A Good Wilderness seeks to help Lutherans and other Christians cultivate faithful community and learn how to live in lonely places. One of the ways we can do this is by hearing from other Christians who own businesses, write and publish, or share life experiences that can give us insights, encouragement, and hope. You can find these interviews here at “Over My Neighbor’s Fence.”
On Easter Sunday morning, we awoke to the news that churches had been bombed in Sri Lanka.
We were horrified. Faithful Christians had been maimed and slaughtered as they celebrated our Lord’s resurrection. And we also feared for our good friends, Edward and Monica and their children, who live in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where Edward is a missionary. Over the next days, they communicated with family and friends about their experiences, and I asked Monica to share them here. Below is a lightly edited email interview.
Give us a brief description of who you are and why you’re in Sri Lanka.
My husband, Rev. Dr. Edward Naumann, is a called Theological Educator of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. In this capacity he has been teaching seminary courses, managing a small publishing house, and mentoring some colloquy students, among many other things. I get to stay at home and care for our six children. Formerly, I spent eight years working as a Family Nurse Practitioner in charity clinics around the United States.
What was your experience on Easter Sunday?
Our home congregation in Sri Lanka is about a twenty minute drive from our home across the city of Colombo. However, this Easter my husband wanted to visit a pastor he is currently colloquizing or mentoring, Father Ariarathane. Father Ariarathane’s congregation is in a small Sinhalese (the term for the majority population of native Sri Lankans) village about a 2.5 hours’ drive from Colombo.
We left at approximately 6:45am to start our drive to the village. We arrived with a few minutes to spare and were offered tea by our gracious hosts. People started filing in slowly as the service began. Eventually the church was full as Edward began his sermon which was translated into Sinhala. I distinctly remember Edward preaching about the persecution the church would face, which I presumed was referring to persecution from the Buddhists. (Christians are approximately 7% of the Sri Lankan population, while Buddhists are 70%.) Following the sermon, there were three infant baptisms. This is remarkable because previously the congregation had done infant dedications only. There was no font, so baptisms took place in a small inflatable, plastic pool outside. Edward was honored to baptize two babies, speaking the words in Sinhala.
As the service ended, we were ushered back to the pastor’s home directly next to the church. We were served a traditional Sri Lankan lunch: rice, chicken curry, lentils, and several vegetable side dishes. Edward caught my eye over lunch and said he didn’t know if we could return to Colombo. He had received a text during the service which notified him of the explosions that happened at several churches and hotels in Colombo. We spent the next hour deciding whether we should risk going back to Colombo, or simply stay at a hotel near the village. We were completely unprepared to spend the night anywhere, so eventually we decided to risk the drive back.
As we drove back, we received two phone calls from another pastor in Colombo notifying us of two additional explosions that happened, one close to our church, and one close to our home. Still we pressed on. Along the way, we had to drive through Negombo, a city just north of Colombo where a church bombing occurred. On the main road is a hospital where many of the victims were taken. Military guards and a crowd of people had gathered outside. Yet all the roads remained opened. By the grace of God, we arrived safely at home by the late afternoon.
What’s been the most scary aspect of your experience? And what’s been the most hopeful?
Never have I personally felt targeted in such a direct manner. The places attacked in Sri Lanka were Christian and/or places for foreigners; I am both. (“Foreigner” is a commonly used term in Sri Lanka identifying anyone not native to Sri Lanka. Foreigners are very often singled out and treated differently, both for good and for bad.) The hotels attacked in Colombo are places our family has been. Two of the three hotels that were bombed are places we have been in the past two months. In fact, we were in one of the bombed hotels having brunch just the week before on Palm Sunday. That’s scary for me to think about–how easy it would have been for us to have been victims.
At the time of this writing, many arrests have been made and blame has been placed on an Islamic terrorist group. While the threat has not been eliminated and life has not returned back to normal–for instance, our children haven’t returned to their school, which has been closed temporarily–I have hope that it will eventually. This is our home now, and we pray for stability.
What kind of response did you get from family, friends, and supporters in the US and elsewhere?
The response has been remarkable. Shortly after the attacks, the government shut down Facebook and WhatsApp. But even before the social media shut down, I received many messages asking if we were okay, some from people I have not heard from in years! I have received many messages since then, but have not been able to read them because the messages are blocked. Several people have reached out via email and text. It’s been overwhelming to receive so much concern and support.
How has this experience made you reflect upon your expat/missionary life? What do you want people who care about their Christian brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka to know?
In many ways, I feel guilty for all the attention and concern we have received, since our lives and health have been spared. All we have faced are minor inconveniences, which pale in comparison to the heart wrenching losses some of our brothers and sisters in Christ experienced and are facing. It will take a long time for Christians here to grieve and learn to live with this tragedy and what it might portend.
How can people support you and your ministry, other missionaries in Sri Lanka, or those suffering after the bombings?
I ask for people’s prayers for the courage of Sri Lankan Christians. Many people (Christians and non-Christians) are living in fear now of further attacks. Many churches have cancelled their Sunday services three days in advance. But this is precisely the time when we must show courage to attend corporate worship and demonstrate forgiveness and love for our enemies. Sri Lankan Christians have been given a tremendous platform at the moment; the world is paying attention to a small minority group in an obscure country. This is an amazing opportunity to share the Gospel message of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. So Sri Lankan Christians must act with courage and love while the world is watching. Rarely is there such a poignant time as this, that Christians can act their faith rather than just speak their faith.