In Sri Lanka, land has been highly ethnicized and politicized in terms of nationalism and ethnicity and, in some terroritorial areas; it has been very connected to caste and religious identity. Aspecific land is not only a source of economy, therefore, but also of politics and socio-religion. Religion, ethnicity, caste and political power play key roles in geopolitics in Sri Lanka and, as such, ethnic and religiousbased geopolitics have created conflicts between the different communities in the past. One of the unsettling consequences of the 26 years of civil war is that of land occupation in terms of militarization, new settlements, economic development, government policies and archeological preservations.Read more
The Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM) strives to provide educational, medical, and social services throughout Sri Lanka. They focus on educational opportunities for children and youth in impoverished communities to help them escape the cycle of poverty. CACM provides services through early childhood programs, after school programs, and vocational training for children and youth. CACM also has a special project for the victims of civil war in the Wanni region.
Wanni and Jaffna have been deeply affected by the civil war. Today, over 40,000 land mines are still left in the region. In addition to being deeply impacted by the war, people in the region are experiencing water scarcity and extreme levels of drought. Churches are doing their best to provide assistance and resources for communities in such dire situations.
The youth groups in local churches help guide and develop children and youth as they navigate these difficult circumstances. Many children come from families that are victims of the civil war. Some of the children have grown up in concentration camps or their mothers are widows. Their families have been fractured by the war. The local churches provide funds to help children pursue education. I was able to sit down and speak with Mani Luke John of CACM who shared, "The youth groups are able to come together for support and encouragement and to discuss their futures."
The goal of CACM is to empower children and youth by helping them receive education and their basic human rights. The ministry accomplishes this goal by providing daycare, evening classes, leadership training, sports, activities, nutritious meals, and school supplies. During the summer camps and youth programs, CACM is hoping to develop this generation into a group that works to heal, grow, pursue higher education, and fulfill jobs through vocational development.
During my visit to Sri Lanka, I visited a preschool program supported by the Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM). I saw clearly how the support of Global Ministries goes beyond providing resources for educational needs to providing good food for nutritional needs as well. In some cases, the meals the children eat while at preschool are their only meals throughout the day. Most of the families in this region do not have fathers as many of the men were killed during the civil war in Sri Lanka. In addition to being deeply impacted by war, people in the region are experiencing water scarcity and extreme levels of drought. Churches are doing their best to provide assistance and resources for struggling communities.
Parents and loved ones in this community are deeply invested in the children. Women from the community have signed up to help assist with daycare programs to help enrich and develop this generation of children. Teachers from the community give all they can to ensure the next generation is better off than the one before them. CACM strives to provide education, food, water, medical, and social services throughout Sri Lanka. CACM hopes that through the support of Global Ministries they will be able to provide the necessary needs for the communities they serve.
Christians make up a small percentage of the population in Sri Lanka. Global Ministries partners are involved in national reconciliation in this ethnically and religiously divided nation. In the aftermath of a lengthy civil war, partners in the church in Sri Lanka seek to provide community development, interfaith dialogue, and relief and rehabilitation to those affected by the violence. The majority of the population is from the Sinhalese ethnicity, while the Tamils make up the rest of the population. The large disparity between the two ethnicities has played a major role in the history and instability of Sri Lanka. The areas of Wanni and Jaffna are deeply affected by the war. Today over 40,000 land minds still remain in the region.
While traveling to the region, I met a man named S. Kanthaiya Thampaiya lost hope after he lost his leg from one of the many grenades left in the Wanni region. He is unable to continue working as a fisherman because of his injury. Kanthaiya lives in an impoverished community. Many of the women in his community are widows and the area is ravaged by drought. Churches in the regions are finding that the negatives effects of war can be generational. Global Ministries partner, the Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM) works to provide resources to widows, families, and children affected by the war and violence. CACM created an afterschool program for children that works to provide healing for victims of war and deals with issues of trauma. Unable to work, Kanthaiya handed over his fishing business to his children and began to volunteer at one of the after school programs in his community that was supported by CACM. CACM didn't turn Kanthaiya away because he was a Muslim. The church community formed a genuine relationship with Kanthaiya and he began to see how much the church cared for his community.
After time had passed and he began to build genuine relationships with people such as Rev. Kamal with CACM, Kanthaiya gave his life to Christ and converted to Christianity. Vishwanathan saw that CACM was living out the gospel of Jesus to serve people. Rev. Kamal believes, "You have to be the gospel for others to believe it." Kanthaiya found hope in working in the community and helping to care for children.
Rev. Kamal made a deep impact on this man. The local fisherman was able to see how deeply the church loved the community. Their friendship has blossomed over the years and developed into something amazing. Romans 12:10 tells us to "Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other." It is clear that no matter the programmatic work of CACM, the church is devoted to building relationships in the community that have a lifelong impact.
