By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
COLOMBO (Worthy News) - Evangelical Christians in bankrupt Sri Lanka were weighing their options Friday after new details emerged of a Buddhist mob storming a church and injuring one believer.
Christian groups asked for prayers for the pastor and his Mercy Gate Chapel congregation in the Galle District of Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, recovering from the March 6 attack.
The congregation also received a letter from regional authorities to cease its activities following complaints from Buddhist monks, Worthy News established.
Advocacy groups have concluded that some 600 people, including about 60 Buddhist monks, broke into the Mercy Gate Chapel to demand its closure.
The mob “threatened the pastor with death” if the church service did not end while a worshiper was attacked and ultimately hospitalized due to his injuries, Christians said.
A local police chief backed by some 20 was heard telling the mob they had “no legal basis to demand the church closure,” but he allowed Buddhist monks to speak to the pastor.
The monks concluded the church was “illegitimate” before the mob dispersed, according to Christians familiar with the situation. Christians said they pray for the pastor who filed a police complaint asking that law enforcement will investigate the case seriously.
Yet the pastor, unnamed amid security concerns, already faces legal challenges as state officials reportedly wrote him to stop all worship services or face arrest.
Advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) which supports the church, told Worthy News that the March 11 letter calls Mercy Gate Chapel an illegal institution.
Authorities said the Chapel could be considered disruptive to "religious harmony." The letter also demanded that the pastor, along with three other church members, attend a March 15 meeting with monks and authorities.
Some 20 Buddhist monks and governing officials attended the gathering to demand that the congregation cease its activities, Christians said.
Authorities agreed to provide the pastor with a written report outlining their objections, but representatives said the church leader had not yet received the requested written explanation.
In comments shared with Worthy News, the pastor also suggested he was under police surveillance, including on March 24 when he was in his sister’s house “to pray for a nephew.”
He reportedly said police questioned him and left only to return with two officers stationed near his church. “The officers claimed they were providing security to the church,” the pastor was reportedly told when he asked about their presence.
The pastor added that neighbors and local monks are closely monitoring his movements. VOMC and other groups said they prayed for wisdom and protection for the pastor, his family, and the legal team.
They are among the latest Christians claiming persecution in Buddhist majority Sri Lanka. Since 2010, Christian groups have reported over 1000 incidents of religious liberty violations against churches in Sri Lanka, including church bombings.
The World Evangelical Alliance said a research publication over the 2020-2021 period showed “negative State involvement” in 70 percent of Christian religious liberty violations.
Economic difficulties also added to social and religious tensions faced by the island nation’s minority Christians: This week, Sri Lanka urged its citizens overseas to send home money after announcing a default on its $51 billion foreign debt amid anti-government protests.
Sri Lanka is technically bankrupt as it faces the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Its economic recovery from a deadly 26-year civil war has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prompting massive protests.