Sri Lanka’s civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group is now over, and it is time to minister to the survivors, says Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan, reports MNN.
“While the 30-year-long conflict has come to an end by the news of the Tamil Tigers’ surrender, in reality this is the beginning of pain and crisis for hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced,” Dr. Yohannan said. “There are 25,000 now in refugee camps, and the suffering is especially acute among the children and elderly.
“This is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities we have to minister to people in the name of Christ. We have more than 100 churches in Sri Lanka, and our people are engaged in doing whatever they can to help the suffering refugees. This is a drawn-out challenge that will be there for a long time to come.”
The bloody civil war entered its final stages earlier this year and ended with the government’s announcement Monday that it had killed Tamil leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his son. A short time later, the handful of remaining Tamils surrendered.
The Tamils are a minority group on the island, and the Tigers were an armed militant group fighting for a separate homeland in northern Sri Lanka. The Indian state of Tamil Nadu is just across a narrow channel from the battle area.
Sri Lanka’s army chief, appearing on television news broadcasts, said that government troops claimed victory over the last Tamil stronghold, a tiny sliver of land on the northwest coast of the island.
With the end of the war, Sri Lanka is now faced with resettling thousands of refugees who fled their homes in the wake of the fighting. Many of the refugees are living in government camps that lack basic hygiene facilities. They do not have access to adequate food, water or shelter.
But physical discomfort is not the only thing they have suffered. Many lost loved ones or were permanently disfigured in the violent confrontations. The rebels were accused of using civilians as human shields, and the government is accused of inadvertently bombing a hospital in the designated safe zone.
The United Nations estimates that 70,000 civilians were killed in the fighting during the last 30 years. There is a concern that the number will increase.
“Our country is in huge suffering,” said Lal Vanderwall, GFA’s Sri Lanka country leader. “We are praying for God to intervene so that many more will not die in the aftermath of this surrender.”
Yohannan said there is a concern about the fate of the island’s Tamils in the wake of the surrender.
The hurt runs deep, says Yohannan, and “unless we preach the Gospel and somehow bring Christ into the picture, and the church moves very aggressively, cares for the suffering and the poor, and does the work of God, we may have more problems.”
“People are committing suicide out of despair,” Yohannan reported. “When they lose hope, many will just kill themselves. So there is a very real fear of increased suicides.”
Gospel for Asia-supported missionaries have been working in Sri Lanka for many years. Some are former rebel fighters, while others come from the majority Sinhalese population. Most of these missionaries now serve as pastors of Sri Lankan churches. The fact that Tamil and Sinhalese Christians work side-by-side has been a tremendous witness to the people.
Today these pastors, along with the workers at the Bridge of Hope children’s centers, are mobilizing to help war survivors. During the next few days they will be gathering food, clothing and other daily necessities to help the displaced with their immediate needs.
As the people return home, these pastors and other workers will continue helping them rebuild their lives in whatever ways are necessary. For some, that could mean ministering to families who are burying their dead. For others, it could be providing food and other household necessities. Others may need new homes if theirs were destroyed in the conflict.
Yohannan says many are hopeless. “When people are hurting and in despair, hopelessness sinks in, and that’s when the Gospel is presented and they cry out to God.”
With the end of the war, GFA-supported missionaries will also be praying for their country’s leaders as they plot a course for the future.
“I pray that somehow the international community will be concerned that the government of Sri Lanka will take care of its Tamil population,” Yohannan said. “This conflict started because of the abuse of the Tamil population, so I pray that the government will now take care of its Tamil people as well as the majority Sinhalese.”
Report from the Christian telegraph