Tampa pastor devastated by Sri Lanka attacks

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As the deadly attacks were unfolding in Sri Lanka on Easter morning, Pastor Aaron Burke’s phone starting ringing here in Tampa.

"I got text messages starting at about 4 o'clock in the morning from our team in Sri Lanka," he said. "Pastors that we work with, just giving us an update on the story.”

The Tampa resident has been connected to Sri Lanka since 2005, just after the country’s devastating tsunami.

“The tsunami hit in 2004, I moved there six months later to work with children on the island," Burke said. "And we’ve been there for 12 years, 13 years since.”

Burke and his wife began Radiant Chuch in 2013 here in Tampa, but their mission expanded overseas. He travels to Sri Lanka three to four times a year, where he helps run educational programs for children.

“We have five projects on the island," he said. "One of them is about an hour away from one of the terrorist attacks today. So we called our team and made sure everyone there is OK, but everybody is so grieved. This is a senseless act that is the result of a world that is fallen and broken.”

Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist nation; of the country’s 21 million population, only 1.5 million call themselves Christian. But Burke says the Christians don’t close their doors to others.

“They’re very celebratory of other people of faith, so they’d be celebrating this weekend too, and this just breaks my heart," he said.

No matter how broken their spirits are today, he says their resilience will carry them through.

"They will bounce back," he said. "That is the message of Easter. When we think defeat is the only option, there is a comeback that is possible. That’s what Jesus did. And I believe that’s what will happen with the people in Sri Lanka.”