The next tsunami coming to Sri Lanka will be a religious one
by Christian Eckert, The Lanka Academic, May 22, 2005
Hamburg, Germany -- While traveling through Serendib, the island that was once quite rightly compared with paradise on earth, the now Tsunami shattered Sri Lanka is crossing a great gap of grief.
Few Weeks ago my colleague Laith Ganhewa and myself were almost equally shattered, towards the end of our three week trip to Sri Lanka, as we came upon the more or less disguised, in parts also massive and direct attempts of Christian fundamentalist groups in converting mostly native Srilankan Buddhists and Hindu tsunami victims they claimed to rush to selfless aid into reborn Christians.
I have been coming to Sri Lanka regularly for the past 25 years. My respect for the culture of this nation is great, as I have always felt greatly welcomed by its friendly people. I found it easy to move around with Sri Lankans of different ethnic groups and beliefs, as I in return easily accepted the "Sri Lankan way of doing things".
Through the years I visited, it was always my observation that although there were different religious groups, they all lived in harmony.
But this time it was totally different story. I felt sorry, angry and helpless when I got to know about this. What more has this country got to go through?
I was a Tsunami victim in Sri Lanka caught up at the Light House in Galle on the 26th of December. I witnessed agony, pain, the sheer tragedy of the Sri Lankans who were victims of the Great Wave with my very own eyes. But what touched my heart most was, with all their personal tragedies, they still reached out to help ? me, a disorientated, ragged and ripped, half naked foreigner. Something I'll never forget. This is the true kind of hospitality that makes Sri Lankan culture so very unique to the world.
After walking for four days from Galle to Colombo, I landed at the German Embassy. Hats off for the German Embassy staff! They did everything humanly possible to get us Germans back home as soon as they could manage. Returning back to Germany, I was determined to return to Sri Lanka to help - as soon as possible. To give help to the country that helped me in the hour of my need. It was in this context of Tsunami Aid for Sri Lanka in Germany, that I bounced in to a small man, yes, disabled, but active like a red ant-his name: Lalith Ganhewa.
Lalith, is a Sri Lankan born journalist, living and working in Germany for the past 30 years as a producer, broadcaster and as a journalist. He is soft-spoken, but clear and straight - the voice of Sri Lanka; sometimes getting very critical and loud when he goes on air lending his voice to the listeners of the Germany public broadcasting station Radio Multikulti.
Together with another Tsunami victim who was in Sri Lanka at that time, and few others we formed a foundation to help Sri Lanka.
Due to the partly chaotic situation, the difficulty of getting objective and question less information from the affected areas, Lalith and I decided to go ourselves - to check who is who and who needs to be helped.
It was during these travels around the island - all in all 3480 kilometers in 20 days, checking into 18 different projects, collecting first hand information on sight, of Help Projects 100% managed by natives; from childcare to environmental projects; from Tsunami camps in the south to the camps in the North East. We more or less stumbled upon these above-mentioned accusations.
It was our driver, B. who asked us, whether we would know of a NGO group named "Scientology".
We both looked at each other, surprised. We knew: there are some famous Hollywood movie stars who follow this strictly money-orientated "belief". We also knew that for instance that Scientology is banned in Germany as a sect. By German law they cannot have Bank accounts, rent houses, or engage in public work. German companies can sack employers if they are found to be Scientologists. The German Central Intelligence Service is allowed by Law to monitor and screen each and every activity of Scientologists on German soil. And some say, they do it elsewhere, too.... So we know: Scientology means trouble.
And our driver, B., says "There are these guys and girls, the later even dressed in yellow Saris, all of them Americans, well dressed, who came into my village and asked for Tsunami-Widows ... To re-marry them. And many were happy so they may leave to USA for a better life".
Of course, I asked myself - but why a poor widow?
It was Lalith, who saw through their hidden intention. He explained to me; by marrying a Sri Lankan widow, they are eligible to stay in Sri Lanka with a resident visa. This gives them the legal freedom to build up their sinister operations from a private house, with out getting exposed to the public.
