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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Risking Everything

By Gaylon Wampler
Nov. 2, 2014

Pastor Chinthaka Prasantha and the 100-member congregation he pastors in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka, began their worship service January 12, 2014, as they did every Sunday. But this day was far from typical. Just outside the church property, a crowd of 500 angry Buddhists had organized to protest their presence.

The congregation, the police and the townspeople knew in advance of the planned protest. Printed flyers urged people to “expel the terrorists.” But no one expected the protest to turn violent. When it did, the authorities could do little to stop the angry mob.

“It was like bombs exploding,” Chinthaka recalled, referring to the rain of rocks hurled by the protestors. The stones broke windows, smashed the roof, and thudded against the outer walls.

When the rocks started flying, Chinthaka stopped the service and hurried the congregation into his home — the front portion of the same building — to offer a second layer of protection. Huddled inside, the believers prayed as their attackers sought a way onto the church property. Amid the commotion, Chinthaka’s 13-year-old daughter overheard a conversation calling for her father’s death.

Soon the attackers broke down a gate. The mob streamed forward and smashed through the church doors. Their message was clear: followers of Christ are not welcome in Sri Lanka — especially not in Hikkaduwa.

The church was demolished, but miraculously, none of the believers were injured. In the weeks following the attack, the church has grown from 100 to 160 people. Believers who once hid their Bibles on their way to church now openly display them.  A Buddhist teacher who visited the church on the day of the attack has received Christ and now attends faithfully.

“The church has grown stronger,” Chinthaka proclaims.

I listen to Chinthaka’s story in amazement. The riot on that January Sunday is just one of several times the power of God has rescued him and his family from peril.

Like the majority of people in Sri Lanka, Chinthaka was born into a Buddhist home. But the seemingly typical family hid a distressing secret: Chinthaka’s mother was demon possessed. In desperation Chinthaka’s father turned to witchcraft to find a cure for his wife’s suffering, but nothing helped.

When the woman’s erratic actions eventually threatened to disrupt the neighborhood, the family moved to a remote jungle area. Eventually the family was forced to sell everything they had, including their small plot of land where they grew vegetables.

Penniless and powerless to help, Chinthaka’s father devised a plan to end the family’s suffering. Together they set a specific date when they would all drink poison and die.

But before they could carry out their plan, a family friend came unexpectedly to visit. A former Buddhist, he had only recently heard the gospel and given his life to Christ. When he learned of the family’s plight, he prayed for Chinthaka’s mother and the woman was instantly delivered. The miracle served as a turning point for the family and set young Chinthaka on the path of sharing the gospel with others.

Since coming to Hikkaduwa 17 years ago, Chinthaka has faced frequent opposition. In 2000, the chief monk of the area approached him and demanded that he leave immediately.

“God has brought me here,” Chinthaka told him. “I will not leave.”

Undeterred, the monk instigated a variety of harassments against the church. These include repeated destruction of the cross in front of the church, placing “enchanted” eggs — symbolizing curses — near church property, and sending people to monitor the pastor’s whereabouts. One night a neighbor called Chinthaka to tell him of a man with a gun lurking behind the pastor’s house.

Despite these attempts to silence the church’s witness, the gospel has continued to touch lives.

In May 2013 someone hired an assassin to kill a church member. Armed with two pistols, the assassin went to the church and waited for the right time to strike. But when he spotted his intended target, he hesitated as the man took a disabled child in his arms. For some inexplicable reason, he was unable to pull the trigger.

For two more Sundays the would-be assassin returned to the church, but he never completed his assignment. Instead, he received Christ as his Savior. Today he is a member of the church, and he and his intended victim are friends.

After hearing of the struggle the church faces and the impact it is making, I ask Chinthaka what people can do to help.

“Pray,” he says simply.

He goes on to explain that the police department and court system are of little help. But he is not letting lack of justice or fear of the future deter him from his call. He tells me of his plan to expand the church to allow seating for 500 people. It will involve moving his family to a different location, but he believes the sacrifice is worth it.

On the back of a protestor’s poster, he draws a rough sketch of what the renovation will involve. The plans and vision are in place, but the building will cost $16,000 — far beyond the humble means of his congregation.

It seems ironic that Chinthaka’s dreams for expansion are on the back of a protest flyer calling for the church’s closure. Local believers, however, are accustomed to making their faith known in the face of adversity. Even after the attack, each church member held up a stone used by the mob and prayed that God would bless not only the church but also its attackers.

The opposition in Hikkaduwa is not random or unique across Sri Lanka. In multiplied villages, pastors and their families are threatened, denied property, and even physically harmed for attempting to share the gospel.

In one town, a young pastor purchased land for a church. When he and his family arrived to take possession of it, the local Buddhist leader robbed the pastor and beat him severely. Recently the family’s home was vandalized.

Another pastor’s family moved to an area to plant a church, but shopkeepers refused to sell anything to them.  As the family persevered, some of the local leaders took the pastor and his wife to the cemetery.

Pointing to some open graves, the leaders warned, “If you don’t stop what you’re doing, you will be killed and buried here.”

 Undeterred, the resilient pastors in Sri Lanka are firm in their resolve to follow Christ — whatever the cost may be.  They are willing to risk everything to make the gospel known.

“When we built our church, we had to do it secretly,” Chinthaka says. “Now the whole area recognizes this place as a church. We are having services, and new people are coming. So I thank God for the persecution that took place here. It was a good testimony for the gospel.”

GAYLON WAMPLER travels frequently as a photographer for AGWM.


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