Sri Lanka: Churches attacked and vandalised

Sri Lankan government soldiers rest in front of a ruined church.AP

Violent protests interrupted Sunday morning services on January 12, at two churches in Hikkaduwa, a small coastal town in southern Sri Lanka.

Eyewitnesses report that a mob led by Buddhist monks stormed an Assemblies of God church and Calvary Free Church, threatening worshippers and vandalising church property.

According to Kristel Ortiz, writing for Assemblies of God World Missions, the monks claimed the churches were illegal prayer centres and demanded that they be closed. However, worshippers say they have met at those locations since 1997.

Both churches were severely damaged and sound equipment, musical instruments, furniture, literature and Bibles were destroyed.

An Assemblies of God church leader reports, "The police made believers vacate from the back of the building and go into neighboring homes, and we are thankful to God that no lives were harmed."

Ortiz said that although police had promised protection to the churches and advised them to continue with their services, the police presence at the time of the attack was inadequate to restrain the mob.

In a statement to BBC News, Sri Lanka Assemblies of God leaders said, "Lawyers are now meeting with the police. As of now, the immediate situation has been diffused, but tension still exists in the area. Although many of the details are unclear, we know that a mob attacked the churches while they were engaged in religious worship, which is a violation of the penal code. The police were unable to control the mob."

"We request your urgent prayer support for justice, peace and common sense to prevail and for the protection of these pastors, believers and their families. Please pray for the AG leadership as we meet to discuss what needs to be done in this volatile and unfair situation," the Sri Lankan AG church leader says.

Dr George Wood, general superintendent of the US Assemblies of God and chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, is notifying other members of the WAGF of the incident.

"I urge believers from throughout the WAGF to stand with our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka who are being persecuted for gathering to worship, even though the constitution of Sri Lanka clearly gives them that right," he says. "Let us pray that in the days ahead they will be treated justly."

According to a police spokesman, 24 people in the mob, including eight monks, have been identified, and their names have been submitted to the courts. In addition, a full report on the attack has been compiled, and all investigations concerning protests and demonstrations about religion would be handed over to the Religious Affairs Ministry.

"Pray that God will give strength and wisdom to our fellow believers in Sri Lanka who are suffering for their faith," says Greg Mundis, executive director of AGWM. "They need an extra measure of God's grace and power as they seek to reflect the compassion of Christ and demonstrate His love to those who oppose the message of the gospel."