It’s an island country, just off the southeast coast of India. When I studied geography in grammar school, it was called Ceylon. It’s shaped like a giant teardrop, and appropriately so. Sri Lanka has done a lot of weeping.
I visited the country several years ago, two weeks after a tsunami devastated much of its southern coast. Many volunteers associated with North Carolina Baptist Men and other disaster relief ministries spent time in the country, offering healing and hope to a wounded land.
The nation is troubled still, but most of its recent wounds have been self-inflicted. At the root is an old, familiar story of an ethnic minority that feels put upon by the majority. Most of Sri Lanka’s population are Sinhalese, but a concentration of people along the northeast coast are Tamils. Both groups originated in India, but they speak different languages. The Sinhalese are predominantly Buddhist; the Tamils are mostly Hindu.
Seeking an independent homeland for the Tamils, a radical group called the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” has led an armed rebellion for years, and the Sri Lankan army has sought to defeat them. Tens of thousands have died. A truce was signed in 2002, but violence has intensified in the past year, as the Sri Lankan government has been on a campaign to eliminate the Tamil Tigers once and for all. They have succeeded in bottling them up on a small strip of land on the northern coast.
The problem is many thousands of civilians are bottled up with them. On May 10, according to news reports, hundreds of civilians died after a brutal night of apparently indiscriminate shelling. More than a hundred of the dead are children, though no one can be sure because press access is denied.
When I was in Sri Lanka, the thing I remember most is the beauty of the children, whether Sinhalese or Tamil. The notion of using women and children as human shields – and of attacking anyway – is an atrocious thought, whether in Afghanistan or Sri Lanka. If we ever needed proof of the depravation of humanity, there it is.
Please pray for the children of Sri Lanka.
Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.