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Tilling the Mission Fields in Sri Lanka

By Ven Kollupitiye Samadhindriya Thero

Concern has been voiced that Catholics planned to convert all of Sri Lanka by the year 2000. The goal was later changed to 2005 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese invasion. Rev.Sister M Immaculate in the Catholic Weekly Messenger of 18th October 1990, speaks of " spreading the Good News about Jesus Christ and the message of salvation. He brought to the world.... We [Christians] are called upon to be sacraments of salvation..... it is for us to help them to recognize Him." Although there has always been a potential conversion threats to Buddhists Hindus and Muslims from the Catholic community since 1970s a deeper threat has emerged.

The word " fundamentalism " associated with the word " evangelical " describes numerous American Protestant groups founded in the 1920s that " do battle royal for the fundamentals of the faith " [Ammerman 1994:13-14] According to Frykenberg, all fundamentalist movements regardless of religion, operates on five principles: The Truth, The Messenger, The Community,The Destiny and The Evil [ Frykenberg 1994-593] For the Christian fundamental evangelists, we find The Truth represented as the " literally inerrant " definitive final authority of The Holy Bible.The Messenger is The Preacher - often a charismatic personality who can excite and convey a sense of urgency. The Community is the selected group of The Chosen Ones with the belief in the duality of True and False, Believers and Unbelievers, Children of God and Heathens etc. The Destiny is the belief in a future Utopia which will attaind by The Chosen Ones with certain obligation to expand that community through conversion as a protection from The Evil and the Evil Ones.

Most Christian fundamentalists do not believe in Darwinian evolution are moralistic and anti-intellectual. They maintain a personal " born again " relationship between themselves and Jesus. They see the Asian respect for sacred texts, sacred sites,deities and respect for parents as idol worship and ancestor worship. They believe in the condemnation and dismantling of these aspects of " traditional society " Some Pentecostal sub- groups practice the belief in prophecy from The Messenger [living or dead] talking in tongues,faith healing and miraculous experiences of The Believers. All groups seem to emphasize sharing the conversion experince through "witnessing " and " testimony " [Perera 1995]

Since colonial times,the entire region of Asia has been seen as a "mission field", there to be tilled,tended and harvested, thus "civilizing" the Asian heathens. Most of the Asian evangelical churches have an affiliation with worldwide churches and evangelizing agencies. It is estimated by Cathoilc Church sources that over 300 seperate evangelical churches and para-church groups in exist in Sri Lanka : World Vision, Assembly of God, Worldwide Mission Fellowship, Jehovahs Witness, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Church of Four Square Gospel, Sri Lanka Centre for Pastoral Studies, Campus Crusade for Christ, Rural Pastors Training Center, Ceylon Every Home Crusade, Gideon International, Sri Lanka Audio-Visual Evangelism and Care, to name a few.There are currently an estimated 38,000 U.S. personnel in Protestant missions overseas. They have a combined Asian yearly operating budget of over 500 million dollars - primarily from American contributions.

To their credit, Christian Evangelism uses the most modern socio-psychological techniques and strategies available for the purpose of conversion. Regular pastoral training exists in Asian countries as well as in the countries of church of origin. Training in sophisticated communication and preaching skills, marketing strategies, modes of self-presentation, "perfprmance" techniques,media evangelism and the efficient propagation of literary translations and publications are all offered. These strategies are perfected and used to bring the " message of Jesus" to the people. The port of entry into conversions is carefully examined and determined by local need. In Napal for instance where literacy and medical attention is low,schools and hospitals are established. In Sri Lanka where litercy and poverty are both high, Bible translations,published literature and financial aid are provided.

In Sri Lanka, the evangelical movement correctly grasped the peoples respect for the written word. Literature is published and distributed in Sinhala,Tamil and English through Ceylon Every Home Crusade, Youth of Christ,Grace Evangelical Church, Worldwide Church of God etc - organizations that operates in hopspitals,universities,schools and door-to-door. They have publications on drugs,marriage,single parenting,mental illness etc.

In 1995 the International Chamber of Commerce organized a conference and trade exhibition in Colombo to give local Christian business people an oppertunity to meet with Christian business people from around the world - to share knowledge,expertise,funding information and general networking. Other conferences have focused on vocational training,computer literacy,business administration,office procedures,English language proficiency and public speaking. These are all needed and useful services but the underlying motive here is questionable.

