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Christians in Sri Lanka ‘stand firm for the faith’ after terrorists target churches

'Our peace is destroyed' says member of a Church of Christ after bombings claim more than 320 lives

‘Muslim radicals all over the world are targeting people of Christian faith,” said Lilani Thomas after terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday took the lives of more than 320 people in her home country, Sri Lanka.

Lilani and Harold Thomas

Lilani and Harold Thomas

Now, “we pray … that our Heavenly Father gives courage to all of us to carry his Son’s message without fear,” she told The Christian Chronicle, “and to stand firm for the faith.”

Thomas and her husband, Harold, were on their way to Sunday worship with the Wennappuwa Church of Christ in Sri Lanka when suicide bombers entered three church buildings and four hotels in the capital, Colombo. Six blasts happened within a short period, beginning about 8:45 a.m. local time, the BBC reports. Two more explosions followed as police searched for suspects.

The meeting place of the Wennappuwa Church of Christ in Sri Lanka

The meeting place of the Wennappuwa Church of Christ in Sri Lanka

The Thomases were near one of the blast sites just 30 minutes prior as they gave a church member a ride to Wennappuwa, north of Colombo’s international airport. The church’s members began to conduct worship and shared the Lord’s Supper before news of the attacks caused them to stop and pray. Church members with family near the blast sites feared for their relatives’ lives.

“We pray that, as the Muslim radicals all over the world are targeting people of Christian faith, that our Heavenly Father gives courage to all of us to carry his Son’s message without fear.”

“Returning back, we were passing lot of STF (Special Task Force) presence as they found a large bomb near the airport,” she added. “Luckily, the Air Force personnel found it before it burst.

“Still, there is tension prevailing in the country, with emergency law enforced.”

There’s also tremendous sadness.

A member of the Church of Christ learned that her nephew and two of her nephew’s relatives through marriage died in the bombing of the Negombo Catholic Church. The church member’s home is near the blast site.

Inside the Negombo Catholic Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Inside the Negombo Catholic Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka

“Altogether there are 60 funerals in the vicinity,” Lilani Thomas said. “Since the cemetery cannot handle so many burials, it’s mass burials taking place in threes and fives.”

No members of Churches of Christ were injured in the attacks, Lilani Thomas said.

Harold Thomas presides over the Lord's Supper.

Harold Thomas presides over the Lord’s Supper.

Sri Lankan authorities said that a militant Islamist group, the national Thowheed Jamath, likely was to blame for the attacks, though the group likely had aid from abroad. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The attacks might have been in retaliation for the killing of 50 people last month at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Sri Lankan authorities said.

Related: New Zealand Christians pray church ‘can shine in this dark time’

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, a teardrop-shaped island off the southern coast of India, has a population of about 21.4 million. About 6.1 percent of the population is Catholic and an additional 1.3 percent identify as Christian.

Lilani Thomas is the daughter of Reggie Gnanasundaram, a longtime minister for Churches of Christ on the island and one of the country’s first converts. He was baptized by missionary J.C. Choate, who first visited Sri Lanka in 1968. Gnanasundaram was instrumental in securing legal status from the Sri Lankan government for Churches of Christ. He died in 2007.

Members of a Church of Christ in Sri Lanka meet in a Christian's home.

Members of a Church of Christ in Sri Lanka meet in a Christian’s home.

The Easter attacks are the deadliest in Sri Lanka since the end of its 26-year civil war in 2009. That conflict ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who fought for independence for the Tamil minority.

“We have enjoyed a couple of years of peace in the country,” Lilani Thomas said. “And now, once again, our peace is destroyed.”

Filed under: Central Asia Church of Christ Churches of Christ India International Islamic terrorism Sri Lanka terrorist attacks Top Stories

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