The church: a voice of hope in Sri Lanka
Current Langham Scholar Nathanael Somanathan from Sri Lanka (pictured above), says the Church has been and will be a “voice of hope” in response to the current political and economic crisis in his country.
Speaking recently to LPUKI’s Victoria Marsay, Nathanael (who is studying at Birmingham University) explained that Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis in history. Virtually every sector has been overwhelmed and there’s a lack of resources because the country has basically run out of money. The President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned after mass protests.
Nathanael said: “Sri Lanka was pretty much governed by a dynasty, a family for many years. First the brother, then his brother, then various family members in important Government positions holding high levels of power.
“The country essentially plunged into the worst sort of crisis because of the corruption within that family. Their cronies were in on some of the scams and responsible for the mishandling of resources, which was then amplified during COVID.”
Nathanael is a Tamil, a minority community in Sri Lanka. He says that his people experienced discrimination and were treated very badly especially during the 30-year civil war (which ended just over a decade ago).
‘Political rot at the centre’
“In this particular situation, in this economic crisis, it really did bring everyone together in a sense, because we all felt the pain of it. I can speak for my family and my church that there is a sense in which everyone realised we are all in this together and that we’re able to identify that there is a political rot at the centre of this that needs to be dealt with.”
When asked whether his current studies speak into the situation, Nathanael said he sees his work as “trying to find a way in which we can go beyond theological work that is restricted within the four walls of the church but can have implications for the existential challenges that we face in Sri Lanka. Such as, how do we exist as a minority community in this country and how do we find fresh avenues for peace, co-existence and human flourishing?”
Church impacting society
Nathanael’s PhD focuses on the human person from an eastern perspective, which has many implications for intra-religious dialogue – a pressing issue in Sri Lanka. He sees the Church as having a “huge role” to play when it comes to impacting society and politics in his country. “There have been instances where the Church has been that beacon of light and hope but also a prophetic voice and speaking truth to power. Different kinds of Christian traditions have been in the front lines of the protests asking for change. They have been saying that we care about the city of man as much as we are longing for the city of God. “The Church has always been keen and also very diligent about speaking truth to power and not pandering or trying to somehow use the political system in order to gain power or status.
‘God cares for this situation’
“Obviously there are different theologies of political engagement and therefore different expressions of how people have participated in this protest, in this resistance. The current President has stepped down after much struggle and resistance. It was only accomplished through the protest movement, not the opposition party, nothing that came from within the political system.
“The Church has been part of that response. For instance, my church went out there as well, we had boards with Bible passages written on them, trying to testify to the unbelievers to show how much God is for justice and God is for the oppressed, the poor, the weak amongst us and that he cares for this situation.
“The Church in Sri Lanka, especially in this time and in the months and years to come, will be and can be the voice of hope as well, for recovery, for change. Because even though the President has changed, there’s still lots of urgent challenges right now, and there’s a lot of pain, a lot of trauma… and the Christian church has a lot of amazing resources to address those basic needs.”
Langham supporters are asked to pray for Sri Lanka. Pray for political and economic stability, and for God’s provision so that the poor will not have to starve. Nathanael also asks us to pray that the Church in Sri Lanka will “continue being that conduit, that message of hope, that prophetic voice. That there will be a unity seen among churches, in this distress that we will not mirror the political system, but that we will be an alternative ideal for what leadership looks like, what community looks like, what love looks like, what care and love look like. He says, “In all these ways we have a unique opportunity to embody the God we serve.”
Join us in prayer…
The Preaching team wants more of our resources to be written in heart languages and then translated into mainstream languages. Pray that we will be able to build up a team of translators who have a passion for this work so that we can further equip preachers across the world.
Pray for these Preaching training events and meetings
14–20 August — Argentina
- 21–27 August — Switzerland, Bolivia, South America
- 28 August–3 September — Colombia, Honduras, Argentina
- 11–17 September — Colombia, Argentina
Please pray for Langham Publishing’s efforts to ensure more works by Majority World authors are published and read globally. Please also pray for Langham-supported Christian publishing houses in parts of the world where Christians are under immense pressure.
Please pray for Joseph Byamukama from Uganda who is now in Melbourne for a study visit – that it will be a most productive time!
Pray for George Bishai in Egypt as he works hard to finish his PhD by the end of August.
Pray too for Crystal from Asia who is also studying in Australia.
Gillean Smiley writes…
Just as it is impossible to compare one person’s grief and suffering to another, it is impossible to rate the magnitude of disaster and tragedy that we see in so many different parts of the world. From Sri Lanka to Ukraine to Lebanon – there often seems to be an overwhelming degree of suffering that we are largely unable to do anything to alleviate. We must not underestimate the importance of prayer as we bring these situations before our all-powerful Father who sees and cares for the very least as they endure such things. As one part of the Body suffers, we all are impacted, even when we seem insulated by our distance and relative security in such times. Please join with us as we pray for our brothers and sisters, that they may stand firm and be a light to the darkness surrounding them. We pray too that people may have access to the Word through clear, faithful and relevant preaching and resources to help them understand, as it brings hope and peace as they grow in knowledge and faith in the One who saves. Thank God for the work of our Scholars, Preaching and Literature programs shining the light in the darkest of places.
For the first time in years, we are about to be blessed by having two scholars studying at Australian institutions at the same time. Joseph Byamukama is splitting his studies between his home in Uganda and Ridley in Melbourne, while Crystal will be looking at translation from Hebrew into a contemporary Asian language, based at Sydney University.
As those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting one of our past scholars will know, each scholar is an extraordinary, gifted individual, with an enormous amount to offer during their time in Australia, as well as in the leadership roles they take up on return to their home context.
While there are additional financial challenges in supporting two scholars at once, the benefits to us of having these wise, godly and inspirational leaders in our midst is enormous. I pray for opportunities for as many as possible to meet and engage with Joseph and Crystal in coming months and years.