Mission, Dialogue, Conversion: The Case of Sri Lanka

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2008 »Volume 45 2008 Number 4 »Mission Dialogue Conversion The Case Of Sri Lanka

Indunil Janaka Kodithuwakku

Indunil Janaka KODITHUWAKKU of the diocese of Badulla, Sri Lanka holds a BA (Hons) in Sociology from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and also Licentiate and Doctorate in Missiology from the Pontifical Urban University, Rome. He is presently a visiting lecturer at the Pontifical Urban University Rome.

At the heart of Christianity is the "Gospel," which derives from the Greek euangelion (good tidings, good news), and its proclamation is called evangelization or evangelism. Jesus is the first missionary of the Gospel. In other words, he was revealing the missio Dei. "God, the triune God, was seen to be the initiator, missionary, and fulfiller of Mission."1 Thus, God’s mission in this world is a God-sized, complex reality, too gigantic for the human person to grasp fully. Nevertheless, there is an open invitation from God to human beings to participate in the missio Dei. Accordingly, "The way of themissio Jesu is also the way of the missio hominum."2 The core message of Jesus was the Reign of God. "Everything Jesus said and did was said and done in the light of the Kingdom of God that was coming with him and through him."3 Thus, when one becomes a Christian through baptism, one is called automatically to mission. Therefore, missio hominum consists of participating in the life of the Triune God and thereby in the life of humanity. Thus, a Christian, a person chosen by God, is "holy, consecrated, set apart." But this happens for a specific purpose: to "be sent out" (Mk 3:13-15), to engage actively in God’s mission, to become a co-worker with God for the salvation-transformation of the world into God’s final design.4 Furthermore, the complex reality of mission can roughly be unravelled into six operative elements: 1) witness and proclamation; 2) liturgy, prayer, and contemplation; 3) justice, peace, and the integrity of creation; 4) dialogue with women and men of other faiths and ideologies; 5) inculturation; and 6) reconciliation.5

Moreover, if God is the very origo et fons of mission, the origin and constant source of its power, then naturally mission will go on until the final epiphany of the Reign of God with the second coming of Jesus.6 It is true that Christians will not build up the Reign of God through human hands. Yet, they are invited to set up signs of its coming. A Christian shoulders this conviction: in mission, one "builds" the Reign of God.

Nevertheless, mission takes place in time and space. Today, there is stiff resistance and animosity to Christian mission. In the minds of the followers of other faiths, the concepts mission-conversion-baptism have become like a red cape to the bull. It is no exaggeration to say that their hostile and suspicious attitudes are to a certain extent shaped by bitter historical experiences and prejudices. The historical deviation of mission during the colonial era from building up the Reign of God to building earthly kingdoms and empires tarnished its sacred duty. Since such moves are contrary to the missio Dei, purification of the historical memories may lead to reconciliation. There is, however, another side to the coin. It is a historical fallacy to conclude solely that "baptism and membership came to assume spatial and geopolitical proportions."7 It is a fact that sometimes mission-conversion-baptism led converts to get absorbed into an alien way of life. Yet, it is also true that some missionaries not only contributed to the nourishment of the local cultures8 but also shed their sweat and blood to serve and emancipate, especially the downtrodden and uncared-for of society. I would like to speak of five points, which may contribute to the local church’s search for missiological answers to the conversion debate in Asia/Sri Lanka.

I. Urgency of Healing and Radical Inculturation

a. Urgent need to seek healing for the sins of the past

The bitter colonial memories are still raw in the minds of the believers of other religions, especially among Buddhists in Sri Lanka.9 Often, Christian responses tend either to negate such charges or to gloss over the problem altogether. This work reiterates that the local church ought to seek reconciliation and healing after a thorough historical analysis. The very mission of the Church binds her to tread the path of reconciliation. "Let us ask pardon for the division which has occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and the distrustful and hostile attitude sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions."10 Thus, reconciliation—to heal collective memories, to build bridges, and to establish happy and collaborative rapport—is the way out of this labyrinth.

b. Urgent need for radical inculturation of the gospel message and ecclesial structures

