Updated on April 25, 2019
The death toll is now 359, with hundreds more suffering injury. Bombs blasted in Colombo (the capital), Negombo, and Batticaloa (the city where our Sri Lanka office is located).
In Batticaloa alone, 29 people were killed (14 of them children) while they were worshipping during Easter at Zion Church, only one mile from our CERI office.
We spoke with our Sri Lanka National Program Director, Dharshan Vijayaretnam, for an update on the situation on the ground. The following are his answers to some of our biggest questions and concerns at the moment:
Are you, your family and CERI staff safe?
Yes. We have confirmed the safety of all CERI staff and children and families supported through our programs. None of us were injured in the blast.
Dharshan Vijayaretnam, CERI Sri Lanka National Program Director
What is the current situation on the ground?
The community is in shock. This was completely unexpected. Our country is in a state of emergency, so shops are closed, school is cancelled, everything is shut down. In Batticaloa, we have organized to meet immediate needs. Government officials have warned the public of other possible bombs, so everyone is in a state of constant fear and uncertainty. Even my young children have picked up on it and live in fear.
What is the biggest need right now?
Counseling. The attack not only took lives and destroyed families, it devastated the entire community. Batticaloa is a city of about 200,000. We all know each other. We all lost family, neighbors, friends. People are still in a state of shock. Children and families who survived the blast are traumatized.
There is a huge need for spiritual counseling. The Christian community is especially hit hard as Zion Church – the location of the blast – is an evangelical church. This attack is not only a terrorist attack, it is an attack on Christians. Christians were specifically targeted
How are Christians in Sri Lanka struggling?
Christians are a minority in Sri Lanka.* We have been deeply impacted as a faith community. Some are living in constant fear, wondering if they will be persecuted. I have also talked to blast survivors who are questioning their faith. Families who lost loved ones are angry. People did not have time to properly mourn the loss of their loved ones. Within 24 hours, most victims in Batticaloa were buried to prevent a health crisis. The road to recovery after this attack is only possible with spiritual healing.
What has changed?
Although our country is very ethnically and religiously diverse, this attack has created deep tensions between the Christian and Muslim community. The Batticaloa area is mostly Muslim with most shop owners being Muslim. After news came out about the attack being connected to radical Muslim groups, tensions rose. Christians are now suspicious of their Muslim neighbors. There is fear of interacting with each other. The individuals arrested in connection with the attack were our community members.
Did you know anybody that was a victim of the attack?
Yes. Everyone knows everyone in Batticaloa. One of my friends and a good man who helps our CERI programs, Suthaharan Prashanthy, lost his son in the blast.
Suthaharan and his family were attending Easter service at Zion Church on Sunday. The children had gone to Sunday school and were lining up to receive their usual Sunday breakfast outside before the worship service started.
Anaya Peter (7) and his sister Anne Sathana (13) were waiting in line. Anne Sathana told her brother to stay in line while she used the restroom. On her way back, the bomb detonated just outside the church, immediately killing several of children, including her brother, Anaya Peter.
When I learned that Anaya Peter had been killed, I was devastated. The Prashanthy family is very dear to us at CERI. Anaya Peter accompanied his father to our CERI office on many days after school. We got to know him and enjoyed seeing him when he was around. It is very hard to imagine the hundreds of families impacted by these bombings. Parents lost their children and children lost their parents. Some families have lost their only source of income as people are left without limbs or in critical care.
How is the Prashanthy family doing?
They are heartbroken with the loss of Anaya Peter. Now, they are facing another terrible situation. Their daughter, Anne Sathana, is traumatized from what happened that day and blames herself for her brother’s death. Although the parents are grieving, they are needing to help their daughter get through this difficult time.
What is CERI doing to help in Batticaloa?
We are working with the government, other nonprofits and churches to meet many needs. CERI staff are currently assisting victims of the attack with medical supplies. The hospitals have been overwhelmed since the blast, so we are doing what we can to make sure victims are able to receive the treatments they need. We are also providing food packs to the families of the victims. This basic item goes a long way during a time when families focus on recovering.
The biggest need in our area is still counseling and we are only beginning to help with it. We will provide psychosocial and spiritual counseling to victims, their families and the community at large. We will also focus on helping the children who lost parents in this attack. We will make sure they have a future; that they continue going to school and are on their way to overcoming this tragedy.
How can people help right now?
We need the global body of Christ to unite with us during this time. The bombing that took place in Batticaloa was at an evangelical church. Even today Christians are being persecuted in a country like Sri Lanka. We need the worldwide Christian community to come together and stand by our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka.
We need your prayer. Our team in Sri Lanka is struggling. In addition to helping our community recover, we ourselves are mourning and living in fear. We need to be strengthened so we can go out and comfort our community.
Do you have hope for a better future?
We have hope because we trust in God. The next several months will be very difficult, we will continue doing what is best for children and families just as we always have.
Help the victims, their families and communities of Sri Lanka.
*Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is Christian.