Christmas 2008 to Christmas 2009 in Sri Lanka

Last Christmas, together with few friends, we prayed desperately, hoping a bloodbath would be avoided

This Christmas, we prayed and lit candles for the thousands killed and missing during the war, the ones who doesn’t have a grave as their family members had to run over the dead (and sometimes dyeing) bodies to save their own lives.

Last Christmas, we prayed for a stop to political killings, disappearances, forced recruitments, unjust arrests and torture. And for families of those detained, disappeared, killed.

This Christmas, we did the same.

Last Christmas, we prayed for easing of government restrictions on food, medicine, shelter and access for aid agencies to help the people affected by war.

This Christmas, we prayed for those injured & sick – as they were denied access to food and medicine and were also denied the opportunity to get help from those who wanted to help.

Last Christmas, there were prayers for a military victory during the Christmas mass I attended. Those displaced, detained, tortured, disappeared, killed and their families were forgotten.

This Christmas, God was thanked for the military victory during the Christmas mass I attended. Those displaced, detained, tortured, disappeared, killed and their families were again forgotten.

2009 was undoubtedly the most horrible and tragic year in my life. Not because the LTTE was defeated.

But because it was a year that many of my Tamil friends in North had family members killed, injured, starved, and displaced.

Because it was a year that hundreds of thousands of Tamils were detained behind barbed wires or in detention centres just for being Tamil.

Because it was a year that many Sri Lankans, many church leaders, many close friends, promoted, justified and supported a bloody war. And then celebrated and blessed a military victory and refused to even acknowledge & mourn for thousands killed, missing, injured, displaced and detained.

Because it was a year I had spent time visiting people detained behind the barbed wires, those in the hospitals, and towards the end of the year, those who were allowed to go back to what remained of their homes, paddy fields.

Because it was a year that I had to visit brave and committed colleagues and friends in prison and go to courts regularly whenever they were brought before courts.

Because it was a year friends and colleagues were abducted, killed, injured, ridiculed and called “traitors” / “terrorists”. These were people, who stood for justice, opposed war, spoke and wrote the truth on behalf of the oppressed. Amongst these those injured, went missing and died were priests who opted to remain in the war zone amidst shelling and accompany their people. Amongst these were also doctors who were detained and defamed for opting to stay & treat the sick and wounded in makeshift hospitals that were shelled repeatedly and for speaking the truth.

Because it was a year that a friend and colleague I had great admiration and became very attached had to spent his Christmas in prison. He had won praise and awards for his courage and commitment to witness the truth and stand up on behalf of the oppressed, as Jesus had done. But the cost was a long prison sentence for himself. And agony and distress for his wife, parents, family and friends.

Because it was a year many more such colleagues and friends fled Sri Lanka in fear of their lives. Because it is a year that ends with one friend wondering where to go, as his visa expires end of December, he doesn’t have visa for any other country, and he is fearful to come back to Sri Lanka.

Because it was a year that I felt a huge relief that they would be able to live without fear, each time we managed to send someone out of the country for safety. Because each time, I felt a tinge of sadness that they can’t live in their own country – our country – with dignity and without fear.

Because it was a year that I sighed with relief each time a friend or colleague was released on bail. Only to whether they would be safe…remembering those who had been released and then abducted or killed on their way home after being released from detention.

It was through these – the oppressed and those who resisted & struggled against oppression – friends and colleagues I knew and those I didn’t know – that I encountered Jesus in 2009.

2009 was also the year that for the first time, I myself fled the country, in fear of my life, and consider myself fortunate to be alive and relatively free as the year comes to an end.

I was amongst those who experienced Jesus through the love, care and support of few people in Sri Lanka and outside, in a way that I had not experienced before. Those who called, sent a text, emailed and asked how I was. Those who supported me during my time in exile, including the many who welcomed me and hosted me. Those who listened to my stories. Those who shared them with others. Those who appreciated the work I did. Those who critiqued what I was doing in a spirit of love. Those who cautioned me of risks, restrained me and pulled me back sometimes. Those who strengthened me in my faith and enriched me spiritually, through such depressing and hopeless situations. Those who joined me to be with nature and occasional joys & celebrations.

Thanks to them, I will look forward to a better 2010 in Sri Lanka. And I will count on their support and love.

Mary gave birth to Jesus as a refugee baby, amongst sheep and shepherds, as no one else offered a room and a roof, just like mothers from the war zone I encountered in Northern Sri Lanka this year.

Days after his birth as a refugee, Jesus’s parents had to evacuate him to a foreign land to protect him from being killed by the rulers of that time who felt threatened by his birth, just like many Sri Lankan parents I met this year, trying to hide their children from shelling, political killings, white van abductions, forced recruitment, arrest and torture.

May this same baby Jesus, “who pitched his tent amongst us (John 1:14)”, and who came to “bring good news to the poor & set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18)” bring peace with freedom and justice to all of us, especially to the displaced, those detained unjustly and families of those who had disappeared and killed.

