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Spiritual Battles Rage in Sri Lanka

February 11, 2016

Sri Lankans worshipping in small, crowded sanctuary.
The kingdom of God is breaking in to people's hearts in Sri Lanka.

Many rural Sri Lankans incorporate spiritist rituals to appease demons in hopes driving out illness, but indigenous missionaries are seeing the kingdom of God break in as they offer a powerful alternative.

In Sri Lanka, an island country just south of India, about 70 percent of the people are Buddhists and 13 percent are Hindus, but Operation World calls for prayer against spiritual powers and principalities that heavily influence those religions.

"Beneath the layers of Buddhism and Hinduism lies an ancient cocktail of spirits, gods and demons," the authoritative missions handbook states.

Most people in the country attribute powers not only to images of the infamous "evil eye" but also to the "evil mouth," according to local press, leading rural dwellers to use Gara Raksha masks in ritual dancing to deflect misfortune. Gara was originally considered a demon, called Gara Yakka, but with good works it eventually made it into the pantheon of gods, according to Sri Lanka's Sunday Observer.

"The rural folk in Sri Lanka still believe that demons have the power to cause numerous diseases," according to the newspaper.

Certain demons (yakkas) are thought to cause different illnesses: Riri Yakka, diseases related to blood circulation; Kalu Yakka, ailments of females and infants; Ahimana Yakka, mental illness; Suniyam Yakka, paralysis. In drawn-out rituals, the yakka is represented by a dancer donning the designated mask while a shaman recites verses in time with a loud drum beat to drive the demon away. Demons are said to leave the patient after receiving offerings they have demanded.

Amid this mist of dark forces, a ministry leader based in the capital, Colombo, has trained more than 100 indigenous missionaries who have brought healing and salvation to people in southern, central and western pockets of the nation by invoking the power of Jesus Christ as Lord. One indigenous missionary trained by the director said he and other team members in a small town in Southern Province recently came across a woman in the grip of a malevolent force.

"A lady was possessed by an evil spirit, and she was sick," the indigenous missionary, an area pastor, said. "God delivered and healed her by His mighty power. Another person was paralyzed and could not speak. We went to their home, shared the Good News and prayed. God miraculously gave complete, divine healing."

The pastor also encountered a couple so deeply in debt the pair planned to commit suicide.

"We met them, shared the Good News and prayed for them," he said. "Thank God, who changed their minds and answered their problem."

In an undisclosed southwestern town, a pastor trained by the ministry said God has touched several people.

"A lady had a mental problem," he said. "Her family spent nearly 450,000 rupees [US$3,050] trying to help her, but there was no healing. When they heard about God, we went and she was prayed for. God gave her complete healing, and now she is coming to church."

A recently trained missionary who went to an undisclosed area less than six months ago said he encountered malice in the local people. He said the Good News he brought helped overcome their initial ill will, and knowing God has brought healing to the villagers.

"A 36-year-old woman was pregnant, and when she went to see the doctor, he told her that when she delivered her child, she would die," he said. "After she returned home, she was struggling in her mind. I shared the gospel and prayed with her. Thank God, now the mother and child are fine."

A pastor who was trained and sent to work in a small town in Southern Province, said God has worked many miracles in recent months.

"A blind man received his sight, and many evil-possessed people and sick people received divine healing and deliverance," he said. "Our big problem is there is no permanent building to have services in our town. We have many members."

Local opposition to constructing a church building is strong, he said, but the indigenous ministry director said there is a building available that would cost $21,000 to purchase.

Though many have come to Christ in the area, the church has been unable to visit some villages because managers of the tea plantation won't allow it. The indigenous ministry director said most tea plantations in southern Sri Lanka are owned by staunch Buddhists.

"They don't like Christianity," he said. "If people become Christian, they won't go to work on Sunday. It's a problem for the management. Some plantations are very strict and do not allow outsiders onto the tea plantation."

Likewise, in a town undisclosed for security reasons, a pastor said it was very difficult to proclaim Christ because area Hindus harass people who go to Christian worship.

"Some Hindus are going and telling people, 'If you become a Christian, you will die soon,'" he said. "This is a hindrance to my ministry. In any event, God has brought many children with whom to share the gospel. Through these children, I am able to visit their parents."

Most of the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka are Theravada Buddhist, while most Tamils, the largest ethnic minority, are Hindu. The indigenous ministry assisted by Christian Aid Mission works among both Sinhalese and Tamil, with about 70 percent of its outreach directed toward Tamil Hindus, who have been more responsive to the gospel than the Buddhist Sinhalese, the director said.

The ministry director who trains these indigenous missionaries came to Christ himself after miraculous healing, he said. Though his parents were Christian, he was still resisting Christ when at age 23 he became seriously ill. Doctors told his family he would need an operation or he would die.

"Being poor and uneducated, my parents were opposed to this, afraid that surgery would just kill me," he said. "I realized there was nothing else to do except pray. I did not know how to pray, and all I said was, 'If you can heal me, I will believe in you.' Within one week I was healed – without an operation, and not even medication. With the help of my parents, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and gave Him my life."

While many in Sri Lanka come to Christ after healing, in some cases conversion comes first. A pastor in the southern city of Yakkalamulla said a family in one house church was in Satan's grip.

Sri Lankan children having Sunday school outside.
Sunday school at a village church in Sri Lanka.

"I met that family and shared the good news with them," he said. "Thank God, who delivered them from Satan's power. Now they are coming to church. Within the last six months, 14 people accepted Jesus and received water baptism."

Likewise, in a south-central town in Sabaragamuwa Province, a pastor reported that a 13-year-old girl was healed only after repentance.

"After we shared God's Word, they confessed their sin and accepted Jesus," he said. "After that, God healed her and delivered the evil spirit from that girl."

In past years the ministry director traveled throughout the country to train indigenous missionaries in three-day seminars, but he said there are no longer funds for that. He now settles for training seven missionaries the last week of each month in five-day seminars at the ministry center.

The ministry seeks assistance for the training seminars, construction of buildings for the churches that missionaries have planted and for three new workers to join the 10 team members that help the director evangelize, lead open-air meetings and organize cell groups and churches.

"I recruited three new workers to extend our ministry – I prayed many years, but this year I took a step of faith," he said. "Please pray for God's providence. I am no longer as physically fit, but God gives strength to do the ministry. Please pray for me."

To help indigenous missionaries meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 701HML. Thank you!

Help train church planters in Sri Lanka
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