‘Church can be voice of hope in Sri Lanka’

Current Langham Scholar Nathanael Somanathan, from Sri Lanka, says the Church has been and will be a “voice of hope” in response to the current political and economic crisis in his country.

Speaking to LPUKI’s Media Producer Victoria Marsay, Nathanael (who is studying at Birmingham University) explained that Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis in history. Virtually every sector has been overwhelmed and there’s a lack of resources because the country has basically run out of money. The President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned after mass protests.

Nathanael commented: “Sri Lanka was pretty much governed by a dynasty, a family for many years. First the brother, then his brother, then various family members and important Government positions holding high levels of power.

“The country essentially plunged into the worst sort of crisis because of the corruption within that family. Their cronies were in on some of the scams and responsible for the mishandling of resources, which was then amplified during Covid.”

Nathanael is a Tamil, which is a minority community in Sri Lanka. From his perspective, his people experienced discrimination and were treated very badly especially during the 30-year civil war (which ended just over a decade ago).

‘Political rot at the centre’

Sri Lanka
Scholar Nathanael says that there has been corruption at the centre of Sri Lankan politics for many years.

“In this particular situation, in this economic crisis, it really did bring everyone together in a sense, because we all felt the pain of it. I can speak for my family and my church that there is a sense in which everyone realised we are all in this together and that we’re able to identify that there is a political rot at the centre of this that needs to be dealt with.”

When asked whether his current studies speak into the situation, Nathanael said he sees his work as “trying to find a way in which we can go beyond theological work that is restricted within the four walls of the church but can have implications for the existential challenges that we face in Sri Lanka.

“Such as, how do we exist as a minority community in this country and how do we find fresh avenues for peace, co-existence and human flourishing?”

Church impacting society

Nathanael’s PhD focuses on the human person from an eastern perspective, which has many implications for intra-religious dialogue – a pressing issue in Sri Lanka.

He sees the Church as having a “huge role” to play when it comes to impacting society and politics in his country.

“There have been instances where the Church has been that beacon of light and hope but also a prophetic voice and speaking truth to power. Different kinds of Christian traditions have been in the front lines of the protests asking for change. They have been saying that we care about the city of man as much as we are longing for the city of God.

Uk Scholars consultation 2022
Nathanael (third from the right, middle row) attended a consultation with other Scholars who are based in the UK back in March.

“The Church has always been keen and also very diligent about speaking truth to power and not pandering or trying to somehow use the political system in order to gain power or status.

‘God cares for this situation’

“Obviously there are different theologies of political engagement and therefore different expressions of how people have participated in this protest, in this resistance. The current President has stepped down after much struggle and resistance. It was only accomplished through the protest movement, not the opposition party, nothing political, nothing that came from within the political system.

“The Church has been part of that, part of that response. For instance, my church went out there as well, we had boards with Bible passages written on them, trying to testify to the unbelievers to show how much God is for justice and God is for the oppressed, the poor, the weak amongst us and that he cares for this situation.

“The Church in Sri Lanka, especially in this time and in the months and years to come, will be and can be the voice of hope as well, for recovery, for change. Because even though the President has changed over, there’s still lots of urgent challenges right now, and there’s a lot of pain, a lot of trauma and lots of other things and the Christian church has a lot of amazing resources to address those basic needs.”

The Langham Scholars programme supported over 80 Scholars between July 2020 and June 2021.

Please pray for stability

Langham supporters are asked to pray for the Sri Lankan parliament as they appoint an interim President and Prime Minister next week. Pray for political and economic stability, and for God’s miraculous provision so that people such as the poor in Sri Lanka will not have to starve.

Nathanael also asks us to pray that the Church in Sri Lanka will “continue being that conduit, that message of hope, that prophetic voice. That there will be a unity seen among churches, in this distress that we will not mirror the political system, but that we will be an alternative ideal for what leadership looks like, what community looks like, what love looks like, what care and love look like.

“In all these ways we have a unique opportunity to embody the God we serve.”

The Langham Scholars programme equips promising young leaders from the Majority World, like Nathan, who will return to their contexts to have an enormous impact in the Church and society at large.

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