While in Sri Lanka, I traveled to a city called Batticaloa. There, I visited Global Ministries partner, The Church of the American Ceylon Mission, where I visited with men and women who are directly impacted by microcredit programs. Microcredit programs are opportunities for people living in extreme poverty access to a small amount of capital to start their own business. Microcredit programs lend small amounts of money at low interest to new businesses in the developing world.
While on this journey I gained a friend named Rev. Jude. He works at a children’s home in Sri Lanka. Rev. Jude took me to meet people whose lives have been transformed after receiving microcredits. Those impacted include fishers, farmers, a store owner, and a peanut farmer. Microcredit loans provide an opportunity for women who are single or widowed to have a source of income and opportunity. One, in particular, is Kirubathas Premila. She is a member of the Valarvily self-help group. Innashi received a loan to open up a peanut farm which can be very lucrative in Sri Lanka. Peanuts are very popular in Sri Lanka and being able to sell them wholesale can provide great financial freedom. The microcredit loan she received has allowed her to start her own business and help those in her community.
Microcredit programs do not just help the individual. They also help small communities. This young woman is like many people in her community who have been given an opportunity. People who receive microcredit loans in her group find ways to support one another. When we visited her farm, her neighbors came over and welcomed us and spoke about how they support one another so that each person can succeed, which will allow another person to be given the same opportunity.
by Rev. Jude Sutharshan Mahendren, May 2020
Reconciliation has been understood as a better way for living together in a divided world. Sri Lanka ended its civil war in May, 2009. Post-war Sri Lanka is expected to work for sustainable reconciliation. In working for reconciliation, we need to work on the past wrongs. Those who have traveled through pain and suffering need to deal with the dangerous memories from their past in order to have trust that can make a better future together. Dealing with the past involves the difficult process of reconciliation; there is no detour around it. People may argue that reconciliation is not about the past, it is about the future, however, looking at the past could make sense if it helps to construct a better future. Further dealing with the past should not be toxic or revengeful if it is to move on to a better future. Therefore, memories of the past should be remembered in the right way. Any attempt to ignore or hide or suppress the memories of suffering cannot bring any good.
Dealing with memory is one of the main topics in a post-war reconciliation process. Dealing with past memories influences long-term intergroup animosities. Tamils became more aware of their rights and the importance of memory. The Tamils’ memory was understood as collective and individual. The memorial observances of Tamils on May 18 were obstructed in Sri Lanka. New war memorials and narratives around them have been constructed and they reflect a particular history, which claims victory to the government and portrays others as terrorists. This history of victory was highly influential in political campaigns especially during elections. On the other hand, Tamil political parties and diaspora organizations remembered this memory separately. Tamils within themselves could not practice a unified memorial event. The obstruction on ‘memory of unanswered suffering’ plays a huge role in developing a new personal and social identity of Tamils as victims.
Yesterday May 18, 2020, in the northern province, there were many Tamil political and civil groups organized observances of remembrance at different places on a small scale as per the precautions of COVID-19. These were obstructed by using governmental law and order bodies. Many politicians and activists, who organized memorial observances, had to face threats. 11 persons of Tamil political party leadership, who were active in organizing memorials, were given a quarantine order under the Covid-19 situation by a court in Jaffna, and the next day it was lifted on appeal. On the other hand, the government celebrated the war victory day formally. On May 18th, I witnessed a clear dichotomy on social media, where few of my fellow Sinhala Christian clergy friends posted greetings to the military who celebrate the national victory day while my Tamil friends shared memories of ‘Tamil genocide.'
It is hard to impose social amnesia by forcing a community not to remember. It is believed that memory, both individual and collective, is deposited in human DNA. It goes around and long. Trauma is transmitted through successive generations on the ground and through the diaspora. If people are left behind with a sense of victimhood and this sense can become a barrier to any peace efforts. Repressed memories of suffering can create and sustain conflicts. Imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, murders, the disappearance of family members, cruel deaths, seeing speared human bodies, humiliation, hardships, abuse, economic ban, hate speech, discrimination, legal sanction for evil, the omnipotence of evildoers – all these are kept in deep memory which has the potential to reactivate conflicts after many generations. Often in the historical memories of suffering, the perpetrators never accepted that what they had done was harmful; instead, they made their own narrative of victory. During the context of suppression of painful memories, it has been revealed that the recovery of the historical memory of truth is crucial in order to create hope for reconciliation. The negative examples such as repression of memory etc. live longer in collective memory than positive examples.
