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.
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.
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
•Habitat for Humanity Indonesia Earthquake Response Fund: 121 Habitat St., Americus, GA 31709; 800-HABITAT; www.habitat.org
•Lutheran World Relief (LWR) Indonesia Earthquake: P.O. Box 17061, Baltimore, MD 21298-9832; 800-LWR-LWR2; www.lwr.org
•Mercy Corps Indonesia Earthquake: Dept. W, PO Box 2669, Portland, OR 97208-2669; 888-256-1900; www.mercycorps.org
•SAWSO (Salvation Army World Service Office) South Pacific & East Asia Disaster Fund: 615 Slaters Lane, P.O. Box 269, Alexandria, VA 22313; 800-SAL-ARMY; www.salvationarmy.org
•World Concern Earthquake Fund: 19303 Fremont Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98133; 800-755-5022; www.worldconcern.org
•World Vision, Attn: Indonesia Earthquake Relief: P.O. Box 9716, Federal Way, WA 98063-9176; 888-511-6593; www.worldvision.org
Mount Merapi rises to 9,700 feet on Indonesia's Java Island. In 1930, Merapi erupted, killing 1,300 people. More recently in 1994, 60 people were killed. Experts for the past month have warned villagers that the volcano poses a threat following recent activity and could erupt further at any time.
That threat increased last week after a 6.3-magnitude earthquake on Java seemed to wake the volcano. Less than 48 hours after the quake, large billowing clouds of gas vented from the mountain crater and drifted two miles across quake-ravaged villages.
Following the quake, the Merapi division of the volcanology center reported that gas releases rapidly increased, with Mount Merapi releasing 150 gaseous clouds May 29, compared with an average of 50 the week before.
John Pallister, head of the USGS/OFDA's Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, and his team recently spent three weeks in Indonesia offering additional monitoring tools to experts at the Merapi Volcano Observatory in Yogyakarta. Mr. Pallister said the concern is when and if pyroclastic flows (fast-moving, superheated volcanic ash, debris, and gas) are going to reach population areas surrounding Mount Merapi. More than a million people live less than 20 miles from the volcano's summit.
"It's a lethal phenomenon we are talking about and it's happening in a place that's densely populated," Mr. Pallister told WORLD even before the quake struck. "This is a tense situation for the observatory staff."
Despite evacuation warnings for areas closest to the volcano, about 200 villagers steadfastly have refused to leave their homes because they believe spirits watching over the volcano will warn them of any danger. Warkijho, a 55-year-old farmer, told the Associated Press, "There is nothing to worry about here. The scientists may be concerned, but in my heart I know it is safe."
With the ground shaking beneath his feet, he may need to think again about what may come down from the mountain.