Country information: Sri Lanka
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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 21,325,000; Members, 1,277; Branches, 3; Districts, 1;Percent LDS, .006, or one in 16,699; Asia Area, Singapore Mission.
Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is an island republic located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of India. Sinhala and Tamil are the country's primary languages.
Two Latter-day Saint missionaries, Chauncey W. West and Benjamin F. Dewey, arrived in Ceylon on 26 May 1853. They briefly labored in Galle and Colombo but could find neither a hall in which to preach nor a person to listen to their message, thanks largely to the influence of anti-Mormon tracts and newspaper articles. They remained in the country only a short time before sailing to India.
The Church's next official contact with Sri Lanka (renamed from Ceylon in 1972) was in August 1975, when two missionaries en route home from the Singapore Mission, Matthew A. Hyde and Cyril W. Hill, were assigned to stop in Sri Lanka to explore the prospects for initiating missionary work. They reported favorably.
In 1976, Clarence Long, a Latter-day Saint from Texas, visited Colombo on business and became acquainted with Reginald and Easvary Rasiah and presented them with a Book of Mormon. He later invited their son, Rosignald, to travel to the U.S. to work with him. Rosignald Rasiah was baptized into the Church in Texas on 25 June 1977.
During his visits to Sri Lanka, Long also introduced the Rasiahs to the Bruce Wilson family, Church members from Canada, and to Stanley and Margaret Kimball, who arrived in Colombo in June 1977 to serve as special Church representatives. Reginald and Easvary Rasiah were baptized on 28 August 1977. A few of their family members and others were baptized in ensuing months.
"Our loving Heavenly Father knew the desires of our hearts," said Easvary Rasiah in her history. "He knew that we truly wanted to be in the true church. He knew we were human and [were] scared to change, therefore, he sent our son Rosignald 10,000 miles away to receive the gospel. When we found our son had joined this Church, our hearts and minds were opened to investigate and we found that this was indeed the true Church."
A Church group was formed in October and the Sri Lanka Branch was organized in March 1978 with Reginald Rasiah as president.
The Church was officially registered in Sri Lanka on 2 March 1979. By early 1980, there were 25 Church members, mostly in Colombo, and on 1 July administrative responsibility for the area shifted from the International Mission to the Singapore Mission. Book of Mormon selections were printed in Tamil in 1982 and in Sinhala in 1983.
In June 1981, Milton Rasiah became the first Church member from Sri Lanka to serve a full-time mission when he was assigned to the Philippines. In April 1985, Harold Sandrasagara and Tissa Ferdinando became the first Sri Lankans to serve as full-time missionaries in their own country.
In 1979, the Genealogical Society of Utah started microfilming Sri Lanka's vital records. The Church and the Rotary Club in Colombo worked together to start a program to teach English as a second language in February 1982. The first four teachers were sister missionaries from New Zealand, the Philippines, and the U.S.
Several senior couples served in Sri Lanka beginning in the late 1970s. They did not actively proselyte, but taught those who requested more information about the Church. Missionaries were removed from the country at different times due to civil war. Sri Lanka had one branch and 135 members in 1990. Limited numbers of young foreign missionaries were allowed to serve there beginning about the late 1990s. This led to accelerated Church growth.
A second branch was organized in Colombo in 1998 to serve the needs of Sinhala-speaking members. The Colombo Sri Lanka District was created on 22 October 2000 with Sunil Arsecularatne as president. On the same day the district was organized, ground was broken for the first Church-built meetinghouse in Sri Lanka. The completed building was dedicated on 2 December 2001 by Elder John B. Dickson of the Asia Area Presidency. The first branches outside of Colombo were organized in Negombo in October 2000 and in Kandy in June 2002.
In 2003, membership reached 783.
Sources: CultureGrams 2004 World Edition, 2003; R. Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996, 1998; George A. Smith, The Rise, Progress and Travels of the Church, 1872; Easvary Rasiah, We were thirsting for the gospel and Heavenly Father sent it to us, 1998, Church Archives; Georgene Evans, comp., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1986, Church Archives; Lyn R. Jacobs, Mormon Non-English Scriptures, Hymnals, & Periodicals, 1830-1986: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1986; Pang Beng Ling, A History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Singapore: Journey to Stakehood, 1964-1997, 1997; Singapore Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Douglas L. Vermillion, "Gospel Splendor in Sri Lanka," Ensign, August 1995; Asia Area news, March 2002, Church Archives.