  • wijayapala

    Last Christmas, together with few friends, we prayed desperately, hoping a bloodbath would be avoided

    Unfortunately, it looks like neither Jesus nor God were listening…

  • CO

    Why do not you pray LTTE to come back to save your lives

  • Sohan Bones

    to wijayapala:
    Unfortunately, it looks like neither Jesus nor God were listening…

    Well… my theory is a bit different:

    I suggest that Jesus, who is God, WAS and is indeed listening; and WAS and is Himself suffering equal and more anguish alongside all those who underwent the bloodbath (“whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren…”). It’s just that God doesn’t always choose to miraculously intervene against peoples’ “Free Will” (we can call it what we choose: Free Will or Nature or Natural Course of Events in the Universe; whatever). Instead, sometimes God chooses to use people to be instruments of answering prayers.

    Those people include all of us – and we are not “listening”.

    I think it was the general population of Sri Lanka who were “not listening”, and hence the prayer just seemed to be unheard. This applies to everyone, ranging from religious leaders to lay people. This includes clergy of my denomination, clergy of the author’s denomination, and many other Christian leaders (Bishop de Chickera, not of my denomination, is one of the few exception; another exception is a chap who is under arrest the last I heard of him). With all genuine respect and with no offense meant, I would also this “not listening” also applies to the clergy and lay people of the main religion of our country, who turned a blind eye to the moral and humane precepts of this religion, and are continuing do so, together with the majority of those of my religion.

    We all need to listen much more – and sometime we need to go and seek out information rather than expecting it to come to us while we have fun in Colombo – and we also need to concretely act upon it. Lack of all that is the cause of the horrific mess we are; it’s not because of God not listening.

    Sorry to digress, but I recall learning that there is a Hebrew word used often to say that the people LISTENED to God; and the same word is often used to say that the people OBEYED God. It’s interesting that at that time it seemed to automatically follow that people ACTED (obeyed) when the heard. Today, most if us either don’t listen, or we are foolishly fooled by wrong information, or we hear and accept the truth but don’t have the guts to or bother to act upon it.

  • Dhiraj

    It still amazes me that in this day and age, people stick to superstition and religious dogma. There is no God – we got a tsunami last Christmas in which more than 300 000 people from the region died. This Christmas at least the LTTE is dead and gone and there are no bombs going off left and right killing innocent people. Those who supported the war have been vindicated a hundred times over. Else the LTTE would still be around and bombs on buses, trains and public places will still be going on. Sohan talks of free will, but if we have free will then “God” is neither all knowing or all powerful. It is time to put these myths and fairytales where they belong – in the dustbin – and concentrate on rationalism and science. And please let us not forget, some sections of the church especially in the north were in bed with the LTTE. That is hardly Christian is it?

  • Heshan

    If you accept that death is a natural process, then in one sense, death cannot be considered as good or bad, but is simply what must occur, regardless of the “why.” In this regard, the manner of death becomes irrelevant, and all attempts to link death with “God” end up as futile.

  • Atheist

    Veritas,

    I’m pretty sure that, after reading your heart wrenching account, most of the GV readers, who part took in Christmas dinner, threw-up to absolve themselves of their sins. Of course you and the other “Lankan exiles” wouldn’t have touched Christmas pudding, turkey, eggnog, wine and Christmas cake. You should send in this piece next year, way before Christmas. That way, people have plenty of warning not to partake in any Christmas celebration.

    The message of Jesus – the compassionate human being, who took the side of the marginalized, like Mary Magdalene – is now hijacked by false prophets who only speak on behalf of a selected few.

    Your write-up is also good for the Vesak Day celebrations. Substitute some passages from the Dhammapada and use a Sinhala Buddhist pen-name, and away you go to carry on your good work!

    Veritas, where is the gravitas?

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Dear Veritas,

    “2009 was undoubtedly the most horrible and tragic year in my life. Not because the LTTE was defeated.
    But because it was a year that many of my Tamil friends in North had family members killed, injured, starved, and displaced.”

    It appears that it’s you who has forgotten the 30 year precursor to this war’s tragic end. What about the 70,000 killed before that? What about the child soldiers, dead suicide bombers, their victims, soldiers, civilians shelled by the army and the innumerable number of others dead, traumatized or wounded? What about the people in the Vanni living under a despot? What about the corrosive effect on society and desensitization to violence? Did you shed tears each Christmas for those also?

    No one’s forgotten anything. Most people are just glad the worst of the violence is over. I’d never have objections to a fair critique. But this one-sided nonsense? It’s sad to see people pushing political agendas using human tragedies.

  • Nietzsche’s ghost

    Dear Veritas,

    Thank you for presenting a superb example of what I meant by ‘Slave Morality’…hehehehe!

  • London Dole

    Dear Veritas,

    When we were scrambling to send gifts to orphanages back in Sri-Lanka, just in time for Christmas, what were you doing? Are you also using the Church (the way some Lankans did) to get asylum in UK? If you are in the UK, please don’t come knocking on our doors to curry favour with the local politicians and community activists in order to seek asylum. We have helped many of your kind who came to us with stories of persecution by the Lankan government for standing up for human rights. This ruse is not going to work anymore. The Church is not at your disposal. Now you cannot paint us a benign picture of the LTTE as you did before by comparing them to the ANC. As for the LTTE, it is gone, gone, gone – a gonner.