Evangelical Leaders Rally Int'l Support for Sri Lanka Relief Efforts

The international director of the World Evangelical Alliance is calling on Christians worldwide to support the Sri Lankan Christian community in their efforts to meet the desperate needs of thousands in the conflict-ravaged country.

According to reports, around 300,000 displaced people – including 90,000 children – are in desperate need of food, medical assistance and other basic needs in the aftermath of a 26-year-long conflict between the Sri Lankan government and a separatist terrorist group that ended last month.

To provide food and water alone for all the survivors, it would require $1 million each day, reported World Vision last month, just days after Sri Lanka's president declared the conflict over. And the roughly $3.50 per person per day doesn't take into account the provision of shelter, medical care, or children's schooling for those in the camps.

Despite their lack of resources, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) is reportedly providing basic food to over 10,000 people every day at a cost of $1.50 per person per day, or around $15,000 total per day – a large sum even by U.S. standards.

"Despite being a small minority, the Christian community is valiantly and sacrificially giving to meet these needs," said WEA International Director Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe in a statement released Tuesday after a six-day visit to Sri Lanka with a high level international delegation of Christian leaders and diplomats.

But it "urgently requires assistance from their brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world if they are to complete their task," added Tunnicliffe, who met with a wide range of faith, civil society and political leaders in Sri Lanka during his June 1-6 trip.

Currently, the U.N.-driven Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka has drawn $65 million in funding for relief efforts and has additionally received $23 million in pledges. The plan's requested amount stands at $155 million – which would provide enough food and water for about five months according to World Vision's calculations or nearly a year according to the NCEASL's.

With the funds gathered so far, however, survivors would only have food and water for 2-4 months, and that doesn't take other needs into account.

In an appeal, Jo Anne Lyon, a member of the delegation representing the U.S.-based National Association of Evangelicals, highlighted the important role of evangelical and other church groups in bringing healing to those in need.

"The NCEASL and other church groups, all of whom proved themselves during the Tsunami relief in 2005, are ideally placed to lead reconciliation initiatives in Sri Lanka. This is because amongst major faiths the Christian church is unique in having both Tamil and Sinhalese members," she explained, referring to the country's ethnic minority and majority, respectively.

The Rev. Godfrey Yogarajah, meanwhile, urged the international community to keep in mind that the end of the 26-year-old conflict, while welcomed, does not close the book on the country's time of crisis.

"[T]he danger is that, now that the headlines highlighting the war are reducing, the world will forget about those who continue to be affected. For us the real work is only now beginning," he exclaimed.

Aside from the WEA, other Christian groups have been rallying for support from the international community, including World Vision, which is working with other aid agencies to support and care for the displaced persons in the camps.

"This is a great opportunity for the international community to get involved, to help in the healing and reconciliation process to ensure Sri Lanka never again returns to the cycle of violence," said Suresh Bartlett, World Vision Lanka's national director, in appealing for greater international involvement.

The government, meanwhile, has said it hopes to resettle the bulk of the displaced by the end of the year, though many of the nearly 300,000 ethnic Tamils are skeptical of the claim.

The Tamils, who make up 18 percent of the population, claim systematic discrimination and harassment by the Sinhalese majority.

In its appeal, the WEA also pointed out that some factions are still intent on intimidation, including intimidation of the church, civil society and the media.

"I ask all Christians to join us in praying for those, including church leaders, who have been harassed and threatened, especially within the minority communities," urged Join Langlois, chairman of the WEA Religious Liberty Commission.

Formed in 1846, the WEA is a network of 128 national evangelical groups and 104 associate member organizations. The WEA exists to foster Christian unity, to provide an identity, voice and platform for some 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide.