Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Elijah Brown on Monday issued a global call to prayer after a wave of bombings across Sri Lanka killed nearly 300 people on Easter Sunday.
Brown, head of the organization representing more than 47 million Baptists in 125 countries, said on Facebook that BWA representatives have been in contact with Baptist leaders in Sri Lanka since eight bomb blasts targeted luxury hotels and three churches holding Easter services.
As of Monday morning the death toll stood at 290, with another 500 injured in an apparent coordinated series of suicide bombings, the nation’s worst violence in 10 years.
Twenty-eight deaths – 12 of them children – were reported at Zion Church, an evangelical congregation in Batticaloa, a coastal city in eastern Sri Lanka.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but officials are investigating links to international terrorists. Police have arrested 24 people in connection with the bombings, focusing attention on a little-known local Islamist group that has in the past defaced Buddhist statues.
About 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhist. Twelve percent are Hindu, 10 percent Muslim and 6 percent Roman Catholic. Non-Catholic Christians account for about 1 percent of the population.
Sri Lanka’s Baptist witness began in 1812 with the arrival of a British missionary named James Charter, a colleague of the pioneer of the modern missionary movement, William Carey. The Sri Lanka Baptist Sangamaya – the council of Baptist churches and missions in Sri Lanka – is a BWA member body numbering just over 6,000 Baptists in 32 churches.
Brown requested specific prayer for Heshan de Silva, president of Sri Lanka Baptist Sangamaya and chairperson of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka. “Surround him in prayer as he helps lead through this time,” Brown wrote.
While favoring Buddhism, Sri Lanka’s constitution provides for religious freedom, including the right to change religions, but minority groups allege discrimination, especially against Muslims and converts to non-denominational Christian groups.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka documented 97 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation and violence against pastors and their congregations and obstruction of worship services in 2017, according to the U.S. State Department.
Sunday’s attacks were compared to the worst days of Sri Lanka’s 36-year civil war, which claimed up to 100,000 lives between 1983 and 2009.