1970-1971 / NZBTI Diploma Henderson Campus
“He is a boy with a steadfast purpose – the salvation of souls” wrote one of Rohan’s referees in support of his application to NZBTI. Rohan himself wrote, “Whenever I give my testimony or tell another person about Christ, I am so thrilled sometimes I cry for joy”. At that time, he was employed as a technician in a textile factory and involved in evangelistic outreach with his Pentecostal church in what was then Ceylon. He had applied to NZBTI on seeing an advertisement for the Institute in a magazine, noting there were no Bible schools in his home country where he could train.
The granting of a full scholarship from the Institute’s Asian Scholarship Fund overcame Rohan’s financial hurdles and he arrived at BTI in March 1970, his late arrival due to visa delays. He was a dynamic student, full of practical jokes and pranks. He had an irrepressible smile and an enthusiastic dedication to study, though Greek studies were a struggle – evidenced by his end-of-year report: “Obviously you would be wise to drop Greek, Rohan”.
After two years at BTI, Rohan studied a further year at Christian Life Bible College in Wellington before moving to Australia. At a Bible study group he met, and later married, Australian Alison Kime. Rohan felt the call to return to his people and so, after the birth of their second child, the family moved to Sri Lanka and began serving with the local Assemblies of God churches. They settled in the city of Nuwara Eliy - conducting outreaches, youth camps, meetings in tea estates, and establishing a church. Rohan also taught in a Bible school several days each week.
The 1980s in Sri Lanka were tumultuous years as a rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, had emerged in protest against the government. During one trip between Colombo and Nurwara Eliy, the Dissanayekes were stopped by rioting students. The day of 7 September 1987 was a Hartal day (an Indian word for protest), with Government offices, public transport, and shops closed. Undeterred, Rohan preached at a church gathering in Jaffna and, after dinner at the pastor’s home, headed back to the church for an all-night prayer meeting. It was 10 pm when he set off in his van, with seven others in the back. The church pastor followed five minutes later on his motor scooter and, as he was leaving, saw a red flare light up the sky. Within a few moments he came across Rohan’s van, pulled to the side of the road, and riddled with bullets. Rohan, aged 43, had been shot in the head. They had been ambushed by a militant group of the Tamil Tigers.
It later emerged that Rohan’s death had been pre-arranged. Groups of men had been stationed at strategic locations and the flare signalled to the other groups that the job had been done. That day four of the eight men in the van died, including a new convert, Upali.
Rohan’s wife and two children returned to Australia following his death. Five years later a training centre was built and dedicated to the memory of Rohan and Upali – men who served the Lord no matter the cost.
Rohan’s story is told in Seed of Blood by David C. Goodwin (Kidsreach: Waikanae, 1998)