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka accepts that "Christ in Sri Lanka came in a foreign garb. Hence, inculturation is becoming part of the missionary mandate for us."11 Actually, this is not divorced from the reconciliation mentioned above. Besides, the conversion controversy comes into being here. Does mission-conversion-baptism still uproot a people’s historical identity and replace it with an alien one? How do we reconcile belonging to Sinhala Buddhist/Tamil Hindu culture and belonging to the Church? How can one be an authentic Sri Lankan and a Christian at the same time? Is the convert now at home with the existing Church culture? Why do some see the Church as European and foreign, even after 60 years of independence? Are they mere malicious allegations of the enemies of the Church or do they, in some way, correspond to the reality? Thus, as the Sri Lankan Catholic Church observes, radical inculturation needs to go beyond sheer external icing. The conversion debate provides the opportunity for Christians for soul-searching. The debate invites Christians to take stock of the way in which they have been carrying out the missio Dei in establishing the Reign of God. The missio Jesu lays down the foundation for the inculturation of the Church. The Christological foundation—incarnation, paschal mystery, ascension into glory, and recapitulation of all things in Christ—serves the local church to be fully at home. In the incarnation of the eternal Word, the Son of God assumed a particular culture in a particular society. The historical Jesus had a preferential solidarity with the lost: the poor, the marginalized, and the sinners. Notwithstanding this, he embraced Jewish culture, wielded a prophetic critique of all cultural perversions, and called the people to conversion and to a new culture of love. As Ecclesia in Asia and the First Asian Mission Congress highlighted, the local church, like Jesus, needs to adopt "narrative theology"—folk wisdom, parables, riddles, stories, etc.—to retell the story of Jesus to Sri Lankans. Thus, it is indispensable for the local church to assume its cultures with an eye to communicate the good news of salvation.

The incarnation leads to the paschal mystery. Sri Lankan society, including the Church, is ethnically and religiously divided and marred by violence and injustice. It is really in need of liberation. Jesus assumed our distorted human nature in order to save it and raise it to its original status. The mission of the Church is thus to follow the same path of the Master. "Societal cultures, the ones that transmit the ecclesial faith as well as those that receive it, need to die to all that is sinful and unworthy of humanity, to their limited vision and anti-values and rise to the full stature of humanity modelled after Christ."12 Moreover, the homogeneous Catholic identity of the colonial era is today split along ethnic lines. Sinhala and Tamil Catholics see themselves first as Sinhala and Tamils and only secondly do they identify themselves as Catholics. Even though the incarnate Word assumed a particular culture, the Risen Lord becomes transcultural, and thereby he is not tied to one culture, place, or time. Likewise, the process of incarnation of the local church must not be bogged down in local conflicts. Instead, it ought to lead the people to a new, risen, exalted status of life where, as originally, everyone is a brother or a sister. The vision of harmony of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences sheds much light on this. In fact, Christ’s ascension into glory paves the path for the realization of a new creation, a new glorified existence. Since the movement toward the new creation and new humanity is common to all religions and ideologies, the Church needs to collaborate with the converging aspects of this journey. The Church’s eschatological hope, namely, the recapitulation of all things in Christ, motivates the Church to cooperate with people of other beliefs in transforming and liberating the world.Therefore, "indigenization of clerical dress or church architecture or music will not suffice. The very heart of a culture needs to be embraced and transformed by the Gospel."13Accordingly, due to radical inculturation, "conversion to Christ does not isolate the convert from his or her community: it brings the conversion of that community."14 Moreover, radical inculturation will resolve the problem where Jesus and Christianity are still seen as foreign. As John Prior notes, a radically inculturated Church will not any longer be "a banana Church or a coconut church—yellow/brown (Asian) outside yet remaining white (foreign) on the inside. We work towards a ‘mango Church’—yellow (Asian) through and through."15 Thus, this process of rediscovering and re-identifying with the "Asian/Sri Lankan roots of Christianity" will bring about "genuine Christian communities in Asia—Asian in their way of thinking, praying, living, communicating their own Christ-like experiences to others. … If Asian Churches do not discover their own identity, they will have no future."16 The search for roots leads the Church to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

II. Urgency of Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue

The theology of conversion for Christian mission in Sri Lanka ought to pay attention to the ecumenical as well as interreligious dialogues. The motto of mission in Asia ought to be, "not without my brother and sister." In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that ecumenical dialogue is related to interreligious dialogue. The conflicting understandings of conversion among different Christian churches and ecclesial groups affect not only ecumenical dialogue but also interreligious dialogue. Therefore, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has to pay attention to this dual dialogue.

