A visitor to a native missionary’s modest church in a village in Sri Lanka would never guess that a 42-year-old mother of three, Nethmi*, had fought demonic forces to get in.
Sitting on rugs with the other members of the congregation, dressed in a worn-out, embroidered tunic, long skirt and a scarf covering her hair, Nethmi looked as common as anyone else in the building full of mostly barefoot worshippers. Just months before, she had appeared in the doorway for the first time – curious about how Protestants worship and not quite in her right mind.
She had been raised nominally Catholic, but the native missionaries who lead the church say she must have been possessed by an evil spirit on that day, because just as she stepped in and saw the congregation, she shouted that she couldn’t come inside and began to run back out.
This was no murmuring of second thoughts about deciding to come; she was shrieking. But before she could leave, she fell down for no apparent reason, the native ministry leader said.
“We who were praising God went over and prayed for her, with laying-on of hands and rebuking the evil spirit in the name of Jesus.”
“After that, we who were praising God went over and prayed for her, with laying-on of hands and rebuking the evil spirit in the name of Jesus,” he said. “After that, Satan went out. Afterwards she came to know the Lord Jesus as her personal savior.”
Her husband, along with their two daughters and son, also put their faith in Christ.
“Her husband told us that before she came to the church, most of the time she was getting angry with him and the children,” the leader said. “After her healing, Jesus gave happiness, peace and love to their family. Their family now joins us for most services now. Praise God for that.”
Church Planted by Faith
The church that helped usher the family into the kingdom grew out of an act of faith three years ago. In an area filled with so many drug dealers and addicts that police warned native missionaries not to go there, workers in 2016 went to proclaim Christ on the unpaved streets.
“There were cut-throat people there, thugs,” the leader said. “But we went there under the Lord’s hands, gathering in a muddy area to preach the Word of God. A few people gathered, and we taught them about Jesus.”
Most of those listening were from Buddhist and Hindu families who had never heard of Jesus, he said. When the area later suffered a major flood, no one came to their aid, and the government offered them only empty promises of help.
“We gave some non-perishable foods and lunch packets, and after that they saw the love of our Lord Jesus, they believed in Him as their personal Savior,” the leader said, adding that the church recently baptized 11 new believers.
Distributing tracts and sharing the gospel on the street, native missionaries find that most people in Sri Lanka are willing to listen and are even pleased to hear about Christ’s atoning sacrifice, though they may not put their trust in Him.
“Most people like to talk with us about Jesus – they know what the truth is,” the leader said.
Many believe only secretly in the face of strong family and societal opposition, he added.
“Many people are like Joseph of Arimathea, secretly believing God,” he said. “But not all come out in public. Yet some people are seeking God’s face, they like praying with us more and more.”
Love amid Poverty
While the rate of extreme poverty in Sri Lanka declined from 15.3 percent in 2006 to 4.1 percent in 2016 – among the lowest rates in the region – higher levels are found in pockets throughout the country, according to the non-profit Borgen Project. At the same time, nearly 45 percent of Sri Lankans live on less than $5 a day, and the country suffers from high rates of undernourishment, stunted growth and malnourishment, especially in children, the group says.
Overall 22.1 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is undernourished, according to the Borgen Project.
Though many people in the native ministry’s community are poor and hungry, the church primarily feeds them spiritually, he said. Those who have put their faith in Christ learn to seek God’s kingdom first and then see their needs met, the leader said.
“They are not asking for anything, only asking for prayer,” he said. “Most people are suffering with hunger. But most are coming to church and testify how God provided for their needs; they are testifying how God has provided for them. They are believing, seeking His face, praying. Most people emotionally need to study the Bible and pray to God.”
They also speak of their initial misperceptions about Christians, the church and the gospel, he said, as well as ongoing struggles to know what it means to be a child of God, to forgive and to love their enemies.
“Although a few people still will not forgive and forget – please pray for them – many others are now telling us, ‘We were wrong, now we know what it is to love each other,’” the director said. “The community is changing in this way day by day. For these things every praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Native missionaries like these are leading people to Christ throughout South Asia. Please consider a donation today to equip them to bring the transformational power of Christ to people in great darkness.
*Name changed for security reasons