The motive of Christian fundamentalist programs like AD2000 and Beyond,Joshua Project 1, and Joshua Project 11 was to "harvest" the unreached people groups" primarily in the countries located between 10 degees and 40 degrees North Latitude [Shashikamar 2004]. One strategy of operation is "church planting" or establishing churches in areas that have no Christians and then converting the community to fill the churches. There is a web site of "unreached areas" of the world listing locations for future conquest [see website Joshua Project 2000 - Unreached People Profile - www.ad2000.org.]

"Mission activity included meeting human needs of education,health care,emergency relief etc. but often this was to demonstrate concern for the people and gain their confidence to share the gospel which was the main objective.[Samuel 1998:6] One Christian writer observed,"Sri Lanka Christian are being viewed as vultures nurtured on foreign funds and driven to hunt for the poor mortal souls of the gullible and poverty striken non-Christen.... the church is not totally without blame." [Morgan 1997:4] "With emphasis on saving the soul rather than the body,development work and social services are only the means to an end,a means to win heathen souls for Christ now or if that is not feasible immediately to prepare the ground for future conversions" [Shah 1993:39] A Nepali Christian leader stated," I have listened to the outside critiques of the church.Mainly they have said: 1 Christians are bought with money 2 It is a western culture and religion 3 The Church has no concern for our society or our country 4 Christians are foreigners in our own country. Now I find myself siding with the critics" [Stanley 1994:16]

Unethical or illegal conversions are those defined as conversions where something of value has been given in exchange for converting to The Faith. It has long been known that money has been given for conversions particularly "to buy land, fertilizer,seed and food or free education for children has been given conversion." [Perera 1995] And appearing in a Sri Lankan newspaper,"we are aware that certain Christian sects receive massive sums of money from America and other foreign countries to be spent lavishly in remote villages comprised of only poor Buddhists in a bid to convert them to their faith by exploiting their meager economic conditions, assisting in their marriages,and helping them to secure employment." [The Island. 20th May 1993]

In February of 2002, President Bush unveiled a "faith-based" social service initiative,i.e., a new White House office to promote government aid to churches and Christian faith-based organizations to put Federal Government funds behind religious social work. This means the use of tax payers money for religious conversions. The office of Faith -Based and community Initiative was headed by director Jim Towey.This initiative to fund "salvation and religious conversion" was stalled in Congress,but has been pushed towards implementation through numerous executive orders. [Shasshikamar 2004]

TMOs [Trasnational Missionary Organizations] in conjunction with the Joshua Project,International Mission Board,Southern Baptist Convention and Christian Aid have for decades been gathering information in data banks for the purpose of coordinated conversion campaigns.These spying missions have successfully analyzed,mapped and installed U.S. government and U.S based evangelical mission agencies,shaped by the World Evangelical Fellowship into areas where the Christian population was formerly negligible.Ralp Winter,founder of the U.S Center of World Missions states that it is"the largest,most pervasive global evangelical network ever to exist". The Global Consultaion on World Evangelical [GCOWE] convention in Seoul claimed to be "the most strategic Christian gathering in history". Their purpose is to "make a priority of establishing as a minimum, a pioneer church-planting movement within every ethno-linguistic people of over 10,000 individuals by December 31,2000 [Shashikamar 2004]

In India and else where,the spying operations are postal PIN code [ZIP code] based classified as to language,ethnicity,religion ststistics,conversion data,wealth,education,health needs etc The Joshua Projects objective is to (1) gather strategic population and ministry activity information (2) to be a least-reached peoples networking resource (3) to enhance the flow of information between organzations by using standardized data coding (IMA zone surveys) This data field has then been shared with U.S intelligence agencies (CIA) giving virtually real-time access to this global information.This technology has made evangelical activities potentially dangerous because this enormous data field together with Christian Right and CIA has all worked to influence foreign policy. The CIA has publicly admitted to using this information for covert intelligence operations abroad. International Director of AD2000 and Beyond,Luis Bush said,"God is allowing us to spy out the land that we might go in and claim both it and its inhabitants for Him." The Southern Baptist William Carlsen admitted giving an eight hour briefing to the CIA on Thailands tribal area(Colby and Dennett). John Deutch, CIA director, April 1996 admitted that the CIA uses clergymen and newspapermen as intelligence agents.Because the CIA has been courting religious missionries,they now have unparalleled reach to the remotest corners of any country. The "Far Right" Christian evangelists have always backed militarism in Afghanistan,Iraq and elsewhere in the world; so the connection between conversion and militarism and the Christian agenda must be noted [Shashikamar 2004]. It was not then surprising that the U.S. adminiistration increased foreign aid / conversion money in the Sudan from 11 to 18 Billion dollars,once rich oil deposits were discovered.This money is used not by the Sudanese but by the Christian evangelists for religious / political purposes.

