Sri Lanka
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
October 17-18

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Area 65,610 Large island 80 km. south-east of India.

Population Ann.Gr. Density
2000 18,827,054 +0.99% 287 per sq. km.
2010 20,869,505 +1.04% 318 per sq. km.
2025 23,546,757 +0.67% 359 per sq. km.

There are over 1,500,000 Sri Lankans in other lands.

Capital Colombo (administrative) 2,400,000; Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (legislative) 150,000. Other major city: Jaffna 700,000. Urbanites 22%.


Sinhala 74.6%. An Aryan people; largely Buddhist and 4% Christian. Many castes — unusual for Buddhist societies.

Tamil 17%. Declining through war and flight of over 700,000 from the country. Approximately 80% Hindu, 20% Christian.

Lanka Tamil 2,170,000. Resident for over 1,000 years in Jaffna in the north and on the east coast.

Estate Tamil 1,030,000. Migrant labourers arriving in 19th and 20th Centuries and working mainly in highland tea plantations.

Moor 7.6%. Arab-Tamil descent.

Burgher 0.4%. Euro-Asian parentage. Many have emigrated to Australia. Most live around Colombo.

Other 0.4%. Malay 47,000; Veddah 700 (the original inhabitants; most speak Sinhala).

Literacy 90%. Official languages Sinhala and Tamil, with English as the link language. All languages 7. Languages with Scriptures 3Bi.


Largest export earnings are from tea, textiles and foreign employment. Increasing industrialization since 1977. The 17-year war has slowed and distorted what would have been a healthy economy. Foreign investment and tourism are greatly reduced and much of the national infrastructure is damaged. High unemployment — especially among Tamil — has caused many to seek work elsewhere. HDI 0.721; 90th/174. Public debt 45% of GNP. Income/person $800 (2.5% of USA).


Independence gained in 1948, as a parliamentary democracy, after 450 years of successive colonial administrations by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Attempts to Sinhalize national life in 1956 and the attendant discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities provoked increasing communal violence and efforts by extremists to fight for an independent Tamil state in the north and east. A bitter civil war broke out in 1983, but all efforts to settle the conflict by local politicians and an aborted three-year Indian military intervention (1987-89) failed because of the intransigence of the extremists on both sides. The Tamil LTTE built up a formidable guerrilla army with liberal Tamil expatriate funding that has intimidated and terrorised Tamil moderates, assassinated two Presidents (including Rajiv Gandhi of India) and attempted to assassinate the incumbent, Chandrika Kumaratunge, in 1999. Politics is increasingly violent and democratic processes are being eroded which serves to increase support for the Marxists who caused much death and havoc in an uprising in 1987-89.


Buddhism is the state religion and, as such, is protected and promoted. Although freedom for other religions is assured, there has been a steady erosion of that freedom with discrimination against minority religions in taxation, employment and education and, since 1988, a rising anti-Christian feeling. Christianity is perceived as foreign and a colonial imposition (sadly a partial truth under Portuguese and Dutch rule) and Evangelicals as using financial inducements to poor Buddhists for unethical conversions.

Religions Population % Adherents Ann.Gr.
Buddhist 71.93 13,542,300 +1.1%
Hindu 12.00 2,259,246 -0.6%
Muslim 8.00 1,506,164 +1.2%
Christian 7.62 1,434,622 +2.0%
non-Religious/other 0.20 37,654 +1.0%
Sikh 0.15 28,241 -0.3%
Baha'i 0.10 18,827 +1.0%

Christians Denom. Affil.% ,000 Ann.Gr.
Protestant 20 0.87 164 +3.9%
Independent 41 0.58 109 +20.1%
Anglican 1 0.29 54 +0.7%
Catholic 1 5.58 1,050 +1.2%
Marginal 2 0.04 8 +2.4%
Unaffiliated   0.26 50 n.a.

Churches MegaBloc Cong. Members Affiliates
Catholic C 330 586,592 1,050,000
Assemblies of God P 70 10,000 77,000
Ch of Ceylon A 146 34,000 53,900
Methodist P 143 17,049 28,471
Believers Church (GFA) I 200 9,000 18,000
Ch of South India P 68 5,000 15,165
Foursquare Gospel P 298 6,187 15,000
Gethsemane Gospel I 39 7,500 11,232
Calvary I 60 4,000 8,150
Fell of Free Chs I 18 3,060 8,000
Jehovah's Witnesses M 69 3,171 8,000
Ceylon Pentecostal Mis I 53 4,192 7,000
Seventh-day Adventist P 28 3,252 6,500
Salvation Army P 39 2,900 3,979
Margaya Fellowship I 20 1,700 3,500
Baptist Union P 25 2,200 3,000
Gospel Ministries I 39 1,007 2,750
Other denoms [48]   381 37,000 65,700
Total Christians [65]   2,026 738,000 1,385,000

Trans-bloc Groupings pop. % ,000 Ann.Gr.
Evangelical 1.3 236 +11.4%
Charismatic 1.6 305 +6.7%
  Pentecostal 0.9 161 +6.3%

Missionaries from Sri Lanka
P,I,A 717 in 18 agencies to 5 countries: Sri Lanka 712.

