From Columbus to Colombo, Part 2
By Adrian Powell
The world has been in a state of upheaval from the onset of the pandemic. In some parts of the world, COVID-19 was yet another strain among the challenges of daily life. In Sri Lanka, those who both preach the gospel and accept it must deal with hardship, persecution, threats of harm, and more. These challenges are often far from the minds of most American believers. We continue with our exploration of the Church of God in Sri Lanka through an interview featuring missionary Steven Beverly, who along with his wife Peggy serve this part of the world. May the following interview be both informative and a prompt to pray.
Adrian: The receptiveness of local people to the message is tied up in you, but the work of the Spirit has more influence in opening hearts and minds to the message that is “foolishness” to the lost, yet overwhelming in power to truly change lives. How does the religious makeup of the population of Sri Lanka help or hinder evangelism?
Steven: Sri Lanka can be difficult to understand for Westerners. Sri Lanka is a very religious country. Whether one is Buddhist (78 percent of the population), Hindu (18 percent) or Christian (1 percent), religion determines not just what building you worship in, but often where you work, what you wear, who you interact with, what you eat, and how you relate to the rest of the population. For many reasons, religious persecution is a way of life in Sri Lanka. One of the challenges of the gospel message for Christians is that Buddhism, at its core, does not believe in or teach that there is a God or that sin therefore separates humanity from God. For Hindus, who believe in many gods, and are far more concerned with what the gods can do for them, adding Christ to their list of gods is not so difficult a stretch. But to say that there is only one God presents a challenge to the Hindu followers.
Sri Lanka is a country in survival mode. It was that way in 2015, six years after the devastating 30-year civil war ended, four years before the Easter bombings of 2019, and six years before COVID ripped apart the remaining shreds of the economy. People are suffering and looking for hope. This has been one Christianity’s greatest access points to Sri Lankan religious culture. Neither Buddhism nor Hinduism provide hope, either in this present life or the life that follows. The other access point is the Christian lifestyle. When we say that your religions determine your lifestyle, what that means is that Christians (who have adopted the culture of the kingdom of God) live very differently from their village neighbors who are Hindu or Buddhist. And it gets noticed.
Adrian: What are the political issues that you have to maneuver to keep outreach from being affected by the local problems? Are there hardships that you have to deal with from the perspective of not having a cooperative bureaucracy, or is it simply government difficulties?
Steven: First, let me say there is systemic persecution that Christians face every day in Sri Lanka. If they rent a home and become Christians, they may be evicted by their Buddhist or Hindu landlords. If a parent becomes a Christian, children are often no longer promoted in school. But you need to understand two things. Education is very important to Sri Lankans, often to the point of parents taking out loans to pay for their child’s education.
The other thing is, the education system is set up so that if you fail the test to move to the next level, you don’t get to take it again—ever. That’s it. So, for a parent to become a Christian, they often have to accept that their children will never receive a full education. There are other issues Christians face in what is often called “jungle law” in Sri Lanka. When a Christian dies in a village of Hindus, they are not permitted to be buried in the cemetery. One of the first questions new Christians ask is, Where can I be buried? There are many more examples we could cite. A church we were building a few years ago was visited by the police of the village. The forced us to stop building the church.
Adrian: In another area, how has your support been for this year? Do you have sufficient income to meet your budget?
Steven: In 2019, we ended our first term and began our home assignment (furlough, which is a time when missionaries are supposed to recoup from the pressures of the field and also recover and shore up any missions support funding); we had lost 40 percent of our funding. We spent seven months on the road preaching and teaching in churches across the country and Canada. It was a grueling 15,000 miles, plus itineration. But it was only through God’s providence that we were able to rebuild our support and return to the field that fall fully funded.
As we saw the writing on the wall with the pandemic, we began to tighten our belts and reduce our budget in anticipation of reduced giving as people were losing their jobs across the US. To our amazement, we received letters and emails from people saying that they knew things would be difficult for us and wanted to increase their giving. We have been utterly amazed at how God has supplied our needs during this difficult time for everyone.
Adrian: How is Sister Peggy and what things does she have to deal with in the way of non-egalitarian treatment issues, if any, in her work?
Steven: Ah, life in Sri Lanka is difficult for Western females. Sri Lanka is definitely a male-dominated society. Peggy is the only female serving on the leadership team of the Church of God in Sri Lanka. When we travel outstation, she is usually the only female with us on these trips. She has shared often how the men will speak to me or look to me, even if she asks a question. At first, I was unaware of how this was affecting her. But when she called my attention to it, I saw it for myself.
On a positive note, several young Christians couples have remarked about how refreshing it is to see us minister as a couple. They had not considered the possibility that they could minister together.
Adrian: Are there any other programs or issues that you would like to bring to light to the North American church?
Steven: Our push is not for our missions support, but for the raising of funds for our latest project: Celebrating 3 Decades Building 3 Churches. 2021 is the 30th anniversary of the Church of God in Sri Lanka. This year, we are not only faced with catastrophic pandemic, but with the political repercussions the 2019 Easter bombings. A special unit of the police has been interrogating our pastors about their prayer cells (home churches). These gatherings are suspect in the eyes of the government. For this reason, we want to build three churches to prove some measure of legitimacy in the eyes of the government for three of our pastors.
We are estimating the cost of the three churches to be $120,000 (US). We are promoting this as 120 shares of $1,000. God is blessing us in this campaign as well. We introduced this to the church in February this year, and in three months we have received 49 shares ($49,000) toward this project. We still have a long way to go to reach the 120 shares, but we are confident in God’s ability to do far more than we can imagine.
Adrian: Thank you so much for taking time to answer these questions, and we are praying for your continued success in ministry there!
To learn more about Steven and Peggy Beverly, and to discover opportunities for support, visit www.chogglobal.org/team/spbeverly/. To give to the “3 Decades 3 Churches” project, visit www.chogglobal.org/mission-projects/projects-asia-pacific/3decades3churches/. To read Part 1 of this series on Sri Lanka, based on Adrian Powell’s interview with the Beverlys, click here.
Adrian Powell is an associate editor with Church of God Ministries and serves as senior pastor of Faith Community Church of God in Grove City, Ohio. He has been published in numerous periodicals, newspapers, and blogs, and has authored two books—The Jubilee Harvest and Resident Aliens: A Living Faith in a Hostile World, available at Amazon.com.
Feature (top) file photo: Fishing is an important industry in Sri Lanka.