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I visited the church in Sri Lanka that was bombed

I visited the church in Sri Lanka that was bombed

Zion Evangelical Church in Sri Lanka was destroyed by a suicide bomber in April 2019. | Photo: William Devlin

On April 19, 2019, almost one thousand Sri Lanka Christian believers gathered excitedly at Zion Evangelical Church in Batticaloa on the west side of this island of 21.6 million. The peace and calm of this Easter Sunday service was ripped apart by a massive explosion, emanating from a suicide bomber who had recently sworn allegiance to the Islamic State/ISIS.  The Sunday school children had just been released from their class and were awaiting entrance to the front door of the church when the Islamic State bomber struck. One of the ushers at the front of the church detected something awry and prevented the man with the backpack from entering the sanctuary. Little children were seated on a set of concrete steps, waiting to join their parents in worship.  

That calm and peaceful Sunday morning worship service was suddenly and instantaneously disrupted and when the bomb in the backpack went off, thousands of metal ball bearings ripped small children and adults apart. Legs ripped off; arms ripped off; little children cut in half by the massive force of the velocity of the metal bearings. The bearing ripped into the church van, the church generator and 25 small motorbikes that stood nearby; as the force of the metal pierced the gas tanks of these machines, a huge inferno ensued. What the ball bearing did not rip apart, the huge fire immolated all those who were nearby.  

That day at Zion Church, fourteen children and 15 adults perished simply because they loved Jesus Christ and were there that morning to sing praises to Him and to worship Him. A month later, two more died of catastrophic injuries. Now, fourteen children and seventeen adults-many of whom were leaders and servants in the church-were gone.  Other had massive external and internal injuries-ball bearings in an eye; pieces of a leg or arm ripped off; pieces of skull permanently damaged and ripped off by the flying metal.

And here we are 150 days later and we should ask the question: How has the American church responded? The answer is not pretty.  

Ten days after the explosion, I made a decision to travel to Sri Lanka with my pastoral colleague from New York City, Reverend Dimas Salaberrios.  Within a weeks time, I was able to raise some $17,000 in cash, stuffed it in my pockets and flew from JFK in NYC to Kuwait to Colombo Sri Lanka.  Over the next five days, covering three cities (Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa), Pastor Dimas and I met with over 60 families who had lost loved ones. We met with and wept with wives who had lost husbands; husbands who had lost wives; parents, moms and dads, who had lost one or multiple children; Christian people who not only lost a spouse but a child as well. We prayed our guts out; we paid for funeral expenses, for hospitalization costs and for family income replacement.  

William Devlin (R) prays with congregants of Zion Church in Sri Lanka, 2019. | Photo: William Devlin

Pastor Roshan, who has faithfully pastored the Zion Church for thirty years and has close to 1,000 souls worshipping on a Sunday morning, gave us “the tour” of the destroyed church.  We passed through the yellow crime tape with Sri Lankan Army personnel greeting us-the church was still an active crime scene. The bodies had been removed but dried blood and blood-soaked clothing was still on the floor. Due to the intensity of the heat of the created inferno, when the bodies of our sisters and brothers were sadly removed, huge chunks of skin and flesh were still attached to the burned, blood-soaked clothing. Chaos was everywhere.

We walked back to the rented home across the street from the church and prayed with the 20 volunteers who were there helping the pastor; we prayed with Pastor Roshan and his wife Michelle and daughter Stephanie; we anointed them with oil and prayed for healing and restoration.

Pastor Roshan said that civil engineers had carefully inspected the church building (what was left of it) and deemed it “structurally unsound.” Not a surprise-the roof has been blown and burnt off and walls were scorched. A new church building would have to be built not only because of its structural unsoundness but what family member who had lost a loved one would want to return to this house of worship and relive a continually sad memory? That would be emotionally and psychologically brutal.

Upon learning the need, I stated to Pastor Roshan that I would help him raise, by faith, $100,000 to build a new church that would hold the 1,000 parishioners with an emphasis on the phrase “by faith!”

I returned to the USA, by faith, and began writing a letter to dozens of pastors that I knew and worked with over the years that I thought would have a heart toward fellow pastor Roshan and Zion Church, that these American pastors would respond much the way that if their church was destroyed by an Islamic State suicide bomber and 31 murdered that they would want pastor colleagues to respond graciously and generously.  

Within the next month, REDEEM! (the organization that I lead with volunteers in twelve countries) raised $40,000. I lovingly challenged my pastors that if they would just consider giving $1,000 each, we could make a difference. Several gave $5,000; others gave $1,000; some took up a special offering.  

In August 2019, I returned to Zion Church in Batticaloa and delivered $40,000 in cash to the beleaguered pastor and his congregation so they can begin to build a new and different place to worship. Another sad part of this story is when I asked Pastor Roshan, 150 days after the blast that killed the children and adults of Zion Church, how many American churches and pastors have called you, encouraged you and given financial assistance? He responded, “Pastor you are the only one from America that is helping … we’ve had some Tamil churches here on the island to help and some Australian churches, but no one from the United States.”  

How sad is that with the plethora of churches in America? Is this how we treat a brother pastor whose persecuted church was devastated and 31 of his congregation murdered by haters of Jesus?

Note: Pastor Devlin is in the process of raising an additional $50,000. To assist Pastor Roshan and Zion Church, 100% of money given goes directly to Zion Church and will be hand-delivered in October 2019.  Gifts can be mailed to: 

REDEEM! 501(c)3 POB 37 HV PA 19006-0037 or through www.widowsandorphans.info

Pastor William Devlin is the Missions Pastor of Infinity Bible Church and travels the globe bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to hard and dangerous places like Gaza, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. The rest of his time is spent in Philadelphia with his wife of 35 years, Nancy. They have five children and five grandchildren. He is president of REDEEM and co-chair of Right to Worship NYC.

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