Rebuilding Christians’ homes and lives in earthquake-devastated Indonesia
As the earthquake struck, Flosensi, a young Indonesian Sunday School teacher, used her own body to hold up the wall and enable her young class to escape the collapsing building.
Flo herself was crushed to death. Among the many others who lost their lives that day were 34 Christian students who had been attending a Bible camp. Their bodies were found under a church buried by a mudslide.
On Friday 28 September, a powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit the central region of the sprawling Indonesian island of Sulawesi, triggering a devastating tsunami. Waves up to three metres high swept through the capital, Palu, causing hundreds of thousands to flee amid widespread chaos and devastation.
Some 2,000 people died in the disaster that affected as many as 1.5 million people. Sulawesi’s Christian minority – around 17% of the population in the central region – were severely impacted. There are significant Christian populations along the western coastal region and also near the city of Palu, one of the worst affected areas, where around 470,000 Christians live alongside more than 2 million Muslims.
As the region reeled, Barnabas’ partners on the ground – including churches and ministries across Indonesia – brought aid to Christian survivors despite difficult communications and travel. Barnabas sent emergency aid packages of food, toiletries, blankets and towels, getting urgent help to Christian communities.
We are continuing to support our partners as they bring hope and healing to children, using simple resources such as books, pencils, T-shirts and sports equipment alongside counselling to help them recover from the trauma they have experienced.
Tens of thousands of homes and at least 84 church buildings were damaged or destroyed. “Thousands of houses, Christian schools [were washed] away and disappeared by tsunami and earthquake,” an Indonesian pastor told Barnabas Fund. Another contact wrote, “Many churches were destroyed by the earthquakes and caused many pastors and church members suffered [sic].”
The Churches left standing in Palu were packed with worshippers on the Sunday following the deadly earthquake. A Christian teacher who travelled into Palu to worship said, “I’m here at this particular church because my own church is no more – it is levelled.”
Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population. Until about two decades ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals in accordance with a state-promoted philosophy of religious tolerance and national unity, “Pancaslia”. However, in many parts of the vast archipelago nation this no longer holds true and the Christian minority has been facing increasing discrimination, harassment and violence.
Across the country there has been a push towards Islamisation, with Muslims “transmigrated” by the government to live in some previously majority-Christian regions. In Aceh, where full sharia law is officially implemented, Muslim mobs have torched churches. Following the 2004 tsunami, Christians were refused aid unless they agreed to convert to Islam.
Nearly 14 years ago, when the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami laid waste the coastal regions of 14 countries in South and South-East Asia – taking some 200,000 lives – Barnabas Fund was there too. Within a couple of days we had sent our first grant for emergency aid, and went on to help Christians in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and the Andaman Islands rebuild homes, businesses and churches and supported over 5,000 children, including many orphans.
Today, the Christian minority in central Sulawesi are traumatised and desperate, some recovering from injuries and many of them homeless. Some have made makeshift shelters as best they can from tarpaulins and whatever they could salvage but urgently need new homes before the rains arrive in February.
Recovery after disasters of this scale can be a long process and our brothers and sisters now need our help more than ever.
Barnabas Fund is providing new houses for Christians made homeless by the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami. Just $440 could pay for the building materials for a semi-permanent “core home”, measuring 6 x 4m, with a cement floor, wooden walls and a tin roof.
We are also providing simple low-cost church buildings to replace some of the 84 that were destroyed by the earthquake; the cost of each is $19,600.More