YOUR PRESENCE IS TELLING US THAT WE ARE NOT ORPHANS

Delivering care boxes to our church family in Sri Lanka

By OPEN DOORS

FEBRUARY 27TH, 2020

Tala,* an Open Doors field worker, goes back to Zion Church to deliver care boxes to 83 families affected by the Sri Lanka Easter Attacks. The care boxes are packages full of small items like tea, biscuits, trinkets, journals, frames, cards, and letters from believers all over the world. The boxes can't take away their pain and loss, but Open Doors delivers them hoping to encourage these grieving families that even in the midst of their suffering, they are not alone.

 

It's 9.30 am in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. We pull over into the Focus Hall, a rented building right across the road from Zion Church.

 

And as our big white van gingerly reverses through the gates, our team comes face to face with a banner now made familiar by our several visits - the faces of Zion's martyrs.

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The banner is familiar, but not any less haunting.

 

On Easter Sunday, April 21 2019, each one became a victim of one of the year’s worst terrorist attacks.

 

In a single day, six suicide bombers individually attacked three churches and three five-star hotels in Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa. They infiltrated unknowing congregations and busy breakfast buffets, and set off their bombs in coordinated explosions that massacred 253 people.

 

It was one of the deadliest acts of violence against Christians in Asia.

 

Here at Zion Church, a charismatic church in Batticaloa, 31 were killed. 14 of them were children.

 

These are engineers and bakers, daughters and sons. There's a husband and wife. A mother and child. A family of three. A one-year-old baby.

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Everyday life inside North Korea.

 

Michelle, wife of Zion Church's senior pastor, tells our team, "The most difficult thing on that day was seeing the bodies being carried out on the stretchers."

 

She was there when the attack happened, thinking at first that it had been the nearby generator that exploded. It was a mad scramble. Everyone panicked. "We had to break a wall to escape the fire."

 

Click below to listen to Michelle, wife of Zion Church's senior pastor, talking to Jan Vermeer from Open Doors about the moments before the bomb detonated and the immediate aftermath.

The church parsonage - Michelle's home - also got caught in flames. "The meter box caught fire. We also had two rows of motorbikes right in front of the house and all of them were destroyed."

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Michelle in the ruins of her home

 

"A couple were passing through those gates at that time, and they both died," she continued, pointing at the gates as we stepped outside. "The bomber's back was actually facing the church - this is why so many have been affected. He had in his backpack metal balls and half-inch nails."

"He had in his backpack metal balls and half-inch nails."

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Shrapnel marks at Zion Church's entrance

 

83 families have family members who were severely injured in the blast.

All of them have been discharged from the hospital, but they came out with scars and deep-seated trauma. Some Sunday school children are still afraid of thunder. Some have shrapnel stuck in their elbows and hips. Some still cannot walk. One mother lost her memory. A young girl is now permanently blind.

Though the months following April have been trying for Zion Church, Michelle still says she has found beauty in this darkness. "More than anything else, what I'm most proud of is that all these 83 families have not let go of the hand of Jesus," she says. "It is an encouragement to us that they know their God."

 

"More than anything else, what I'm most proud of is that all these 83 families have not let go of the hand of Jesus. It is an encouragement to us that they know their God."

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ONE BODY IN CHRIST

 

1 Corinthians 12:26 says of the Body of Christ, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

 

It was in light of this verse that we called for an encouragement campaign for Zion Church.

 

As part of one family in Christ, believers from all over the world sent through little gifts and letters for the 83 families affected by the blast. These gifts and letters cannot take away their pain, but we are hopeful that they will encourage them that they are not alone.

 

After months of collecting these items and logistical challenges, letters and goodies from Germany, the Philippines, the Netherlands, South Korea, the UK, and Canada came through!

 

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Open Doors volunteers packing and distributing cards, gifts, and care boxes for Zion's families

BROKEN JARS OF CLAY

 

It was drizzling that Monday morning when our team met with these families.

 

After singing praises in Tamil, one of my coworkers, Jan, shared the Word of God.

 

"I am so glad to be here in your midst. For me, it's such a huge privilege. When I woke up on April 21st, the first thing I read about was what happened here in this church. Since then, every day I've thought about you and prayed for you. And now God has allowed me to be here with you. I'm very honored but very humbled, because what do I have to offer you?"