Similar things happened, when Scientology stepped in to Germany. Marriage brought them German citizenship. They cannot be expelled easily. The German Govt.. had a tough time with them fighting legal battles to finally ban them.
We thought it strange and just one more of the obnoxious schemes we ran across on the search for the "clean" projects we want to help. That is a totally different story, though. We later met Mr. D.S. a well-known businessman in the south, his reputation flawless. He has been helping his people, effective and fast. And he too, told us about this temporary housing area, where the Baptist Church of Omaha is ruling a strange region. He took us to a Tsunami Camp where we met a young woman, who had lost her beloved sewing machine in the tsunami. For her it was the income source for her family. The young woman was approached by members of this obscure church. She was told to attend services and masses for one week and pray to the Lord to give her a sewing machine.
A week later, after she had attended the services, she got a brand new sewing machine, worth 25,000Rs (US$250).She was told, that other needy things, too, could appear in that way, if she would keep up attending the Christian masses and bible reading hours. This reminds one of the Steven King Bestseller "Needful things - in a small town", doesn't it? And: it?s a deeply immoral way, of gathering "sheep" for the Christian Church.
D.S. sent us to a Buddhist Monk, living in Galle. He had more stories about these un-ethical conversions. We paid him a visit in the Buddhist Temple. He showed us pamphlets, by the Christian group "The sword of the lord", from Tennessee USA printed in Singhalese and Tamil and English.
The pamphlet claimed that the people would be better off, if they would give up Buddha, who is constantly alliterated as a reincarnation of the Satan himself. He collected the leaflets from four different Tsunami camps he used to visit to bless the Buddhist Tsunami victims in these camps by chanting Pirith the traditional religious chanting performed in Buddhist homes and religious functions.
The monk said the Christian group who was in charge of these camps to do "humanitarian work" complained to the police about his presence and the way he publicly defended Buddha in his preaching in the Camps. - the Sri Lankan Police in return warned him and now he is no longer allowed to visit those camps due to an order. Strange world, isn?t it?.
It seemed to me that Sri Lankan Human Rights organizations and foreign Conflict Management Organization who cry loud in regular intervals of human rights violations and fundamental right abuses seems to be deaf, dumb, dead silent ? and most certainly - absolutely inactive on this issue.
On the way back, we noticed some posters - in Singhalese - pasted everywhere in between Hikkaduwa and Galle: "Stop the religious Tsunami? they read. Underneath, we found smaller posters of the Scientologists inviting to ?readings" in certain private houses in Galle.
In another camp, a man in his 30s, with two kids told us, that a foreign aid group was registering?T-victims? for new houses. When the man wanted to register for a house, they told him to bring proof that he was from the area ? and a victim. They told him the easiest and the quickest way would be to get an affidavit from a native Christian father. When the man went there, the Christian priest told him point blank that he does not know him at all, but if he could come to church everyday at least for the next two months or so, then he would be willing to issue a letter. The man gave a second thought and stayed in the camp with his two children.
We also had a chance to talk to a man from Mirissa directly under pressure from Christian fundamentalists. Mr. CT lost his wife in the Tsunami. He has a child of five years. Christian groups visited the camp he stayed in and distributed gift packages along with a native Christian priest several times.
Later he was asked to visit the house of the native Christian priest where prayer meetings and Bible readings were held. To each meeting there have been about eight families, he says. At the end of these meetings one was given money and gifts. CT took the gifts and the money as he needed them. Later CT came to know to that the Christian Priest who?s in charge for the "sheep"-gathering was a former Buddhist monk. Let?s call him "Sunil".
Sunil has been successful converting 32 families from Mirissa who followed the call of the Christian?s god. Whose followers find it necessary to trick people into their belief. According to CT - the organization in charged of these gift packages is the Ingo World Vision, a well acclaimed NGO in the western world?s consciousness.
CT confessed to us that his inner conscience did not allow him to attend the prayer meetings further and when he stopped going to Sunil's house, first his followers nagged him to attend the meetings and later put pressure on him demanding to return all gifts and money given to him. Now CT stays in a Buddhist Temple far away from Mirissa, because he couldn?t cope the pressure by Christian fundamentalists, who threatened to beat him and his child.
