Shaken faith

Indonesia | Amid a string of disasters and growing fear of Allah's judgment, Christian ministries are extending mercy

Issue: "Bird flu," June 10, 2006

Minutes before 6 a.m. on Saturday, May 27, Indonesia's unsettled landscape shook with devastating force one more time. A 6.3-magnitude earthquake ravaged the Bantul district on the densely populated island of Java, killing almost 5,000 people and toppling the homes of roughly 200,000 more.

Amid such horror, many survivors wondered at the religious significance of the disaster-the fifth grand-scale calamity to befall the world's largest Muslim nation in the past 18 months. Some questioned whether they had angered Allah. Others declared unequivocally that such rampant human suffering signaled divine judgment.

Whatever the competing interpretations of Islamic theology, the Java tremor followed a string of seismic terror dating to December 2004, when an earthquake-powered tsunami left 230,000 dead throughout Southeast Asia. Though smaller in scale, this latest natural catastrophe wields no shortage of similar pain and tragedy.

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In an instant, the quiet streets of early morning filled with the panic-stricken screams of bloodied children and the hopeless wailing of mothers in grief. Friends and family members picked through the rubble in desperate search of lost loved ones. Emergency workers rushed frantically to assess the most urgent needs-many betraying level-headed efficiency forged through all-too-frequent disaster experiences in the region.

The residual presence of numerous foreign aid associations still providing tsunami relief on the neighboring island of Sumatra helped dramatically reduce response time. By Sunday morning, emergency food rations and medical supplies began to arrive. As the weekend closed, makeshift clinics began springing up across the countryside to help treat the wounded.

But no amount of regional familiarity or proximity could equip humanitarian workers for the overwhelming devastation. Heavy weekend rains soaked the unsheltered multitudes, exacerbating health concerns. In Yogyakarta, an ancient city 250 miles east of Jakarta, doctors scrambled to keep pace with a seemingly endless and growing number of victims in need of medical care. Lutheran World Relief (LWR) spokesperson Emily Sollie reported that one of her organization's correspondents visited a hospital operating at close to double its maximum capacity.

A member partner of the global aid alliance Action by Churches Together, LWR is one of many Christian organizations assisting with the immediate recovery effort (see sidebar). Ms. Sollie told WORLD the most urgent needs include tents, lanterns, kitchen utensils, kerosene, and blankets, but advised private individuals to send cash if able: "If you do not have the money to spare, the survivors and aid workers can certainly use your prayers."

Early returns suggest donors have not wearied of distributing financial resources to Indonesia's beleaguered shores. Mercy Corps, an international relief agency based in Portland, Ore., raised $50,000 in the first two days after the earthquake, a number exceeding expectations. "From a fundraising standpoint, so many people have given to humanitarian organizations in the last year that our mailing lists are strong," said Jeremy Barnicle, the agency's communications director. "Our donors are engaged. People care about what we do right now."

What relief organizations do will change over the course of the coming weeks, shifting from allaying primary needs such as food, hygiene, and shelter to managing long-term impacts. The region's infrastructure requires rebuilding, its economy recharging, and its people renewing. The work of trauma counseling poses unusual challenges in a nation with a 90 percent Muslim population-especially for evangelical organizations whose religious-based methods may encounter resistance.

Such considerations only heighten the importance of immediate and sustained charitable outpouring, an effort critical to establishing trust and building rapport among Java residents. To that end, some aid workers have already risen above their peers with heroic contributions. Wancez Abdolkadir is one such worker, his passion for helping others outweighing the charms of victimhood. The Mercy Corps staff member, who lives on Java but was busy with tsunami relief work on Sumatra during last month's quake, quickly returned home to find his residence destroyed and his wife living in a tent. Staggered by the region's destruction, not just that to his own family, Mr. Abdolkadir dutifully began his labor of compassion.

Even amid judgment, there is mercy.

Helping hands

Christian relief organizations accepting donations in response to the Java earthquake include:

American Red Cross, Attn: Earthquake in Indonesia: P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013; 800-RED-CROSS; www.redcross.org

Baptist World Aid Asian Earthquake Appeal: 405 North Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046; 703-790-8980; www.bwanet.org

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) Indonesia Earthquake 2006: 2850 Kalamazoo SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560-0001; 800-55-CRWRC; www.crwrc.org

Church World Service (CWS) Indonesia Earthquake: PO Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515; 800-297-1516 ext. 222; www.churchworldservice.org

Food for the Hungry, Inc., Attn: Java Earthquake Relief: 1224 E. Washington St., Phoenix, AZ 85034; 800-2-HUNGERS; www.fh.org


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