It’s two years since bombs were detonated on Easter Sunday at six different locations across Sri Lanka, killing 268 people. Three of the locations were churches, including Zion Church in Batticaloa – which is where 12-year-old Malkiya tragically lost his life. For his family, life remains filled with sorrow, but amidst the tears there is laughter. They’re beginning to heal, but still need your prayers.
It's been two years of sorrow for Shemidah, Saratha, Jeremiah and Pastor Kumuran, but they are beginning to heal
Saratha knew Malkiya had died.
She and her husband, Pastor Kumaran, had just dropped off him and his brother, Jeremiah, at Zion Church and were on their way to a connected church when they heard a loud noise. Saratha first assumed it was a celebratory firecracker. But when her husband took a phone call and quickly turned his motorbike back towards the church, reality soon dawned.
"I rolled on the floor weeping and praying because I knew God had taken Malkiya" Saratha
“I kept asking him why and what had happened, but he did not tell me anything,” Saratha recalls. “Then when we were passing the bridge, suddenly I felt something bursting inside me, and I shouted, ‘Malki is in heaven! Malki is in heaven!’ and I began to pray in tongues. I think that was the moment Malki died.”
“When we reached the church, people were running out,” she continues. “My husband was looking for a way to go inside but I didn’t even try to look for my son because I already knew Malki was in heaven.
“When my husband went to the hospital to minister to the injured people and their families, I went to my cousin’s house. Until evening, I rolled on the floor weeping and praying because I knew God had taken Malkiya. I couldn’t even speak but I knew Malkiya was in heaven. But other people were telling us that they saw Malkiya in the ICU and that he was alive. My husband believed them.”
It was a case of mistaken identity, as later that day Pastor Kumaran found out that his son had died. “I thank the Holy Spirit for letting me know because otherwise I would have been searching everywhere for Malki,” Saratha shares.
It’s now two years since Malkiya’s death. “We always remember Malkiya and he is always there in our thoughts,” says Pastor Kumaran, who came face to face with the bomber on the day of the attacks when he welcomed him into the main church, assuming him to be a visitor. “But when I am doing something or driving or even preaching at church, pain washes over me suddenly and it is overwhelming. Even yesterday, when I remembered Malkiya, I just went to the old church and stood outside the gate for a while.”
Compounding the grief is an acute sense of guilt. “Since he was in grade four, Malkiya had been asking me to quit my teaching job,” Saratha explains. “He kept on asking me to stop teaching and help with the ministry instead and stay at home with them. But I had to keep teaching because of the financial burden on the family.”
Her husband shares this guilt. “We were always so busy with our ministry work,” the pastor says. “They stayed at home with their aunt most of the time. Or on some days they would come straight to church after school and stay there until evening. Now I regret that we could not give him much of our time.”
Meanwhile, recollections of the fateful day itself are sometimes dominated by an agonising question. “What if we had a car or tuk-tuk?” Saratha wonders painfully. “Then we would not have left Jeremiah and Malkiya at the main church that day after Sunday School. We would have taken them with us.”
It’s often even too painful for the family to enjoy the gifts of others and moments of light relief. “When people visit us, they bring lots of food and things for Jeremiah and Shemidah, and that makes me feel so sad because Malkiya never got to enjoy any of that,” Saratha reveals. “Even the day before the attack, Malkiya could not fall asleep because it was very hot, and we did not have a fan. I remember I dipped some clothes in water and hung them on the window to cool the room. When I remember those things, I feel a very sharp pain.”
The sentiment is echoed by her husband. “He was there with us during our most difficult times,” he says. “Now I can’t even eat ice cream or samosas, Malkiya’s favourites. He could eat five samosas in one go,” he adds with a weary smile.
“We have not been able to go to the beach since we lost Malkiya because he used to enjoy it,” Saratha adds. “I feel bad that Jeremiah and Shemidah are not getting the chance to go to the beach, but I really can’t help it.”
Pastor Kumaran remains heavily involved in church ministry, whilst Saratha is back at work as a schoolteacher. Although reminders of her son are never far away, she is pressing on. “Sometimes I feel a lot of bitterness in my heart because I am only human,” she shares. “But I know I need to forgive everyone.”
Amidst the ongoing grief and guilt, there are signs of hope. During previous visits by Open Doors local partners to provide pastoral support and physical aid, whenever Saratha spoke, her tears would flow unchecked. But during the most recent visit, she was able to share without crying.
"Like St Paul, we also want to dedicate our lives to die for Jesus Christ as a martyr" Malkiya, written before his death
There is also room for laughter. Jeremiah is asked how he feels he did in his recent exams. “Oh, it was easy!” he replies with a confidence that brings smiles to the whole family.
Meanwhile, as the family bring out photos of Malkiya, the youngest child Shemidah points and says, “Look, that’s me!” When one of the partners says, “You look so cute in the photo!”, the little girl’s smile beams wider.
The partners left the family feeling hopeful for them. Slowly but steadily, God is at work in their lives, bringing healing and restoration.
“It is really difficult to describe to people how we are doing these days,” says Pastor Kumaran. “Sometimes we are laughing and sometimes we are crying. The pain comes in waves.”
The pastor has raised his children to know about Christian martyrs, and it’s led to some discoveries that’s given added poignancy to Malkiya’s death. Not only had he secretly read a book about martyrs, he made this comment in one of his essays: “Like St Paul, we also want to dedicate our lives to die for Jesus Christ as a martyr.”
“And that was what he did become,” his father reflects. “Now he rests in peace with Jesus.”
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