecumenical team will be in Sri Lanka from 4 to 12 August.

'Living letters' is a mission by church representatives to express solidarity with and learn from the peacemaking efforts of local churches. The team includes four church representatives - from the USA, Kenya, Indonesia and South Korea.

During their visits, the teams will meet major church and civil society players, as well as people from the grassroots in areas affected by the fighting.

"We want the delegation to be exposed to the stark realities of war in the North and East before they meet church leaders and civil society representatives based in Colombo," says Rev Dr Jayasiri Peiris, General Secretary of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka which is hosting the team.

The programme of the visit includes exposure trips to areas in the northern and eastern regions of the country (Mannar, Batticaloa and Jaffna) and meetings with church leaders and officials of the National Christian Council.

The teams will also engage with members of congregations in the country's capital Colombo and other areas, as well as meetings with human rights activists.

Conflict in Sri Lanka has over the past 25 years claimed thousands of lives on both sides of the ethnic divide between the Sinhala and Tamil communities. Thousands of refugees have sought asylum abroad while many thousands are internally displaced.

The civilian population has been put through tremendous hardships due to summary executions, torture, illegal detentions, embargoes on essential items and the forced recruitment of children as fighters.

Despite a cease-fire agreement signed in February 2002 between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a lethal escalation of armed violence between the two parties since early 2006 has been a source of deep concern to the ecumenical family.

In September 2006, the WCC central committee called both parties to respect the ceasefire agreement and put an end to all hostilities, resuming peace negotiations without delay. Last April, the WCC General Secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia reiterated the Council's concern and appeal.

Churches in Sri Lanka have provided cautious and critical support to the peace process, among other things through inter-religious cooperative endeavours to mobilise people for peace and national reconciliation.

The 'living letters' team will find out more about the churches efforts and needs, and will report back to the wider ecumenical body at a time when, in Kobia's words, "despite the ensuing humanitarian crisis in the northern and eastern parts of the country, Sri Lanka appears to have been forgotten by the international community".

The teams are part of what is expected to become a major worldwide mobilisation of churches for peace that will culminate with an International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to be held as the conclusion to the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence in early May 2011.