When Denny Tarrigan arrived in the remote village of Gasol, the earthy smell of damp soil attacked his senses.
Ambulance sirens were heard in the air. Cars and motorbikes filled the narrow dirt roads. As the Christian Indonesian aid worker looked around, he saw blue makeshift tents lined with mats and blankets filled with earthquake survivors, including children and the elderly.
What else he saw: smiles on the faces of the villagers.
“People are strong enough to survive this,” said Tarijan, who took a 10-hour car ride from his hometown of Yogyakarta to Cianjur, the district where Gasol is located, on Wednesday.
“Most of them don’t know what to do next,” he said. Right now, they think they need help from the government and others [disaster relief] agencies. “
While in the United States it is common for churches to participate in disaster relief operations, in Indonesia most humanitarian aid is provided by government agencies, international NGOs, and Muslim aid groups.
It is only in the past several years that Indonesian churches have begun to get involved in disaster relief, said Effendi Aritunang, regional director of Food for the Hungry Indonesia and executive team secretary for Jakomkris, the Christian community network for disaster management in Indonesia. .
Engage in the fallout
When the 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck on Monday morning, Aritonang, Tarijjan and other members of the Jacomkris set to work.
The team, made up of Indonesian nonprofits and churches, has called a coordination meeting to begin identifying needs and determining who can provide assistance.
A Mennonite group emerged to provide clean water. About 10 doctors and 20 nurses from the Christian Medical Fellowship arrived to help the overwhelmed hospitals treat patients. A Presbyterian group provided hygiene kits and services for the disabled, while a Pentecostal group set up kitchens for the affected in five different locations.
Help was desperately needed: By Wednesday, 271 people — many of them children — had died and more than 2,000 were injured when the quake flattened homes, destroyed schools, and triggered landslides. With roads closed and power outages, it remains difficult to assess the full extent of the damage – particularly in the mountainous regions of Cianjur, home to 2.5 million people.
Jakomkris’ main duty, Tarijan said, is to set up a coordinating center that can act as a communication hub. The center is set up in a local church, Gereja Kristen Pasundan Cianjur. Besides serving as a clearinghouse for Jacomkris’ partner agencies to send aid to where it is most needed, it will also be a physical place to store donations and food pumped in for affected Indonesians.
Jakomkris also helps the Company of Churches in Indonesia (Persekutuan Gereja-gereja di Indonesia, or PGI) produce daily status reports for churches and Christian agencies that provide assistance.
One of the hardest parts of his time on earth, Tarrigan said, was a first-hand glimpse of the massive damage the earthquake did to many homes.
“I think another earthquake will happen again one day,” he said. “It will take a long time to rebuild the houses with a stronger structure again. It costs a lot of money, and people don’t have [enough funds]. “
To become a strong pillar
What Jacomris is currently doing is fairly new.
Aritonang said this is because churches in Indonesia have historically focused inward on meeting the spiritual needs of believers rather than outward to the needs of the community.
In 2017, seven Christian organizations came together to discuss how Indonesian churches will become a “strong pillar” in their communities in the face of the natural disasters that constantly ravage the archipelago. (Indonesia, made up of more than 17,000 islands, is no stranger to earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions due to its location on the Ring of Fire.)
This led to the creation of Jakomkris, which educates the Indonesian Church on the need to participate in disaster relief and how to equip congregations to provide a timely and sustainable response. It has connected churches and nonprofits across the country so that no matter where disaster strikes, local churches can spring to action.
Their first opportunity to respond came in 2018 when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi, triggering a tsunami. The twin disasters killed more than 4,000 people and injured more than 10,000. Jakomkris was able to send out groups that rebuilt 300 homes, built several churches, and provided mobile medical clinics.
However, the establishment of churches required some effort.
Aritonang finds that churches affected by the disasters themselves become the most active in the network, because they know firsthand the importance of this ministry.
For example, in October, an earthquake hit the island of Sumatra, where the main headquarters of the Lutheran denomination is located. “It quickly opened their eyes and only a week ago they started putting together a disaster response team,” he said.
Mark McClendon, CEO of CBN Indonesia, has lived in the country for 35 years. Within 24 hours, he said, CBN teams were in Limbangan Sari, another quake-hit area in Cianjur, distributing food, shelter items and mental health care to children after the traumatic event. By Friday, their medical teams will arrive to care for people who may have breathing problems or are susceptible to infection.
He added that local churches across Indonesia have been slow to respond to natural disasters in the past. But it’s a different story now than it was 20 years ago.
“The church has matured collectively,” McClendon said. “We see local churches doing incredible acts of kindness and sacrifice [items] and managing resources to be an active participant in recovery, rebuilding, and servicing when disaster strikes.
“It wasn’t like that,” he said. “We would get swept up and local churches would join us and ask if there were things to do that they could help us with. Now it’s almost the other way around. We’re seeing the local church take on more responsibility, in the context of the community, to serve in almost every disaster.”
Christian Muslim Cooperation
Aid groups and Christian churches in Indonesia are not alone in disaster relief efforts.
Tarijan noted that several Muslim aid groups, such as the Multipurpose Ansur Front (Bansar) and the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center (MDMC), are on the ground along with Christian groups.
“Their numbers are greater than ours. We work with them and share information with them.
For Tarigan, Christian aid groups can learn from Muslim humanitarians in terms of becoming more responsive. “We pray and have meetings [before taking action]. “It takes too long,” he said. “Muslims will come first to help clean the roads and buildings.”
Aritunang, a minority group in the Muslim-majority country, said Indonesian Christians can prove they are an equal part of the country and bless their fellow countrymen by standing with them amid disasters.
“We would like to let the community know that we are the body of Christ,” he said. It becomes an open door for us to go to them and say ‘Yes, we are your brothers and we would like to share your burdens and serve you in this need. “
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