COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Easter bombings in Sri Lanka that targeted Christians and killed at least 290 people have prompted calls to prayer by Southern Baptists who work to take the gospel to South Asian people groups.
"As we process the news of attacks on Easter services today in Sri Lanka, our hearts are grieved," the Southern Baptist workers said as a group in written comments. "We weep with those who weep ... As we reflect on the living hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3), let us not forget to stay armed for the battle and continuing incessantly in prayer. Let us run this race hard with our brothers and sisters in Christ and intercede for one another and for the lost."
The Sri Lankan government accused a local militant Islamist group, the National Thowheed Jamaath, of carrying out nine April 22 bombings, according to media reports. The government also said a foreign network likely was involved in the attacks. Intelligence in the government's possession before the bombings allegedly indicated Thowheed Jamaath was planning attacks against churches and hotels.
More than a third of those reported dead were killed in nearly simultaneous suicide bombings at three Roman Catholic churches in the region of Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital and largest city. The blasts occurred between 8:45 and 9:30 a.m. local time, The Washington Post reported.
Three hotels were hit by suicide bombers at the same time, the Associated Press reported. Three other sites also were bombed.
In addition to the dead, at least 500 others were injured. Police have arrested 21 people in connection with the bombings, according to The Post. Three police officers were killed as they raided a suspect's house.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted, "The governing authorities must bring this anti-Christian terrorist cell, and any who empowered them, to justice. The shedding of innocent human blood is always an atrocity; an attack on Easter is further shocking in its cruelty."
The attacks came amid what persecution watchdog Morning Star News called "persistent" "violence and harassment against Christians" in Sri Lanka, an island nation southeast of India and about the size of West Virginia.
"Cases of intimidation, discrimination, threats, violence, false allegations, legal challenges, demands for church closures, police inaction and demonstrations persist in Sri Lanka but are rarely reported in mainstream media," Morning Star reported in February.
Following the Easter bombings, Morning Star noted that "while Christians in Sri Lanka have suffered at the hands of radical Buddhists and, increasingly, hard-line Hindus, attacks by Muslim extremists have been rare."
Sri Lanka ranked 46th on Open Doors' 2019 list of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
Residents of Sri Lanka are 70 percent Buddhist, 13 percent Hindu, 10 percent Muslim and 7 percent Christian, according to the CIA's World Factbook.
Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, urged Sri Lankan authorities "to hold the perpetrators accountable to [the] fullest extent possible under the law. As we have said before and will continue to say: No one should fear for their safety because of their faith – least of all inside houses of worship."
At least 27 foreigners, including several Americans, were among the dead, AP reported.
In the wake of the attacks, the International Mission Board requested prayer:
– "For those who have lost family members to be comforted by the God of all comfort.
– "For those who are injured to receive needed care.
– "For those who can't find family to be reconnected.
– "For believers to be the hands and feet of Christ and to pour forth a sweet aroma. Hearts are hurting.
– "That God would use this situation to draw men and women, boys and girls to Himself ... for His honor and glory."
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.