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United we stand in Christ

On the OPC's anniversary, Chrishanthy Sathiyaraj renews the group’s calls for unity amid diversity

Almost three decades of civil war in Sri Lanka created a huge chasm between Sinhalese and Tamils, two ethnic groups. The war, which started in the early ‘80s, forced many Tamils and Sinhalese to the UK or elsewhere, where they sought asylum, a place of safety. Rev TMI Sathiyaraj, my husband, was called and sponsored to move to the UK in 1994, to work as a missionary among the Tamils.

I still remember the humble beginnings and how my husband, Jonathan Eden and Christina Balasingham would knock on the doors of people’s homes in Southall, share the gospel, and work among the UK’s growing Tamil community. Southall Tamil Church (STC) was birthed out of this mission work, but God had a bigger plan. 

The evangelism led to a Sinhalese person accepting Jesus as their saviour and joining the church. This marked major progress, as it was ethnic strife between these two groups that led to the civil war in Sri Lanka. So, to meet the needs of both groups, we established a bilingual service in Tamil and Sinhala, making STC the first Tamil-Sinhala church in Europe.

This gradual bridge-building between the two groups was not without its challenges. When there was a clash among the communities in Sri Lanka, it was reflected in the church. Members of the congregation had different ideas and would demand two different services. People left the church. My husband and I, Tamils serving the new Sinhala Christian community, received death threats from both communities.

It became difficult for us to share the gospel, because there were still many people who didn’t like to see both communities in one room. And most of our congregants were new Christians, which meant the journey had only begun for them. Yet, to this day we praise God for His marvellous work. Back home these groups fought, but the love of Jesus did make a way for us to worship together, in spite of the tests and trials, and still in the midst of tests and trials.

If we stand today, it’s because of the pure grace of God. Unity isn’t easy! It requires vision and effort.
We had to make big changes. To start with, we changed the name of the church to Bethany Church (which upset the majority of the Tamil community). Then, we had all the worship songs translated into three languages: English, Tamil and Sinhala. 

The OPC has been a great blessing to me and many others.

Again, when we stood for God’s will, everybody wasn’t happy. Members left the church and said it wouldn’t work out. But we’re still going strong. Our church testifies that God is with us when we are united. But God didn’t stop there; He had a bigger plan. God wanted us to reach out and connect with Christians in the wider community, and He made this possible through the One People Commission (OPC), for which I am grateful. 

When Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, and Rev Yemi Adedeji, director of the OPC, invited me to join this unique unity movement, which encourages believers around the UK to see beyond cultural or ethnic differences and work together to make Jesus known, how could I not jump on board?

In 2012 the OPC became a platform with lots of bridges for Christians from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to respond to Jesus’ call to live out the unity in Him that He died for us to have. Even now, this is difficult. The UK is incredibly diverse, with people from all over the world, who may, like my husband and I, have witnessed or known of war over differences.

So, the OPC pushes us all to challenge and renew our thinking, embrace one another and our differences, and share our culture, insight and spiritual gifts, for the sake of the church and the wider world. As the OPC celebrates its anniversary, I praise God and take my hat off to Steve, Yemi, and the great leaders around them, for carrying out God’s great plan for Christian unity in the UK

The OPC has been a great blessing to me and many others, and I hope more churches come to know about it and join us. For when we are together, we are stronger and better. And, most of all, God is with us. Unity is a practice. When we talk about celebrating diversity while promoting unity, it’s as much between countries as it is between men and women, and different languages, tribes, casts and statuses. God is delighted when we are united: After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

I believe there are some key steps that we can take to live in a unified way amid our diversity. I encourage us to be bold and stretch beyond our traditions and circles so that we can embrace one another. Let us not do it for show, as if we’re performing on a stage; let’s be genuine, allowing our unity to be part of our very existence. Romans 12:16 reads: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

I urge us to forgive one another, as harbouring unforgiveness weighs us down and hinders our ability to work together to make Jesus known. Colossians 3:13 – 14 reads: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Additionally, let’s respect one another, showing appreciation for our brothers and sisters in Christ always. Philippians 2:3 reads: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Lastly, I implore us to take every effort to build our relationship and not be a people who are too busy to do this most important thing. Ephesians 4:3 reads: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

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