Godfrey Yogarajah was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in the 1960s. A vigorous campaigner for religious freedom in Sri Lanka and throughout Asia, Godfrey’s efforts have been recognized with several international humanitarian awards. Godfrey has served since 1990 as the General Secretary of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka. He has also served as the General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia for eight years. Godfrey is married to Roshani who works for an organization involved in de-mining.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) was formed in 1952 shortly after Sri Lanka gained independence. With the mission of serving the national church, NCEASL is committed to transforming the nation through involvement in missions, human rights advocacy, and economic development. Since its inception the Alliance has grown significantly and today consists of organizations representing more than 200,000 evangelical Christians throughout the country.
Pastor Namal is a church planter who works in an unreached area of western Sri Lanka. As soon as he arrived, he faced much opposition and persecution from the local people. His family’s home was attacked and damaged. But later, with help from NCEASL, he started a yogurt business that allowed him to interact on a daily basis with his neighbors. Soon, he began to gain acceptance and saw many people open their hearts to the Gospel. His business grew, and with his earnings he was able to support his family and send two of his disciples to Bible college. Giving believers like Pastor Namal a stable livelihood not only affords his family much-needed stability, it also provides a natural way for him to meet and share the Gospel with new people each day.
Sri Lanka is an island nation of 20 million people located off the southern tip of India. Buddhism is the state religion claiming 72 percent of the population, with Hinduism and Islam at 12 and 8 percent respectively. Evangelicals number less than one percent.
After gaining independence, the country struggled to define itself and was torn apart by religious and communal violence. Efforts by extremists to establish an independent Tamil state in the north and east led the country into civil war in 1983. Though the war ended in 2009, ethnic tensions remain high. Families are struggling to recover from the deaths of more than 80,000 of their countrymen. More than 200,000 people are internally displaced, and many remain in refugee camps. The long struggle for peace has earned the country the name “the island of tears.”
Sri Lanka is one of the few non-Muslim countries where Christianity has been in decline. However, over the last ten years, a surge of spiritual life and vision has brought a sense of expectancy among Christians. At the same time, Buddhists and Hindus have become significantly more open to the Gospel.
This growth has come at a high cost. Over the last several years more than 150 churches have been burned and many Christian workers assaulted. Only about 3,000 villages, out of a total of more than 38,000, have any kind of Christian witness.
Church Planting Movement, NCEA, Sri Lanka
NCEASL has conducted several national church surveys which have greatly assisted in identifying the spread of churches throughout Sri Lanka, while also mobilizing a collective effort toward saturation church planting. These findings were disclosed to the national leaders of the Church in Sri Lanka who committed to a common strategy of planting churches in areas where the Christian presence is least prevalent.
The data gathered reflects that there are 35,000 villages without a reported mission agency or church-planting effort in their midst. Realizing that these villagers live and die without Christ, NCEASL established a church-planting effort to begin reaching these villages.
NCEASL has identified a number of families and individuals willing to be sent as church planters, but they need financial assistance on a short-term basis until their churches are strong enough to support them.
In recent years, some Christians have been falsely accused of forcible and unethical conversions, thus the task of church planting is an even greater challenge. There are some predominantly Buddhist areas where church workers find it difficult to become meaningfully involved in society. To prevent exposing these workers to religious persecution, the workers are given seed funds to start an income-generating small business. Examples of their various enterprises include tailoring, farming, motorcycle repair, brick-making, sewing, and fabric painting. This strategy helps them earn an income and add value to the community, which helps them build relationships.
Through these small businesses, it is expected that at the end of two years they will be earning a steady revenue that is sufficient to support their family on the field. During that time, most will have planted at least two churches in their target area. Partners would like to provide initial, partial support for 10 church planters this year.
Livelihood for IDPs, NCEASL
Thirty years of war have caused significant hardships for the people of Sri Lanka and taken a heavy toll on the nation’s economy. Women and children have been the worst affected, not only as victims of the wide-scale violence but now as victims of deep poverty as the country struggles to recover socially and economically. It is estimated that there are more than 90,000 war widows are in the country. These widows are dispersed throughout the island, but the majority are found in the areas hardest hit by war. The struggles they face are enormous. While many are elderly, some are only in their early twenties. Often, they were compelled to marry to escape conscription into the LTTE, a violent, separatist group that fought against the Sri Lankan government during the civil war. Because they have no one to care for them and few skills to make their own living, they are suffering in great poverty and at high risk for sexual abuse and exploitation.
On average, a lower middle class family with two children would need at least $8 per day for their living expenses. And as the cost of living in Sri Lanka continues to rise, one can imagine the living standard for a widow who has no income whatsoever.
NCEASL’s aim is to empower these widows so that they will have a steady means of support. The project involves two tracks—self-employment and job market training. The first helps women to identify what trade they would like to engage in and then equips them with vocational, business, and marketing training as well as a start-up grant. Example businesses include agriculture, food stalls, sewing, salon services, and basket weaving. A second track involves training them for employment in a local business and networking with local business leaders to help them acquire a job that is safe and pays a fair wage.
Other aspects of the program include health awareness training on sexual health issues, HIV/AIDS, and how to protect themselves from abuse and exploitation. Biblical counseling and medical treatment will be provided as needed as well. In total, the women will be engaged in a one-year program, after which the women will be able to provide for themselves and begin their journey to recovery. NCEASL has asked Partners to contribute toward vocational training and livelihood loans for 50 widows ($435 each).