It seems that the local Catholic church does not make a distinction between New Religious Movements (NRMs) and sects and ecclesial communities. As the 1993 Directory of Ecumenism (DE), §17, notes, "when Catholics use the words ‘Churches,’ ‘other Churches,’ and ‘ecclesial Communities,’ etc., [they] refer to those who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church." It is true that the proliferation of Christian groups poses not only a serious pastoral challenge but also an obstacle for the search of Christian unity. Nevertheless, there exists between the Catholic Church, Churches, and ecclesial Communities a real though incomplete communion founded on common baptism (Cf.Unitatis Redintegratio, §3). In Sri Lanka, there exist the National Christian Evangelical Alliance and other Pentecostal communities. Yet, the Catholic Church has no official dialogue with these ecclesial communities. The simple reason is that some Christian groups are not only hostile and disrespectful towards the Catholic Church but their methods of evangelization also aim at winning Catholics to their groups. As the 1984-86 study on sects and NRMs notes, "we must not allow any preoccupation with sects to diminish our zeal for ecumenism among all Christians."17 At the universal level, there is ecumenical dialogue among the Catholic Church (The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), the World Evangelical Alliance, and classic Pentecostal Churches. Thus, it is vital for the local Catholic church to make a distinction between sects and NRMs on the one hand, and the Churches and ecclesial Communities on the other. Therefore, the conversion controversy has widened and distanced Christian unity. On the eve of Jesus’ passion, the burden of disunity and division among his disciples pierced and tore his heart. "May they be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me" (Jn, 17, 21). Seen this way, the disunity among Christians is perhaps the greatest counter-testimony to the message of the Gospel. However, ecumenical cooperation, dialogue, and common witness boost interreligious dialogue. As the Directory on Ecumenism, §162, highlights, "Christians cannot close their hearts to the crying needs of our contemporary world. The contribution they are able to make to all areas of human life in which the need for salvation is manifested will be more effective when they make it together, and when they are seen to be united in making it." Thus, Christians need to collaborate with believers of other faiths in areas of human promotion (Cf. DE, §210).

The conversion controversy in Sri Lanka has resurrected old bitter colonial memories and suspicions. It has retarded interreligious dialogue. Just as not all new Christian groups fall into to the category of NRMs and sects, not all Buddhists are extremist fundamentalists. In the conversion debate, unfortunately, a minority extremist group is often dominant and vociferous in the national scene. Therefore, as recommended by Mission Orientations of the Asian Mission Congress, through dialogue, the Catholic Church needs to "make similar efforts to remove misunderstanding and prejudice from the people of other faiths in regard to the Christian faith and practices."18 "Can we dialogue with the extremist groups?" is a moot question. Yet, if the majority of the Buddhists are moderates, using the FABC theology of harmony and the "Spirit of Assisi," the Catholic Church, together with other Christians and believers, can pull Sri Lanka out of its present crisis. In fact, the urgency of interreligious dialogue does not come as a tactic of conflict resolution and conviviality among different religious communities. Instead, it is rooted in the missio Dei, understanding the mystery of the trinitarian God at work in other religions. "Only in dialogue with these religions can we discover in them the seeds of the Word of God (Ad Gentes, §9). This dialogue will allow us to touch the expression and the reality of our peoples’ deepest selves, and enable us to find authentic ways of expressing our own Christian faith."19

III. National Identity, Religious Identity, and Conversion Controversy20


Socioeconomic and Political System

National Identity
Distinguished by Religion


Monarchic Feudalism

Ethnic identity=Religious identity=National identity


Colonialism and Conversion

Sinhala=Sinhala Buddhists/Sinhala Catholics/Sinhala Protestants


Globalization and Conversion

Sinhala identity is further fractured into Sinhala Evangelicals/Pentecostals/etc.

Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka relies on Buddhism as its source of identity. Besides, according to the Sinhala-Buddhist ideology, Sinhala-Buddhists are not only the custodian of Buddhism but also of the country. As shown in the above table, the Buddhists’ conversion to Christianity during the colonial period has fractured the Sinhala identity as a universal concept by splitting it into three separated Sinhala identities distinguished by religion. During British colonialism, Christians became the far other—alienated from Sinhala culture, thus "non-Sinhalas." The Sinhala-Buddhist resistance movement placed Christianity, Westernization, and British rule in one continuum.21 All three had to be rejected. Moreover, until now, the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists tend to condemn all conversion to Christianity as proselytism, thus unethical and forced.

