The pastor of one of the churches bombed in the Easter Sunday suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Sri Lanka has offered forgiveness to the perpetrators and those who sent them.
In a Facebook video Friday from London, Roshan Mahesan, senior pastor of Zion Church in Batticaloa, said 28 people from his congregation were killed by the suicide bombing at his church and another 70-some are still hospitalized.
“Still, we are hurt. We are angry,” Mahesan explained.
“As the senior pastor of Zion Church Batticaloa, the whole congregation and every family affected, we say to the suicide bomber and also to the group that sent the suicide bomber that we love you and we forgive you.”
Zion Church describes itself as a charismatic church affiliated with the Fellowship of Free Churches of Sri Lanka and a Branch of The Lighthouse Church in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
When the bombing occurred, Mahesan was not in Batticaloa. He was visiting a church in Norway.
Mahesan said in his video that no matter what the extremists did to the church, he and the Zion Church congregants will love those responsible for the killings because they “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
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“Jesus Christ on the cross, He said, ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,’” Mahesan said. “We also, who follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we say for the Lord to forgive these people.”
Mahesan explained that as a group of believers, they see all people “as people.”
“When Jesus looks at you as a person, He doesn’t look at your religion. He doesn’t look at your culture. He doesn’t look at anything,” Mahesan said. “For Him, you are His child. We are all lost. Jesus came in this world to seek and find the Lord.”
Mahesan vowed that the ministry will continue the “call and mission the Lord has given us.”
“People in this world are lost. We take the Gospel and we show Christ,” he said. “We show people who are sitting in the darkness the light of Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus, we have our hope. Only in Jesus, you have all the answers for your life problems.”
Mahesan also thanked every church and believer around the world for their support during this time of pain. He said that he has received countless messages from people he knows and doesn’t know to express condolences and support.
Zion Church is one of the three churches that was attacked by suicide bombers on Easter Sunday. Suicide bombers also attacked hotels where Christians were having Easter breakfast. At least 253 people were killed in the blast.
At Zion Church, many more people arguably could have been killed if it were not for the heroics of Ramesh Raju, who was said to have prevented the suicide bomber from entering the church.
Raju’s wife, Chrishanthini Ramesh, told BBC about her husband’s heroics.
“My husband sensed something was wrong and informed him he'd need to get permission first,” she explained. "He then forced him to leave.”
Raju was killed when the bomber blew himself up outside the church.
Over 100 families were impacted by the bombing at Zion Church, according to the British Pakistani Christian Association, a London-based charity that is active throughout South Asia and is aiding victims at Zion Church.
The organization spoke with a survivor named Thirukkumaran, whose 11-year-old son was killed in the blast.
"I saw many children die as I was working in the Sunday School and now these images will stay for me forever,” Thirukkumaran was quoted as saying. "I thank God that I will see my son again one day because of the promise of Heaven and pray that no one else ever has to suffer the deep loss I have had to endure."
A BPCA officer also spoke with Chandrika, who lost her husband and 13-year-old son in the bombing.
"When I heard the blast I was in shock,” she said. "I knew my husband had been helping Pastor Ramesh remove a suspicious man from the church and feared the worst. My young son, Sasikumar, always stayed close to his father and when I realized they both were dead my whole world collapsed.”
Since the attack is believed to have been carried out by a little-known Islamic terrorist group called National Tawheed Jamaath and has been claimed by the Islamic State, a group of about 500 peaceful Muslim refugees who fled from Pakistan to Sri Lanka are now hiding in fear of retaliation from angry Sri Lankan mobs.
But Muslims are not the only ones hiding in fear.
BPCA reported on Friday that several asylum-seeking migrant groups originating from Pakistan and Afghanistan are seeking police shelter in Negombo after being terrorized out of their homes by mobs.
The groups, which include persecuted Pakistani Christians, have complained about threats to their lives from angry Sri Lankans.
"Large groups of local Sri Lankans have been threatening to kill us if we stay in our homes,” A Pakistani Christian man named Bobby told BPCA. “Our community children and some adults have been attacked and several large gangs with sticks and poles have threatened to beat us to death for the terrorist attacks that happened on Easter.”
The man explained that he and the other Pakistani Christians are too fearful to leave the police station.
One man told Sky News that his son was beaten for being Pakistani.
Sri Lanka is one of few nations that many Pakistani minorities flee to out of fear of persecution in their homeland, along with Malaysia and Thailand.
BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry warned that the type of social retaliation now playing out in Sri Lanka is exactly what the perpetrators of the bombings desired because it polarizes communities and “builds their hate agenda.”
"I appeal to the Christians and other communities of Negombo to stand strong in the face of such provocation and to extend love instead of hate,” Chowdhry explained.