Sri Lanka: Connecting the word with the world

Like some of its neighbours in the region, this South Asian country has experienced great suffering in recent years. Despite the end of the civil war in 2009, tensions remain between the three main communities (and are exploited by various parties). In addition, a three-year long economic crisis has inflicted serious hardship on and fuelled hopelessness in many of Sri Lanka’s 22 million inhabitants.  

Even so, there have been signs of hope. The protests of 2022 brought together many from different communities, in both the capital Colombo and other towns around the country, to rally against bad governance. In the process, discussion about the country’s history, economy, and politics were brought into ordinary conversation. The quest for justice came to the forefront. 

Students have been important dreamers and movers pushing for change in the country’s past. This remains true today, but they are also facing intense difficulties. Stress levels are high as is the incidence of suicides. Christian students suffer depression too, but because of the stigma, they tend to keep their problems to themselves rather than ask for help. Many graduates, Christians included, leave the country to find better jobs and “greener pastures.” 

Paheerathan, Northern Regional Lead for the Fellowship of Christian University Students  in Sri Lanka, tell us that FOCUS faces a complex scenario – including diversity in language, ethnicity, social demographics and Christian denominations. Fellowship groups may comprise a mix of all of these, making communication a challenge, while timetable clashes make it difficult to meet up. Yet Paheerathan tells us that: 

“Amid the collapsing economy and shortage of essential food and fuel and 152-day Aragalays (struggle) against the government, our students experienced last year the hand of God.” 

The Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) and the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) played a major part in the Aragalaya. Many Christian students and academics joined their colleagues in marching and camping out to protest corruption in government, and demand that the then-President step down. In the process, students were moved to consider the theology of protest and the Christian response to what was unfolding around them. 

“They had conversations on protests, political process and their role in the dream for a system change, towards a transformed Sri Lanka that reflects God’s just rule.”  

In response, FOCUS was prompted to abandon their plans for an annual camp, and instead facilitated “Word and World” exposure trips for teams of students and graduates. Accompanied by staff workers, over sixty took part in trips to all corners of Sri Lanka.  

“God led us to amazing people and places… God spoke to [participants] through the work they witnessed [as they felt called] to uplift the marginalized and the poor in our society – and [also through] the word they meditated [on] during their stay among them.” 

This week, Paheerathan is attending his first IFES World Assembly, where he’s looking forward to testifying to God’s goodness. He says: 

“I want to learn new things and unlearn things as well. I want to understand how other university movements face similar and different challenges to ours and hear their stories of how God works in diverse nations around the globe.” 

Please join us in praying for Paheerathan, FOCUS Sri Lanka, and World Assembly: 

  • Give thanks for Paheerathan’s commitment and that of other staff and students at FOCUS. 
  • Pray that God would reveal more of his goodness to Christian students and graduates in Sri Lanka and that the Holy Spirit would comfort them in their troubles.  
  • Pray for the students, that their experiences of protesting for change, and working with some of the communities in their country that are struggling the most, would shape their ambitions for their own lives as well as their vision for Sri Lanka. 
  • Pray for all attendees at World Assembly this week, that they would come ready to learn from each other, open to the Spirit, and would be encouraged and empowered to make a difference back home. 
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