In this era of globalization, the aggressive missionary campaign by some Christian fundamentalists, with millennialism and messianism, flared up the whole country again in a conversion controversy in the early 1990s and the beginning of 2000. There is continuity and discontinuity between mission in colonialism and mission in globalization. Many of the new Christian groups are motivated by the old axiom, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. This exclusivist mission theology tends to demonize other religions in the name of "soul-saving." Thus, the mushrooming Christian groups, with their aggressive missionary campaigns, sometimes even with material enticements, seek to convert not only the followers of other faiths but baptized Christians as well. The discontinuity with the colonial period is the absence of local political patronage for Christian fundamentalism. Besides, the Census Report of 2000 reveals that the religious ratio in the country has not been subject to radical changes. Therefore, the Sinhala-Buddhist identity has not been fractured radically, unlike during the colonial era.

If this is the case, is the anti-conversion campaign but a tempest in a teacup? Since the 1990s, with globalization, mushrooming Christian groups with exclusivist mission theology have embarked upon an aggressive conversion campaign. Catholics, like the Buddhists and the Hindus, were the targets of this mission. Thus, the conversion controversy has further split Christian identity. As it was during colonialism, in this era of globalization, some Christians fight among themselves to win converts (baptized Christians and other believers) to their folds.

Can we thus justify the anti-conversion campaign by Buddhist fundamentalists? It is true that there is no smoke without fire. Nevertheless, there is no volcanic eruption yet! The Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalists, like during the colonial resistance movement, place all Christians—Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Christian fundamentalist sects—in one continuum. The Sinhala-Buddhist ideology, with its dramatization and mythologization of enemies and demarcation lines of purity and impurity, perceives all Christians as "aliens" and enemies of the motherland and Buddhism. Furthermore, all conversions to Christianity are interpreted as proselytism because Christians allegedly hoodwink the majority of the poor and the ignorant with material enticements. Conversion to Christianity is thus "forced" or "unethical," hence, a crime. Buddhist fundamentalists indiscriminately brand all conversions to Christianity as having ulterior political motives. With their penchant for conspiracy theories, they also accuse all Christians as agents of foreign powers. The malicious and biased propaganda of Buddhist fundamentalists spread a distorted picture of Christianity and Christians. Beware of Christians and their mission; they are trying to convert you by offering material inducement. They are foreign agents with foreign money and are a threat to the nation. Ever since the colonial era, politicized Sinhala Buddhist nationalism has failed to produce an inclusive national identity that assimilates religious or ethnic minorities.

IV. Religious Liberty and Conversion

The Sri Lankan Constitution guarantees the right to practice and propagate one’s religion. Moreover, Sri Lanka, as a member of the United Nations and as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), is legally bound to protect the freedoms of belief, speech, worship, and assembly. If the proposed anti-conversion bills had been enacted, they would have egregiously violated the two distinct aspects of religious freedom: 1) the freedom to adopt a religion or belief of one’s own choosing and 2) the freedom to manifest that religion in public or private. Thus, two absolute principles of human rights came into direct conflict in Sri Lanka. The Buddhists identify Christian conversion as proselytism but seek to ensure the liberty of conscience (leave us alone in our own territory). On the other hand, Christians resort to fundamental rights and demand the freedom to share and expand their faith. But constitutional guarantees do not reflect ground realities. Christians may have won the right of conversion constitutionally, but they have failed to win the confidence of the Buddhists. Thus, constitutional guarantees alone will not solve the conversion row. As I have mentioned throughout this work, interreligious and ecumenical dialogues, ceremonies of reconciliation, liturgical healings, and so on may also positively contribute to reach amicable solutions to the present conversion dispute. Such gestures of goodwill may also serve as methods of conflict resolution because people with spiritual and religious backgrounds are often involved in the conversion controversy, even though, sometimes, the whole issue has been hijacked and politicized by a minority group with ulterior motives. I therefore strongly argue that all—Buddhists as well as Christians—are in need of conversion. All need to go back to the roots of our beliefs, to fundamentals, without being fundamentalists.

Furthermore, all international treaties on religious liberty ought to be subject to the ancient golden rule: Do to others what you have them do to you. The Christian right to evangelize must pay attention to the cultural, religious, historical, and sociological sensibilities of the hearers. Christian mission also needs to avoid a sense of superiority, exclusivistic and triumphalistic language, and giving the impression that Buddhists are the target of a Christian conversion campaign. The intra-Christian and interreligious debate on conversion must abandon the polemical, apologetic, and defensive methods and embrace fraternal, spiritual conversation. All must abandon marketplace conversion and its noisy, competitive, promotional, and tactical language and retreat to the forest in search of silence, reflection, contemplation, and discernment.