Missionaries to Sri Lanka
P,I,A 145 in 39 agencies from 17 countries: USA 45, Korea 43, UK 21.

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Answers to Prayer

1 Revival and strong evangelical growth since 1980 — all during the most harrowing warfare and militant opposition from the majority religion and despite a high rate of Christian emigration. In 1980 Evangelicals numbered around 50,000 (0.36%) but by 2000 were nearly 240,000 (1.25%).

2 The multiplication of churches through the committed ministry of many humble Sri Lankan missionary evangelists. In the years 1970-79 only 26 new churches were planted, from 1980-84 there were 153, and then between 1990-97, over 330.

3 The raising up of world-class Christian leaders, evangelists, Bible teachers and Christian apologists who impact the nation and beyond.

Challenges for Prayer

1 Claimed by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden, Sri Lanka is now an island of tears. The ugly conflict between the Sinhala and Tamil has brought great suffering with an estimated 100,000 killed, 800,000 Sri Lankans (mainly Tamil) have emigrated or fled to India and the West, and between 700,000 and 1.5 million displaced in Sri Lanka. Pray specifically for:

a) The neutralization of the power and influence of Buddhist Sinhala extremists. It was their efforts to marginalize and suppress the Tamils that led to the present war. The cruelty and corruption of the armed forces have done great damage to the moral fibre of the nation.

b) The ending of the Tamil LTTE violence whose ruthlessness and use of child soldiers and young suicide bombers have shocked the world and spread terror across much of the country.

c) For honest, fair government for this multi-religious, multi-ethnic country. The bitterly divided Sinhala political scene prevents moves towards peace.

d) For a meaningful cease-fire, willingness to negotiate an equitable peace that gives honour and respect to the major communities and protects their civil, economic and religious rights.

e) For the binding of unleashed demonic powers. The reality of the spirit world and associated idolatry underlie the present evils in Sri Lanka.

2 Buddhists have long prided themselves on their non-violent religion and tolerance. The bigotry and violence of Buddhist extremists against both Hindu Tamil and Christians has shattered that image. There is widespread disillusionment in both Buddhism and Hinduism that has caused many to consider the claims of Christ despite the social disadvantages and threat of persecution. Pray for increased numbers to find peace in Him.

3 Traditional, mainline Churches declined from 21% of the population in 1722 to 7% in 1990 and that decline continues. The causes — nominalism, inability to lay aside foreign worship patterns, use of European languages and theological liberalism that led to syncretism, and little outreach. Rampant Buddhism steadily whittled away their flocks. Added to this was the large-scale emigration of Tamil Christians over the past 20 years. Praise God for growing evangelical movements in the Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Churches. Pray for:

a) A return to Biblical theology and holiness in the major seminaries and in the congregations. Liberal theology has emphasized dialogue, compromise and social engineering rather than evangelism, confrontation of error and personal faith in Christ.

b) Cultural adaptation to make worship, hymnology, language and structures relevant and welcoming to non-Christians.

c) A vision for evangelism and outreach to non-Christians whatever the cost. Large areas of the country are without a gospel witness; nearly all Christians are concentrated in the Colombo and Jaffna urban regions; few live in the rural areas. Many trained workers emigrate, and few are willing to work in the less-privileged rural areas.

4 Evangelicals have reversed the Christian decline with a surge of spiritual life and vision. The revival has deepened faith, raised expectancy, hastened indigenization, prepared many for persecution and stimulated vigorous outreach. There are many new Christians from the Buddhist and Hindu communities. Pray for:

a) The ongoing outreach of Pentecostal, charismatic and other evangelical groups. Particularly successful have been the efforts of the AoG and the Foursquare Church. Evangelistic campaigns by Reinhard Bonnke and others have stimulated nation-wide interest.

b) The growing Sri Lanka missions movement. Notable are the efforts of pioneer workers of YFC, Margaya Mission, Gospel Ministries, Lanka Village Ministries (LBC Alumni) as well as newer and older denominations. The 420 rural churches in 1983 had grown to over 1,200 by 2000.

c) Increased unity. The Church as a whole is deeply divided — especially ethnically in the Catholic Church, and theologically among Protestants — which hinders progress and presenting a united front to those that oppose them. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance has proved a blessing in bringing a wide spectrum of Evangelicals together for dynamic action in discipling the nation for Christ. An emerging goal is to see the number of evangelical congregations tripled by 2005.

d) Effective correction of weaknesses — too much individualism and fragmentation among newer evangelical groups, too little national coordination of ministry, under-discipled converts and inadequate indigenization of every facet of church life.

e) The Church as a catalyst for national reconciliation. There is no other national structure that could meaningfully bring together the bitterly divided ethnic communities.

5 Evangelicals have done much to improve theological education over the past three decades — Lanka Bible College (LBC) in Kandy, the Colombo Theological Seminary, the Bible Schools of AoG, Foursquare, Calvary Theological Seminary, GFA and others have been training a growing number of effective Christian workers. LBC launched a degree programme to train teachers of Christianity for schools. A number run extension and TEE courses. Pray for the development and increased spiritual impact of these institutions.

