"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." ~ Luke 4:18-19
The civil war in Sri Lanka mercifully ended in the second half of May when the government defeated the Tamil Tigers after 26 years. But while the war is officially over, the suffering remains. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, have lost loved ones, or deal daily with injuries and mutilation from the war. In the meanwhile, Gospel for Asia and other missionary groups are stepping into the fallout to give assistance and the mercy of Christ to these people as they struggle to get their lives back.
In 1976, Velupillai Prabhakaran founded the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) with the goal of seceding and forming a Tamil homeland in the northern part of the island of Sri Lanka. The violence between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government escalated into a full out civil war in 1983, and some 80,000 people were killed during the next 26 years.
The LTTE became famous for its terrorism. The Tamil fighters targeted civilians and used them as human shields. They kidnapped and recruited child soldiers and perfected the use of suicide bombers long before Al Qaida came on the scene. Prabhakaran was as shrewd as he was ruthless, and his Tigers succeeded in slaughtering their enemies in battle and even in carrying out high profile assassinations, like the murder of former Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Prabhakaran was not particularly motivated by religion, but by a very motivated Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism.
The war ended as the Tamil Tigers finally admitted defeat on May 17th, 2009. Prabhakaran was shot to death while fleeing Sri Lankan troops on the 18th, and thereafter almost 10,000 Tamil rebels – many of them women and children – began to surrender.
The aftermath of the war is not pleasant. Almost 300,000 people now live in relief camps where they need food and water, shelter, basic healthcare and sanitation. Most bear emotional wounds and anger and grief that will not be healed by a simple bowl of rice. The government is busy shuttling those Tamil militants who have surrendered into rehabilitation camps, looking to return the island to some form of normal life. After 26 years, that will be no easy task.
In the meanwhile, missionary workers have stepped in to help the refugees and keep more from dying.
"Our country is in huge suffering," said Lal Vanderwall, Gospel For Asia'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."
Suicide is a big concern. "People are committing suicide out of despair," reported GFA President K.P. Yohannan. "When they lose hope, many will just kill themselves. So there is a very real fear of increased suicides."
Disease is also a threat as thousands flood into refugee camps, where they live in cramped living quarters with poor sanitation and rampant malnutrition.
Missionaries and church pastors, both Tamil and Sinhalese, are working together to gather food and supplies for the survivors of the war. People will need their houses rebuilt and their loved ones buried. They will need all manner of assistance over the next months as they try to reassemble their lives. Groups like Christian Aid and World Vision are also stepping in to help.
Please pray for the missionaries and churches that are reaching out to the people of Sri Lanka. Pray that the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of these torn people. The refugees need their physical needs met, but they also need their emotional and spiritual needs attended to so that they can begin to heal from the traumas of the past many years. This is a difficult time, but it is also an opportunity for people to hear the Gospel and know the One who gives them living water and who offers "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;" (Isaiah 61:3).
Aid Agencies Step In As Sri Lankans Look To Rebuilding Lives - Christian Today
Sun God's Life Of War - Straits Times
Sri Lanka Civil War Ends; GFA Workers Reach Out to Survivors - Christian Newswire
Disease Outbreak 'Imminent' in Sri Lankan Relief Camps - The Christian Post
Children, Females Among Surrendered Rebels: Sri Lankan Military - China View