A spring military surge against Tamil-minority secessionists killed and displaced thousands yet brought an improbable end to 26 years of violent religious and racial conflict. Now Sri Lankan evangelicals are appealing to the global church for help in healing their island nation.

The scale of relief efforts needed for the thousands now displaced in military camps is daunting, but local evangelical leaders feel hopeful about attempts at reconciliation.

"All Buddhists in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese, and all Hindus are Tamils. It is only in Christianity that you find both ethnic groups belonging to one religion," said Godfrey Yogarajah, general secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL). "The church needs to practically demonstrate what it means to be salt and light in this situation of deterioration and decay."

Sri Lanka's Protestant community represents only 1 percent of the population of 20 million. But a remarkable 30 to 40 percent of the Tamil ethnic minority group is Christian, according to Yogarajah. "This is a model of what a united Sri Lanka can be," he said.

Suresh Bartlett, national director for World Vision in Sri Lanka, said that two major challenges to reconciliation are limited freedom of movement between the north and south and inadequate means of communication. For nearly three decades, both have severely curtailed interaction between northern Tamils and southern Sinhalese.

"In the north they're setting up a number of police stations and other security apparatus … and most of the security forces, if not all, speak only Sinhalese and don't speak Tamil," Bartlett said. "It's difficult to build trust … [without] a common language."

In response, the NCEASL has implemented programs such as a "peace train." It runs from the country's southern to northeastern corners, allowing Sinhalese and Tamil youth to work together on social projects. The NCEASL also has launched a Young Peace Ambassadors program to train youth in conflict resolution.

In recent months, Christian organizations including World Vision and the NCEASL were given government permission to minister to the physical and psychosocial needs of 320,000 Tamil refugees, many of whom are crammed into government camps after fleeing their homes in the northern conflict zone. World Vision set up temporary learning spaces for refugee children while schools were used as temporary housing.

More than 150 pastors are living and ministering among the refugees, Yogarajah said. Sinhalese churches are collecting provisions for Tamil refugees as a practical gesture of support.

"There is a need to bring healing and wholeness into these lives," said Yogarajah. "One [Tamil] told me, 'There are no more tears to cry, as every drop has been shed.' … NCEASL is working on a process to help these individuals, for we believe that where there is life and God, there is hope."

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today has a special section on Sri Lanka on our site, including:

Man-Made Disaster | In Sri Lanka, money abounds, but fighting halts tsunami reconstruction. (April 25, 2007)
Soaking in Blood—Again | Sri Lankan violence costs 1,000 lives. Relief efforts set back. (September 27, 2006)
Banning Compassion } Buddhist radicals seek to curtail Christian witness. (June 14, 2005)

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