Janice and I were in Indonesia when the tsunami struck. It was Boxing Day, 2004. The media kept playing and replaying a video of debris, cars and houses being washed into the city. We knew immediately that this was a tragedy of great magnitude.
As the day progressed, the victim count kept rising. Then came the reports of casualties from around the world. We heard reports of tourists being washed into the sea from a hotel next to our children’s boarding school in Malaysia. We were thankful they were home for the Christmas holiday in a safe part of the country.
I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to do something. But I didn’t know what could be done. It wasn’t until a month later that I was able to visit the affected areas of Nias and Aceh. I wanted to survey the damage to determine how CBM could partner with churches to support rebuilding efforts. But seeing whole communities wiped out did not immediately support this process. It was too overwhelming. Our denominational leader was speechless. The smell of death gave one of our members, a Vietnam War vet, flashbacks.
Everyone in the community had a story; listening was something we could do. On the island of Nias, we met baby Jeffry. Although his parents drowned, he was later found at the top of a palm tree. His grieving grandparents were now caring for him.
In another village, we found a man named Aposko sitting alone in front of his ruined church. His village was now empty. On the way in, we passed a mass grave where 70 people had been buried. Aposko showed us the window bars he had hung on to as the wave swept over the village. A pastor and a group of young people had also fled the same house. They made a run for the church, but were sadly washed away.
From Nias, we went to the city of Banda Aceh. We encountered scenes of destruction at every turn. Whole sub-divisions leveled. A huge ship washed three kilometres into the city. Cars were crunched and hardly recognizable. Flags were planted where suspected victims were buried in rubble. There were so many stories, but so few people to listen to them.
CBM was able to work with the Convention of Indonesian Baptist Churches, our national partner at the time, to help rebuild 170 homes on Nias. Community members contributed materials and the labour needed to rebuild their own homes, which helped to reduce costs. To support the psychological needs of the community, our seminary students and surviving local leaders were trained in post-trauma counselling. CBM also helped to fund a clinic for a time, aided the construction of roads and bridges to get materials to where they were needed, and supported the reconstruction of a school.
On one of our trips to Nias, a local leader said to our denominational leader, Ronny Welong, “Pastor, the people all want to become Baptists.” I waited with bated breath for Ronny’s response.
He replied, “We’re not interested in seeing them become Baptists. We want to see them become orang Kristen yang sungguh-sungguh.” That translates as “real, genuine, committed Christians.”
After the houses were built, the community organized a commissioning ceremony in which people were given the keys to their new homes. Pastor Alex Tairas, an elderly statesman in the denomination, was invited to speak. The topic of his sermon was, “What is an ‘orang Kristen yang sungguh-sungguh?’” The equivalent of the governor of the island, who had been very appreciative of the help, attended the event.
At the end of the service, Pastor Alex asked all who wanted to be real, genuine, committed Christians to stand up. The first person to stand was the “governor” leader. When he stood up, so did everyone else.
Who knows what the eternal results will be of the tsunami and subsequent earthquake on Nias, and the response of CBM and our national partner – a great example of integral mission. The tsunami had a devastating impact, but the merciful response also had a redemptive impact that goes on to this day.
Bill and Janice Dyck
are CBM Field Staff based in Bolivia. Prior to this role, they served alongside CBM’s partners in Indonesia from 1999 to 2010, training students and church leaders.