On 15 January 2004,Bush again touted his faith-based initiative to the Union Bethel AME Church in New Orleans. These initiatives are designed to break the constitutional sanctity of the seperation of church and state(Americans United for Seperation of Church and State) Bush has linked domestic social policies and U.S. foreign policy with the disbursal of Aid to U.S. based TMOs,thus increasing the already $500 million donation budget to unknown heights. Bushs government has given federal grants to Christian charities that are involved in conversion activities around the world. On 3 October 2002,U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that Pat Robertsons charity, Operation Blessing, would be given grants through the Compassion Capital Fund without restrictions as to the use of funds.Operation Blessings already was a $66 million a year organization. In 1994 Robertson said in Congress that cargo planes were recruiting Rwandan refugees but in fact the plans were used to haul mining equipment in and out of Zaire for his African Development Corporation to mine diamonds. Note: Robertson and the Christian Coalition worked tirelessly to elect Bush.

In Indianapolis 22 July 1999, Bush said, "In every instance,when my administration sees a responsibility to help people,we will look first to faith-based institutions to charities and community groups that have shown thir ability to Save (religious conversion) and change lives" On 21 September 2000,in USA Today, Bush said Congress would allocate $80 Billion over the next 10 years in tax incentives to help churches provide "social services". On 14 June 2001, Methodist Church Rev. Eliezer Valentin Castanon said, "No one can honestly believe that program funded with tax dollars which requirs as a major component of treatment the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,will not advance religion." Regarding World Vision, procelytisation is an integral part of World Visions provision of development services under its much-touted programs [Shashikamar 2004]

Many Sri Lankans are well aware of the poverty-striken inhabitants of Sinhalese Buddhist villages. They are impressed with the tremendous humanitarian efforts made by Christian community to improve the conditions in rural areas. They are also aware of the situation in South Korea where an eighty percent Buddhist population was reduced to less than forty percent in just two decades due to Christian evangelism and conversions [Perera 1995]. An education program showing villagers the true intentions of evangelism is gradually beginning to surface in rural areas. World Visions "Mustard Seed Project" in the Ratnapura District was halted when their surreptitious intentions were brought to light. Their comments was,"we cannot feed individuals and then let them go to hell." There are currently several lawsuits in Sri lanka for "Illegal Conversion" activities. But it must be noted that the Southern Baptist leader Richard Land oversees the U.S. governments commitment to international religious freedoms whose specific purpose is to reverse the anti-conversion laws protecting against illegal conversions in foreign countries. One can assume that ample funds and expertise will be used to fight the illegal conversion lawsuits to reverse the existing laws and to fund corruptible politicians.

"Christian fundamentalism, not Islam,may have the potential to create more conflict internationally, for it can avail itself of all the advantages and power generated by a western-dominated economic system." [Brouwer 1996;9]

When foreign policy is guided by a belief that non-Christians are heathen sinners needing to be saved by the Word of God, it follows that respect for culture and the reverence for human life of these sinners is not a high priority. Considering the foreign policy of the Religious Rights, there appears to be a lack of tolerence and a lack of sympathy towards ideas of multiculturalism and pluralism in religion. It can be argued that many societies,exhibiting multiculturalism and pluralism in religion existed in relative peace before political instability and or foreign influence incited ethnic conflict. And now in places where the sanctity of religious holy spaces have been violated, the idea prevails that all "non-Christian cultures are considered pagan and therefore perverted....... "[Yu 1998:4] "Due to its insistence on an absolute truth evangelists are convinced that their version of truth is complete .....[Caplan 1995:93] The evangelical movement tends to see "American military and economic might as guarantors of their ability to evangelize the world [Caplan 1995:97] It is interesting to note that the foreign policies of the industrial so-called Christian countries seem to reflect the arrogance of their religion. Therefore,when the ideology,money and power are all moving in the same direction,biased foereign policy is a foregone conclusion. The Final Crusade has begun.

