One student’s fight for unity in diversity

Crossing barriers of caste and denomination for the sake of gospel witness in Sri Lanka

I am Samuel Poologasingam from Sri Lanka. I believe that every university in the world should have a united Christian witness. This is my story.

One step forward, two steps back

University wasn’t at all what I’d expected. Spiritually, the campus was a desert. The closest church was 12km away. Most of my classmates were Muslim. There was no IFES ministry here at all.

I dreamed of seeing Christian students from every denomination, race and caste meeting together on campus. But that wasn’t the reality. After a lonely year of crying out to God, I finally found a small group of Christian students.

It took one year for us to register officially with the university as a non-denominational fellowship. During that time, we faced a lot of opposition. There were 18 of us, from different faculties and denominations; some of us were Sinhalese, some were Tamil. And that was the problem. Students of different ethnic groups are not supposed to mix, according to the university culture.

Pressing on

This was where I almost gave up. My own friends turned against me because of the diversity we promoted. It left me feeling very alone and frustrated. But through God’s strength, and with support from the national FOCUS ministry, I kept going, working together with students from different races and denominations. We organised Christmas events for children in nearby villages, helped schoolchildren with their entrance exams, hosted suicide awareness programs and conducted environmental care programs on campus.

At the FOCUS National Conference 2018, our university fellowship affiliated to the movement. It was an amazing milestone for us.

I rejoiced that I was able to witness God building a fellowship united in diversity during my time at university. Students who previously accused us now respected us for our unity. Initially they saw us as troublemakers, but over time they’ve seen that our unity is what makes this group of students unique.

Grace that initiates

My country has been devastated due to ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. Even though the war has ceased, there are still deep tensions in Sri Lanka. This year’s Easter Sunday attacks caused further pain and division, as more than 250 people were killed, including two FOCUS students. Many other students were injured.

As we struggled to support these students, we realised that the Muslim community had been deeply affected by the tragedy as well. Many were now facing discrimination and hardships.

At the national level, the FOCUS movement initiated a dialogue with the national Muslim student body. A declaration was signed by both groups, pledging solidarity, acknowledging the wrong done to one another and seeking forgiveness. On our campus we also decided to initiate conversation with our Muslim friends. Together we agreed to hold a service of remembrance for those caught up in the attacks.

To our surprise, over 250 students from all ethnic and religious backgrounds gathered for the service. The Muslim students thanked me for loving them unconditionally and for allowing them to grieve with us.

A big dream for a broken people

Even in the midst of that great tragedy, God found a way to begin the process of healing between our communities in the university. It showed me that God is truly the great God who can use even our weaknesses and tragedies to bring about his purposes.

In a country so divided, I see the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way in which all the communities can find true healing and reconciliation with each other. I pray that our Christian fellowship is a witness to that truth.

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