Prayer Country of the Week: Sri Lanka
This Asian island off the southeast coast of India is reputed to have been King Solomon’s source for ivory, peacocks, and valuables, which he imported from the ancient seaport of Tarshish. An important stop on the Silk Road, Arab traders called ancient Ceylon “Serendip”, a Sanskrit term referencing the discovery of something by accident, which formed the root of the modern “serendipity”. Today, Sri Lanka, or “venerable island”, boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world with over 60% of the gross domestic product coming from the service sector. However, severe income inequality and ethnic prejudice have driven large numbers of its citizens to seek work outside of the country. As a result, these populations are exploited, abused, and at times, enslaved at the hands of unscrupulous employers.
Ninety-nine percent of Sri Lankans say that religion is important in their lives, and the most recent civil war speaks to these strongly held beliefs. The war, waged over religious and ethnic divides, lasted from 1983 to 2009. And yet, despite efforts to preserve their religion and culture, significant increases in alcoholism, suicide, casual violence, and rape reveal a crisis in the belief systems to which Sri Lankans cling. Buddhism, the national religion, is protected and promoted, and while freedom of religion is guaranteed by law, violence and persecution against the 8% mostly Catholic Christian minority are not uncommon. As the number of Christians in Sri Lanka grows, we pray they continue to search for the pearl of great price – the hearts of the Sri Lankan people.
Capital City: Colombo
Major People Groups: Sinhalese 74.9%, Sri Lanka Tamil 11.2%,Sri Lanka Moors 9.2%, Indian Tamil 4.2%, other 0.5%
Religion: Buddhist 70.2%, Hindu 12.6%, Muslim 9.7%, Roman Catholic 6.1%, other Christian 1.3%, other 0.05%
Language: Sinhala, Tamil, Other
GDP Per Capita: $13,000
Literacy Rate: 92.6%
How to Pray
While the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka is technically a secular state, its constitution states that the “Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place”. Most of the Christian persecution in the country is perpetrated by radical Buddhist movements, and at times these movements are also supported by local government officials. These radical Buddhist groups, namely the Bodu Bala Sena and the Sinhala Ravaya are led by Buddhist monks, and are known to stir up mobs that attack Christians.