For Christians, remembrance is a sacrament, a holy act in worship. During Eucharist, we remember the suffering and death of Christ. That reminds us that the suffering of victims in front of the omnipotence of evil and the importance of non-violent, peacemaking society. Furthermore, in the Eucharist, we witness the second coming of Christ, which shows the hope for the final victory of the victims and redemption of victimizers. Christ’s way of doing justice is not mere retributive. Christ helps individuals with broken humanity to be cured. Christ will embrace both victim and victimizer at the end. This is the genuine love of Christ over humanity. It doesn’t mean that God covers all the injustice up, but God’s genuine love encourages all of us to ‘repent and forgive and reconcile’ among us. Therefore, our remembrance can’t be a toxic act of revenge that leads to another terrible cycle of violence. Our remembrance can’t simply ignore the suffering and mass killings and name it as a victory. Christ on the cross is a clear example of a victim, Christ healed Himself as well as he is helping his victimizers to be healed even though they do not realize the need for healing. It is hard to resonate with such eschatological hope amidst pressing questions of current historical reality. As Christians, we are called to witness the eschatological hope and the final victory of goodness.
When you stop me from remembering, you make me fight with God. I fight with God on ‘why did this happen to me?’ ’How come God allowed this to me?’ ’Do I ignore the memories of my loved ones who were killed unjustly and/or made to disappear and so on?’ My desperate cry will demand God to act on behalf of the victim. God cries louder and It is your responsibility to listen to the cry of God for justice. If you recognize my pain and allow me to remember, find truth and find consolation, that action will be considered as a clear sign of reconciliation.
• We need to remember because we need to memorialize the memories of our loved ones.
• We need to remember because we need to know the truth (at least) about our loved ones.
• We need to remember because our memory protects us.
• We need to remember because victims’ memory serves as a shield from being exploited further.
• We need to remember because our memory of dehumanized past will guard all against future atrocities.
• We need to remember because our memory can lead all of us to redemption.
• We need to remember because we cannot forget and no one can do it.
We can do one thing - we can take the option of not remembering when we have the freedom to choose it. In other words, we can do selective remembering in order to forget something. When we are assured with the right to remember, we would work on remembering rightly. We should work for a reconciled narrative and a reconciled memorial observance for our dear ones. We all should remember that if we cannot walk on the path of genuine reconciliation, we choose to distance and suspect others. If we cannot allow others to remember their historical memory of pain, we add more toxicity to their memory.
The Southern Asia region, comprising of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam, is one of the most populous regions in the world. Although many of these countries have reported fewer deaths and confirmed cases, as per some analysts, it is hard to be definite about these claims in view of the limited testing and monitoring capacities. With the indefinite nature of the lockdowns, and with most services and industries shut, and with hardly any economic activity, millions of people who live on daily wages are now exposed to hunger and homelessness. Churches in this region, although small and many, are actively engaged in community awareness and in reaching out to the most marginalized sections with daily supplies.Read more
From the Church of the American Ceylon Mission - Vanni Region
March 18th was the day I came to Sri Lanka from Chennai. On that day, the curfew was imposed. As many wrote, the curfew is not new for us but it is new for the present generation. The sudden curfew affects many people’s lives. Most of the people in Kilinochchi are day laborers and with someone depending on them for support. When curfew was imposed, we thought that it will be only last for a week. So, people were enjoying being at home and with family. Children were really happy to be out of school. The first ten days were happy for everyone but no longer is that the case. Curfew is the best way to fight COVID-19 but when the curfew was extended week by week, it presented challenges for each one. The Sri Lankan economy is too poor, and not mature enough, to sustain the costs associated with such a shutdown.Read more
The Southern Asia region, comprising of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, is one of the most populous regions in the world. Although many of these countries have reported fewer deaths and confirmed cases, as per some analysts, it is hard to be definite about these claims in view of the limited testing and monitoring capacities. With current indefinite lockdowns and with hardly any economic activity, millions of people who live on daily wages are now exposed to hunger and homelessness. Churches in this region, although small and many, are actively engaged in community awareness and in reaching out to the most marginalized sections with daily supplies.Read more
First, a story from Delhi that resonates with the sighs of millions in the region.
Baby Devi has already lost 80% of her monthly earnings to the spread of the coronavirus - and the worst in India may be yet to come.
The 38-year-old mother of four, who cleans homes for a living, lost jobs with two of her three employers. Like many relatively well-off Indians, they've begun social distancing to fight the highly infectious virus.
For Devi, who is now taking home about $0.67 a day, her diminished earnings are as much of a concern as her living conditions. As India races to break the chain of transmission of the illness known as COVID-19, her family - living in a cramped single room and sharing a bathroom and toilet with two other households - is among those most at risk.Read more