Such soul-searching may enlighten the Christians themselves to recognize the right to intra-Christian conversion and changes of denominational allegiance not as proselytism, but as deeper commitment to God. It is inaccurate to reduce all conversions of Evangelical/Pentecostal groups as proselytism. Just as many Catholics during the Dutch period as well as in times of the harassments of local leaders did not relinquish their faith, many members of new ecclesial communities, despite persecution and violence, continue to be adherents of Evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity.

As the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka notes, "We do not believe that legislation can bring about religious harmony." Passing the anti-conversion bills and criminalization of conversion will add fuel to the fire. Yet, as Catholics have voiced out their protest against so-called unethical conversion, Buddhists were also victims of aggressive conversion campaigns. This again invites all parties to practice religious liberty with responsibility. Dignitatis Humanae (DH), §2, highlights: "All men [sic] should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his [sic] convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his [sic] conviction in religious matters in private or in association with others." This guarantees the freedom to search for the truth and to be bound by it when it is found. Furthermore, DH, §4, condemns any action, which "seems to suggest coercion or dishonest or unworthy persuasion, especially when dealing with the uneducated or the poor." The reduction by the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists of all conversions to Christianity as a purely human enterprise, and not a spiritual transformation, clashes with the very philosophy of Buddhism.

Mission as the story of Jesus, who is the story of God and the master storyteller of the Reign of God, will definitely go on in Sri Lanka in spite of hardships and persecutions. We are not the masters of mission; rather, we are servants of the missio Dei. Hence, mission does not belong to us but to the trinitarian God. "Nothing could stop him (Jesus) from telling his story, even on the cross. His humiliating death should have been the end of his story. But Abba has something more to say, ‘My Son—He is truly risen.’ Pouring his gift of the Holy Spirit into our hearts, Jesus entrusts His story to us."22

V. Globalization, Fundamentalism, and the Reign of God

I refuse to treat the conversion debate as a mere local religious issue. I reiterate that it has wider local and global factors. Mismanaged globalization, coupled with other factors, contributed to the birth of fundamentalisms in Sri Lanka. The conversion controversy is an ill effect of globalization. It has contributed to sow the seeds of suspicion and hatred among religions. Such divisions put a veil over the real social evils of globalization, egoistic and exploitative anti-human systems. Moreover, interreligious and intra-Christian conflicts prevent solidarity with the victims of globalization. It hinders the resistance against the dehumanizing forces of globalization and waters down the reaffirmation of the dignity of each person. It gives the impression that religions today fight among themselves and not against Satan and Mammon. "Conversion was seen as turning away not primarily from the evil powers of Satan but from other religions."23

The mission of the people of God must nurture the seed of the Word and the seed of the Reign of God present among all rather than trying to uproot it by spreading the seeds of silly divisions and petty disputes in the name of God and God’s mission. I reiterate that in Asia, mission can be carried out mainly through dialogue. As John Prior notes, "Many Asian bishops do not separate proclamation from dialogue; in Asia we proclaim in and through dialogue. Dialogue is the best and, often enough, the only viable means of proclamation."24 Christians will receive the ultimate authority of evangelization in Asia only with a bullock-cart missiology and not with a helicopter one.25

In Asia, mission must not be counter-mission or mission against; rather, mission with and missionfor. In this perspective, the globalization of the Reign of God tallies with the positive aspects that globalization can bring about. The mystery of God is universal/global. God wants the salvation of all people (1 Tim 2:4-5; Tit 2:11). God’s vision and mission of salvation is thus universal. This can be named as the globalization of salvation since it embraces the entire human race and the whole of creation. "Mission means, therefore, first and foremost God’s turning towards the world in creative love, redemptive healing, and transforming power."26 The Holy Spirit is also present and active in every time and place—universal—and thus operates globally.27 The salvation won by Jesus through the paschal mystery is unique and universal, hence global. the inchoate reality of the Reign of God exists beyond the confines of the Church (Cf. Redemptoris Missio, §20). Since the Holy Spirit is universally active at all times and in all cultures, the Reign of God is global. Besides, salvation in Jesus Christ is available to all outside the Church in a mysterious manner (Cf. Gaudium et Spes, §22). However, "the Church is necessary for the world at large as a sacrament, an efficacious sign, and instrument of God’s redemptive activity in Jesus Christ, leading towards the final Kingdom of God."28 If the Church exists to continue the mission of Jesus Christ and if the central message (mission) of Jesus was the Reign of God,29 then the mission of the Church is the proclamation of the Reign of God. "Mission, in other words, is what it means to be Church, because to be Church means to share in the mission of Jesus, which was to preach, to serve, and to witness with his whole heart to the Kingdom of God"30 Besides, the Reign of God and the Abba, though distinct, are complementary. "The Kingdom explains God’s being Abba and the fatherhood of God provides a basis for an explanation for the Kingdom."31 According to the vision of Jesus, God is the Father of the entire human family and all human persons are brothers and sisters. Thus, it is logical to conclude that the mission of the Church by its very nature is global. Moreover, the Reign of God is neither totally otherworldly nor this-worldly. The dream of God is a vision of shalom.