6 Persecution has significantly increased in the 1990s in the wake of effective evangelical outreach. At a national level Buddhist extremists seek to curtail foreign funding, limit church building and criminalize ‘unethical’ conversions, and at a local level make Christian activities impossible. In the 1990s over 35 churches were destroyed, hundreds of Christians assaulted and some even martyred. Among the Tamil there has also been persecution from the LTTE and Hindu extremists. Pray for Christians to be exemplary witnesses in these afflictions.

7 Missionary work has been restricted by the authorities. New visas have been extremely hard to obtain. Pray for a change — the needs are so numerous that the resources of the Sri Lankan Church are inadequate for covering all the needs in evangelism, church planting and other ministries. TWR has 20 workers, but most are deployed in their international broadcasting ministry. CCCI has 73 national and expatriate workers. Other missions such as the Salvation Army, Methodists, Swedish Free Mission, AoG, BMS, IMB-SBC and SdA have just a handful of workers each. Pray in a new generation of missionaries able to culturally identify with Sri Lanka’s present need.

8 Special ministry challenges:

a) The Lanka Tamil community, once relatively prosperous but now impoverished, vengeful and fearful, needs prayer. Large numbers have had to flee the enforced recruitment of their children by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and the violence of war. Most abhor the violence but have no way to stand against it. Pray for those ministering to the refugees in India (300,000+), Europe/N America (300,000+) and also within Sri Lanka. Pray for the conversion of LTTE leaders and guerrillas.

b) The Estate Tamils have long been a despised and marginalized community, but possibly up to 20% are professing Christians. Since 1980 over 10,000 have come to Christ through the Free Churches Fellowship, AoG and the Smyrna Church. They are leaderless and divided. Recently the LTTE have sought to embroil this community in the war. Pray for the effective discipling of believers.

c) Young people. Youth programmes are limited and most young people have little meaningful contact with the gospel. Of special note for prayer are these ministries:

i) The dynamic ministry of YFC and also CCCI among urban youth.

ii) The work of FOCUS(IFES) among students. The South Asia office of IFES is located in Sri Lanka. CCCI has a ministry among students.

iii) Children in crisis — the war, together with the tourist industry have led to an infamous child-porn and paedophile ‘industry’. Over 30,000 children are believed to be enmeshed. Several Christian ministries are involved in meeting their needs.

iv) Children of war — many Tamil children have been brainwashed into becoming killing machines. Many thousands will need intensive help to recover from this trauma.

d) The villages present a challenge. Throughout the land are rural communities that have never heard the gospel. There are 36,000 villages in Sri Lanka, but only 1,200 have Protestant Christian groups. Many areas are devoid of any witness. The ravaged villages of the north and east are particularly needy. AsEF and others are ministering to them.

e) The urban slums are little evangelized. Most Christians are among the more prosperous. A few churches and groups are taking up this challenge.

9 Unreached peoples of Sri Lanka:

a) The Moors are generally traders, bureaucrats and farmers. Until recently there were few converts out of Islam, but through one indigenous ministry over 100 Muslims have believed in Christ. The AoG has a good ministry among economically depressed Muslims in Colombo.

b) The Malays are syncretistic Muslims, and potentially more open. Pray for a specific ministry to them.

c) Other unreached social groups: the educated Buddhists, coastal-belt fishing communities, the Tamil and Sinhala refugees, villages being set up under the ‘Village Re-awakening’ programme, and the Tamil and Sinhala militants who continue to polarize the country. There is also a resurgence of the radical Marxist party, the JVP.

d) Tribal groups: the Rodhiya (7,000), Gypsies (1,000) and Veddah. Kithu Sevana Ministries (YFC) has a work among the Rodhiya.

10 Christian media ministries:

a) Literature. This is in great demand. Literacy is high, but good, inexpensive and culturally relevant literature is not being printed and distributed in sufficient quantities to make use of the opportunity. The main publishers — Pragna Publishers, the Bible Society, Gospel Ministries, YFC, Lanka Bible College (theological books and study materials), SGM (Scripture portions) — have published much, but too few committed colporteurs are available. There is a dearth of good pre-evangelism literature for Buddhists and Muslims. New Life League has a printing press in Colombo which is much used for printing gospel literature. EHC is in the process of a third nation-wide gospel literature distribution programme (7 million distributed so far with 230,000 responses). CLC has recently established three Christian bookstores with a growing distribution ministry.

b) The JESUS film has been fairly widely shown with the equivalent of 41% of the population viewing it. This ministry is much affected by both the war and opposition by religious extremists — pray for the film teams often in dangerous situations. National TV now broadcasts the Indian production ‘Jesus Calls’ in three languages weekly — a miracle!!

c) Radio. Sri Lanka is thinly covered by international broadcasters — FEBA Seychelles broadcasts 9 hrs/wk in Tamil and 3.5 hrs in Sinhala. However, TWR’s ministry from Sri Lanka to India and Bangladesh on medium-wave is highly successful. There are large audiences for 13 languages and 44 hrs/wk of broadcasting. Back to the Bible prepares widely heard programming in English, Sinhala and Tamil.

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