Sri Lankan Christians remain strong after militants set church on fire

Christians in Sri Lanka remain undeterred in the face of persecution, even after militants threatened their pastor and his family and torched down their church.

(REUTERS / Nita Bhalla)A man cycles past St. James Church and a poster of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa which reads "May you live a long life" in Jaffna June 6, 2014.

On Jan. 5, suspected Buddhist nationalists attacked the Christian church and threatened to kill the pastor's family if they told the authorities about the incident. Although they did report to the police, they did not receive any response and no one was arrested the day after the attack, Mission Network News reports.

"This church was attacked," said Adrian DeVisser of Asian Access, an evangelical movement which develops church leaders in Asia. "They threatened the pastor, the leader of the church and said if they go to the police, they'll kill the entire family, and then they burned the church down."

According to DeVisser, the church was new but was growing fast and was drawing people from other faiths. He said this is one of the things that irked the militants in the region.

DeVisser said they know the people behind the church attack and said some of them are known religious leaders in the area. He also said they already asked the police to take action and sent lawyers who will represent their own leaders.

Despite the death threats that the pastor and his family received after the church attack, he does not want to leave. He is determined to push through with his ministry in the face of persecution.

"The church leader wants to remain there. He's not willing to move out. There is a threat on his life," DeVisser added. "We have now provided some of the food stuffs they need. Some of our workers reached out to him, but he's determined to ride the wave of persecution."

In an interview with Christian Today last year, a religious liberty lawyer in Sri Lanka said the country's new government initially brought hope to Christians, but the administration of their new president Maithripala Sirisena saw a rise in persecution.

Miriam (not her real name) told CT that her organization recorded more than 120 incidents of Christian persecution a little more than a year since Sirisena came to power. There were only 52 such incidents documented in 2012, but the number almost doubled to 103 the year after that.

Other struggles that Christians in Sri Lanka face include the shutdown of churches and prayer groups. They have also been prohibited from conducting Christian burials and have been the target in other violent attacks.