 

He reads from 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, which says, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."

 

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

 

"God gave me an image of 'kintsukuroi,' broken pottery that has been repaired with gold," he continues.

 

"To me, you are all like kintsukuroi. I know all your hearts have been broken, but all I can say is that God is in the process of repairing your hearts with gold, and you will be more beautiful than before."

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Jan, with the help of a translator, shares the Word of God with the members of Zion Church

SMALL GIFTS, BIGGER FAMILY

 

"We've brought some gifts for you. We call them care boxes. They cannot replace what you have lost, but it shows that so many people care for you. They thought of you as they put these together," Jan continued to say.

 

"There's no persecuted church and no free church. Only one body of Christ."

 

After this, we prayed together and gave a box to each family.

 

Praise God for this sweet time of fellowship!

 

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A care box is given to a representative of each family

 

Below are the testimonies of Zion Church members who have received care boxes.

 

They have lost husbands, brothers, and sons in the Easter Attack, yet God is meeting them in their pain.

This is how the care boxes have encouraged them.

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"I FEEL LONELY, BUT GOD IS THERE"

 

As the bomber blew himself up by the church gate, Chandrika's husband Sashikumar and their 14-year-old son, Meerujan, were standing beside him. Both of them perished in the blast.

 

Now, the widowed Chandrika holds on to faith as she takes care of their 8-year-old daughter, Rukshika, who struggles to go back to church.

 

"It is only now that I can recover," she says meekly. "Before, I was so connected to my son. When I was alone without my husband, my son was my comfort.

 

"Only after the incident did I understand how big my Christian family is around the world. So many people ask us how we are. It is a very difficult time and I feel lonely, but God is there.

 

"Thank you for your gifts. My daughter Rukshika loved the coloring books and materials in the boxes. She plays with them with her cousins a lot.

 

"We know that God has a plan for us. God has a purpose and plan. It is an answered prayer for me that now my daughter wants to go to church again."

 

"WE WEEP, BUT THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD WIPES AWAY OUR TEARS"

 

Pastor Kumaran lost his son, 12-year-old Malkiya. A team of Open Doors fieldworkers visited them two weeks after the attack took place and returned twice to deliver small gifts and letters from all over the world to their family.

 

After the first delivery, he shared: “Thank you for the box – I brought it home this morning and my daughter opened it and took it, saying ‘It’s all mine now!’” He laughed, and his daughter, 8-year-old Shemida, interjected and squealed, “Thank you for the gift!”

 

"It is only now that I can recover," she says meekly. "Before, I was so connected to my son. When I was alone without my husband, my son was my comfort.

 

Pastor Kumaran continues, “I still tell people about you coming to be with us during that time of grief. I remember you. You came here just to spend time with us. You comforted us. I’m a pastor and I can’t break down, you know? But you let us tell our stories and you comfort us.”

 

“I still tell people about you coming to be with us during that time of grief. I remember you. You came here just to spend time with us. You comforted us. I’m a pastor and I can’t break down, you know? But you let us tell our stories and you comfort us.”

 

stor Kumaran’s wife, Saratha, also said this to an Open Doors worker, referring to their visit two weeks after the attack: “You came and rubbed my back and prayed for me on such a bitter day. I will never forget that. Thank you. I’m a teacher, and I still tell people at school about it. We weep, but the presence of the Lord wipes away our tears.”

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"SOMETIMES I ASK GOD WHY HE HAS TAKEN OUR JOY AWAY FROM US, BUT I KNOW HE HAS A PLAN"

 

Peter’s mom Praba says the 7-year-old loved wearing bowties to church. “Peter is a neat dresser. He always wants to wear a tie! He would say, ‘If I don’t look nice mama, Jesus might not see me’,” she shares, smiling at the thought.

 

“Whenever Peter gets up in the morning, he would say, ‘Good morning, Jesus! I love you, Jesus!’ and at night, he would say, ‘Good night, Jesus! I love you, Jesus!’ He’s that kind of child.

 

“Though I have some questions in my mind, I’m trying to cope with the situation. Sometimes I ask God why he has taken our joy away from us, but I know He has a plan. I cannot undo the memories but I will not turn from the Lord.