Even in the North East , behind Tiger lines, I saw a number of a abandoned Hindu temples - and very large gatherings of open air Christian masses.
Later that trip, back in Colombo, we were invited to a meeting to tell our experiences to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Mrs. Asma Jahangir, was at that time on an invitation by the Government of Sri Lanka. Lalith and I told what we saw in front of the committee and what we had spoken about with our witnesses. We refused to give the identity of our informants, as I will not do so in this article. Simply for the reason, that we are not convinced that the "state" of Sri Lanka ever was - nor still is - capable of protecting a witnesses; or even had measures to protect people, when this would be needed.
The Special rapporteuir thanked us for our efforts - and for our report. And when Mrs. Asma Jahangir left the isle after traveling around for a week, she acclaimed (in short):" Don?t you worry ībout a thing, the people stick to their belief - if they really believe; and after all, they?re helping, bringing money into the country."
She may even be right, you know. Yes it?s true, strong Buddhists will not desert their belief - ever. But Mrs. Jahangir forgets that not all people in Sri Lanka are as strong as she may think these days.
In fact most people we met, were the affected ones, full of worries, badly in need of help in every way, mentally down and out. And that?s exactly where those missionary converters grab their catch - and obviously succeed. And it?s not fair to think of these people, them being victims - again, as weak believers.
The temptations put in front of them, they?re just too big, larger than the life they have to lead - against the background of the utter catastrophe and social as well as moral destruction that has been brought unto this land by the Tsunami.
I was surprised about the comment of Mrs. Jahangir I later read in a newspaper, I think it was ?The Island". Being a UNHR rapporteuir, she seems to have totally over looked the states of the victims and the environment in which such conversations are taking place in. Further I wonder how she managed to come to such a conclusion in such a short visit, when it took us so long to gather first hand information. In Most cases witnesses told us of their experiences but were afraid to speak about these experiences on camera.
It should be mentioned that if the UN Commission was serious to find out facts, in my opinion they should have first appointed an independent secretive commission to probe whether unethical conversions take place in Sri Lanka rather than sending Mrs. Jahangir first, like the Santa Claus dashing through the snow riding the snow sledge ringing jingle bells.
On the other hand it is high time the leading Buddhist monasteries and organizations leave aside their often narrow minded differences and Ego trips to join forces in the one unifying task: to protect Buddhism. Not with aggressive or violent acts but in deeds in harmony.
Showing why Buddhist have no reason at all to desert their belief. It is also high time the Buddhist monks stepped out of their comfortable temple homes and visit the poor villagers in their dwellings and not wait until they come to the temple. It is high time that the often-rich Buddhist monasteries spend their wealth to uplift the living standards of the very poor. In order to succeed, the rich Buddhists must quickly close this poverty vacuum of the poor Buddhists, which has become the play- and breeding ground of fundamental Christian groups; and as we must remember, they?re only visiting Sri Lanka.
If not, if they stay and keep on doing what they?re doing, I predict that in a few years the Buddhism will only exist in form of a weak minority in Sri Lanka. The same applies to the Hindus of Sri Lanka. And sooner or later, the Muslims. An exaggeration? Well, now Christian South Korea used to be a Buddhist country, too - only three generations ago...
I find the religious conversion acts performed by the fundamental Christian groups in Sri Lanka are most disgusting, humiliating and disrespectful to humanity, to Sri Lankans and their heritage. I am sure neither the Christian?s Godfather, the Son, nor the Holy Ghost nor Jesus nor the Pope would have nor will approve of such unmoral acts.
Since I?m back, I keep asking myself: isn?t Sri Lanka strong enough anymore, to get rid of these so-called aid groups who have a different agenda on the back of their minds?
Sri Lanka is a nation with a written history of 2500 years. Its rich culture is built on the Buddhist philosophy. This Buddhist culture is the backbone of Sri Lanka. Every Sri Lankan living in Sri Lanka should realize, that letting someone foreign destroy its native Buddhism means destruction to Sri Lanka itself.