It means well-being in a comprehensive sense. It includes freedom from negatives such as oppression, anxiety, and fear, as well as the presence of positives such as health, prosperity, and security. Shalom thusincludes a social vision: the dream of a world in which such well-being belongs to everybody. As the story of the interaction between the dream of God and the rejection of the dream through what happens in history, the bible is a tale of two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world.32

The Kingdom-based mission also has the potential to resolve not only the conversion row but also the other social problems that the Sri Lanka Church and society are entangled with. "The Kingdom of God aims at transforming human relationships; it grows gradually as peoples slowly learn to love, forgive, and serve one another. … The Kingdom of God’s nature, therefore, is one of communion among all human beings—with one another and with God" (Redemptoris Missio, §15). The Church is the presence of the Reign of God in history insofar as the Risen Christ is present in this community of believers. However, she is not the Reign of God insofar as the Reign of God is still to be realized eschatologically in its universal dimension. She is the sacrament of the Reign of God in the sense that she is a sign and instrument of the Reign of God’s appearance and realization in history. "The reign of God is the very reason for the being of the Church. The Church exists in and for the Kingdom."33

Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder make a synthesis of mission as prophetic dialogue."Mission is dialogue. It takes people where they are; it recognizes the validity of their own religious existence and the integrity of their own religious ends."34 The Church becomes prophetic in two senses. "On the one hand, the Church in mission must speak clearly for the world’s excluded, against human and ecological violence, and on behalf of God’s reign of justice and peace. On the other, even in the face of the ‘rays of divine truth’ within the world’s religions, it must proclaim unhesitantly, faithfully—and yet respectfully—the name, the vision, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ."35

Sri Lanka is torn apart by ethnic, religious, and political conflicts and much untold misery and tragedy. The Church needs to recognize that Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation and peace has been entrusted to her (2 Cor 5:18-19). The Church ought to be a voice for the voiceless, hope for the hopeless, shelter for the homeless, liberator for the oppressed, and a pointer to a new heaven and earth. "Mission ultimately is witness to the hope of a new earth, where every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:1-15), every tongue from every nation (Rev 7:9) will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:11), and God will be all in all (Cor 15:28)."36 We, as disciples of Christ who have been entrusted with his peace ("Peace I give you"), must be ambassadors, witnesses, and pioneers of peace and reconciliation in this world "for he (Christ) is our peace" (Eph 2:14).