It has often been said that there are only two real threats to the United States: China and India.If Sri Lanka destabilizes and break up into a Tamil state and possibly a Muslim state, not only will it weaken Sri Lanka but it is also expected that India will follow suit. India will loose stability and will break up into separate states. i.e Kashmir,Jammu,Punjab,Andhra Pradesh,Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This would futher weaken the whole subcontinent.

The indians in Sri lanka are primarily from Tamil Nadu and are comprised of Hindus,Muslims and Christians.Most live in harmony with the Buddhists and very few are affiliated with the LTTE.The top leadership of the LTTE is strongly influenced by Christian ideologues. Towards their goal of seperation and independence,violence and destruction has been employed. They are the original suicide bombers. Young monks have been slaughtered.Wholsale genocide has occured in villages. Buddhists holy sites have been bombed and vandalized.The United States has publicly branded them as terrorists.

It has come to light that the LTTE are funded from Tamils living abroad. What is not widely known is that all the major indirect funding in the LTTE dominted areas is from the U.S backed NGOs like World Vision. Now there is only one question to be asked. How can the United States be fighting terrorism and at the same time funding it ?



Bibliography

Ammerman,Nancy T.1994. " The dynamics of Christian Fundamentalism: An Introduction." In Martin E Marty
and R Scott Appleby eds. Accounting for Fundamentalism. Chicago: The Unversity Press.

Brouser,Steve,Paul Gifford & Susan D Rose 1996."South Korea: Modernization with a Vengeance, Evagelization with the Modern edge." In,Exporting the American gospel:Global Christian Fundamentalism. New York:Routledge.

Caplan,Lionel 1995. "Certain Knowledge: The Encounter of Global Fundamentalism and Local Christianity in Urban South India." The Pursuit of Certainty: Religious and Cultural Formulation. London: Routledge.

Colby and Dennett.1995 Thy Will Be Done. New York, Harper Collins.

Frykenberg, Robert Eric 1994. "Accounting for Fundamentalism in South Asia: Ideologies and Institutions in Historical Perspective." In Martin E Marty and R Scott Appleby eds Accounting for Fundamentalism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Morgan David.1997."The Pressure to Go Mega" In Direction(November 1997)Colombo: Ceylon Every Home Crusade.

Perera,Sasanka. 1995 "Politics of Religious Competition: Evangelization in Contemporary Sri Lanka.In Living with Torturers and other Essays of Intervention: Sri Lanka Society,Culture and Politics in Perspective. Colombo:ICES.

Perera,Sasanka. 1998, New Evangelical Movements and Conflict in South Asia: Sri Lanka and Nepal in Perspective. Colombo: Regional Center for Strategic Studies.

Samarasekera, Gerald de S 2004. LTTE and the Christian Church. http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items04/110904-2.html

Samuel, Vinay 1998."Christian Mission in Contemporary Asia." Paper presented at Christian Conference of Asia/Mission Unity Dialogue, 17-19 January 1998 at Ecumenical Christian Centre,Whitefield,Bangalore.

Shah,Saubhagya 1993. The Gospel Come to the Hindu Kingdom." Himal.Sept/Oct Kathmandu.

Shashikamar, V.K & Mayablushan Neguenkar. "Preparing for the Harvest............. " Tehelka [Indian Newspaper] Feb. 7 2004 www.tehelka.com

Stanley, Harriet 1994. "Culture and Meaning: Personal Reflection on Christmas in Nepal." In Mirror [Magazine of the United Nations Womens Organization in Nepal]

Yu, carver T. 1998. "The Bible and Cuture in the Shaping of Asian Theology." Paper presented at Christian Conference of Asia/Mission Unity Dialogue, 17-19 January 1998 at Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitfield, Bangalor.


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