 

"I cannot undo the memories but I will not turn from the Lord."

 

“This morning, I didn’t know that you all would be coming. When I saw you, I had real joy! I was happy when I saw you because when the incident happened, you were among the people who spent a lot of time with us. I’m so happy that I can see you again to say thank you.”

"IN MY BROKENNESS, I PRAISE HIM"

 

Chrishanti is the widowed wife of 40-year-old Ramesh Raju, who stopped the bomber from making his way to the Zion church sanctuary.

 

"The truth is, I lost my lover. I cannot forget such a loving husband. There’s brokenness within me, but God loves the brokenhearted. With my brokenness, I praise Him.”

 

Chrishanthi has two children – Rukshika, 14, and Niruban, 12. After news of what Ramesh did reached the government, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka himself gave an award to Chrishanthi’s family for her husband’s heroism.

 

“We have not stopped our family prayer time,” Chrishanthi continues to share. “Even after the incident, we still continued our family prayer time the next night. I teach my children to read scriptures every night. I tell them that they’re really strong. ‘Our heavenly Father gave us your Father, and now He’s taken him back,’ I would say. ‘You can bring all your needs to our heavenly Father.’ That comforts them.

 

“The box you gave us had so many letters! Thank you so much, we felt so much love! My children were so happy! It wasn’t just the things. We had a very joyful time yesterday because it meant that our family worldwide is praying for us. We see that throughout the world, God is sending us support

 

"We see that throughout the world, God is sending us support."

 

"My children were very happy that four people even mentioned their names in the letters. They also gave me promise verses, like Jeremiah 29:11. I am very encouraged. It keeps motivating us.

 

"Your presence is telling me that we are not orphans.”

 

Now, the widowed Chandrika holds on to faith as she takes care of their 8-year-old daughter, Rukshika, who struggles to go back to church.

 

"It is only now that I can recover," she says meekly. "Before, I was so connected to my son. When I was alone without my husband, my son was my comfort.

 

"Only after the incident did I understand how big my Christian family is around the world. So many people ask us how we are. It is a very difficult time and I feel lonely, but God is there.

 

"Thank you for your gifts. My daughter Rukshika loved the coloring books and materials in the boxes. She plays with them with her cousins a lot.

 

"We know that God has a plan for us. God has a purpose and plan. It is an answered prayer for me that now my daughter wants to go to church again."

 

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"THANK YOU FOR THINKING OF ME"

Meshak (14) lost his little brother Jebishanth in the bomb attack, and his face was also burnt by the fire in the church.

Some weeks after the blast, Meshak received plastic surgery. When you look at him now, his face is almost completely healed from his operation.

Since that Easter, Open Doors has visited Meshak and his family periodically to check up on them and pray with them. Meshak and his mom Premini also received care boxes in the first and second deliveries.

The third time an Open Doors team visited their house, Meshak pulled out two bracelets from his pockets.

"I made them myself," he shared, shyly. "I only made two, but I made them for all the people who wrote to us and gave us gifts. They're my way of saying thank you. Thank you for thinking of me and my family."

 

"I only made two, but I made them for all the people who wrote to us and gave us gifts. They're my way of saying thank you. Thank you for thinking of me and my family."

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Meshak putting one bracelet on the wrist of the writer, Tala

HERE TO STAY

Thanks to your prayers and support, Open Doors can continue to be present with believers from Zion Church.

As grief comes in waves, healing from the bomb blast will continue to be long and difficult. But we are here for the long haul. We are here to stay.

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With your help, we can keep walking with our church family in Sri Lanka.

"Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ."

 

~ Galatians 6:2

 

Open Doors footprint:

 

Your prayers and support have enabled Open Doors local partners to care for victims of the Easter 2019 bombings through pastoral care visits to the families for prayer and encouragement, delivering care packages from around the world to remind believers that that are not alone or forgotten, and providing practical support, such as replacing motorbikes that were destroyed in the church attack, and helping believers whose livelihoods were affected by the attacks to restart their businesses or start new ones. We will continue to provide spiritual and practical support to our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters as they continue to heal and rebuild their lives, including livelihood support, and supporting the Zion Church building fund.