  1. Theo Sundermeier, "’Missio Dei’ Today: On the Identity of Christian Mission," Sedos Bulletin 36 (March-April 2004) 2/4: 51.
  2. Ibid., 53.
  3. John Fuellenbach, Church: Community for the Kingdom (Manila: Logos Publications, 2001), 22.
  4. Ibid., 20.
  5. Cf. Stephen B. Bevans, "Unravelling a ‘Complex Reality’: Six Elements of Mission," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 27 (April 2003) 2: 50-53.
  6. Ibid., 56.
  7. Anto Karokaran, "Cultural Alienation of Converts and Radical Inculturation of Faith," in Mission and Conversion: A Reappraisal, eds. Joseph Mattam and Sebastian Kim (Bandra, Mumbai: St. Pauls, 1996), 155.
  8. In Sri Lanka, the Indian missionary, Fr. Gonsalves, wrote 42 books: 20 in Sinhala, including dictionaries; 15, Tamil; 7, Portuguese and Dutch. See Vito Perniola, The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka: The Dutch Period, Volume I: 1658-1711 (Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara Prakasakayo, Ltd., 1983), 351-356.
  9. "As for Christianity, it should be admitted that, for centuries, missionaries and colonial administrators in Asia have tried to ‘convert the heathens’ by imposing Western ways of life and thought, barring some laudable exceptions." See For All the Peoples of Asia [FAPA], Vol. II, eds. Gaudencio Rosales and Catalino G. Arevalo (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1997), 255. Among the challenges to harmony in Asia, one is the burden of Christian mission history. See ibid., 240. "Prejudices are very much alive in Asia. As a social institution, the Church is perceived as a foreign body in its colonial origins while other world religions are not." See FAPA, Vol. I, 337. "Too often missionary expansion was allied with imperialism and resulted in the destruction or suppression of the cultural identity of those converted." See Donald Senior and Carroll Stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundations for Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), 346.
  10. John Paul II, L’Osservatore Romano (15 March 2000).
  11. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, "The Church’s Evangelizing Mission," in The Asian Synod: Texts and Commentaries, ed. Peter C. Phan (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 43.
  12. Francis-Vincent Anthony, Ecclesial Praxis of Inculturation (Roma: Libreria Ateneo Salesiano, 1997), 62.
  13. Norman E. Thomas, "Radical Mission in a Post-9/11 World: Creative Dissonances," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29 (Jan 2005) 1: 3.
  14. Sebastian C. H. Kim, In Search of Identity: Debates on Religious Conversion in India (New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press, 2003), 193.
  15. John Mansford Prior, "Faith and Culture in Dialogue: A Reflective Theological Synthesis," Word and Worship 39 (Nov-Dec 2006) 5: 325.
  16. FAPA, Vol. I, 70.
  17. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, "Sects and New Religious Movements: Pastoral Challenge," Information Service 61 (1986) 3: 150.
  18. First Asian Mission Congress, "Mission Orientations and Priorities, Document 2," Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 71 (Jan 2007) 9: 74.
  19. FAPA, Vol. I, 16.
  20. Here, I have not taken into consideration Tamils/Hinduism and Muslims/Islam since this work is mainly limited to Buddhists and Christians.
  21. "The Buddhist fundamentalist worldview, in short, is absolutistic and one-dimensional rather than relativistic and multidimensional. Western Christians were the prime target during the opening decades of the twentieth century." Donald K. Swearer, "Fundamentalist Movements in Theravada Buddhism," in Fundamentalism Observed, eds. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994), 639. See also Tessa J. Bartholomeusz, "First among Equals: Buddhism and the Sri Lankan State," in Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth-Century Asia, ed. Ian Harris(Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001), 173-193; Tessa J. Bartholomeusz and Chandra R. de Silva, eds., Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka (State University of New York Press, 1988).
  22. Luis Antonio G. Tagle, "Mission in Asia: Telling the Story of Jesus," Word & Worship 39 (Nov/Dec 2006) 5: 307.
  23. Michael Amaladoss, "Identity and Harmony: Challenges to Mission in South Asia," in Mission in the Third Millennium, ed. Robert J. Schreiter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 32.
  24. John Mansford Prior, "Unfinished Encounter: A Note on the Voice and Tone of Ecclesia in Asia," inThe Asian Synod: Texts and Commentaries, 239.
  25. The helicopter metaphor used by the Indian theologian Stanley Samartha somehow suits the coming of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism to Sri Lanka during the colonial period and the new Evangelical/Fundamentalist groups today. Samartha argues that the helicopter Church has created much missiological noise and kicked up so much theological dust in its landing on Asian ground. He says further that the noise and the dust prevented people from hearing the voice and seeing the vision of the descending divinity. Samartha observes that helicopter theology still survives in Asia. Cf. Stanley Samartha, One Christ, Many Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 115.
  26. Fuellenbach, 16.
  27. See Ad Gentes, §§3, 11, 15; Lumen Gentium, §5; Gaudium et Spes, §§10-11, 22, 26, 38, 41, 92-93.
  28. Fuellenbach, 18.
  29. See Evangelii Nuntiandi, §80; Lumen Gentium, §05.
  30. Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, eds., Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 306.
  31. Fuellenbach, 22.
  32. Ibid., 25.
  33. FAPA, Vol. I, 252.
  34. Bevans and Schroeder, 285.
  35. Ibid., 4.
  36. Bevans, "Unravelling a ‘Complex Reality,’" 50.