A politician leading a campaign to shut down a Gospel for Asia Bible college in Sri Lanka remains in police custody and was expected to answer charges against him Tuesday. Winton Appuhamy, an elected member of the local provincial council, was arrested early Sunday morning after attacking a security guard at the college. The security guard is still in the hospital.
Appuhamy contends he is acting out of a patriotic duty, falsely claiming the school is a training camp for the Tamil Tigers rebel group.
The Tamils are an ethnic group in Sri Lanka with roots in India’s Tamil Nadu state. A small percentage of Tamils are members of the rebel group fighting to carve out an independent Tamil state in the north of the island, claiming they are victims of discrimination. The ensuing civil war between the Tigers and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority has lasted more than 20 years.
A cease-fire agreement in 2002 ended when fighting resumed in 2005. Today, bombings, kidnappings and other armed skirmishes are everyday occurrences across the island. The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been killed and more than 465,000 others have been displaced by the fighting.
Students in the GFA Bible college, training to become missionaries to their people, come from both Tamil and Sinhalese backgrounds.
Lal Vanderwall, Gospel for Asia’s Sri Lankan ministry leader, says that despite the ongoing tensions, many Sri Lankans are choosing to follow Jesus. This had led to some unwanted attention for GFA-related churches in this country where Buddhism is the official religion.
“Accusing Christians has become more common than ever,” Rev. Vanderwall laments. “We have more Bible college students this year than ever, and our churches are growing faster than ever before. There are so many good things happening here that I am convinced this is all spiritual warfare. But we know that the Lord is on our side.”
In addition to the outright violence against Christians, there is increased pressure on churches in Sri Lanka. One pastor had to be moved for his own safety when the local Buddhist monks threatened him after he baptized 47 new believers. New laws making it illegal for church members to gather after 10 p.m. have forced cancellation of their monthly all-night prayer meetings. The churches no longer feel safe having national gatherings or events.
The police are investigating the recent incidents at the GFA Bible college, and a prominent national official is scheduled to visit the campus this week to lend his name to the school’s credibility.
Meanwhile, Rev. Vanderwall says he is more committed than ever to sharing the Good News in Sri Lanka.
“In spite of all these things, we still believe that if people don’t hear the Gospel, they will go to hell. So it is still our responsibility to tell them,” he said.
He asks for continued prayer for the country, especially for safety and strength for the Christians. He also asks prayer for an end to the civil war and for those who are leading the fighting to come to know Jesus.