When Pastor Jonah’s house was swept away in a torrent of mud, he didn’t expect that he or his family would come out alive. What happened next taught him a precious lesson.
It all happened during the terrible earthquake and tsunami which devastated large areas of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in September 2018.
‘My whole house was lifted up and swept away by the mud,’ remembers Jonah, a pastor from Donggala, in the central region of the island. ‘My family – my wife, my teenage daughter and I – were carried away, finally landing two kilometres away.’
Jonah and his family were trapped in the mud for a whole day. ‘There was no way out of it, we were terrified and thought we were going to never get out. 24 hours later, some members of the nearby Muslim community saw us and ran over to help us. They pulled us out and saved our lives.’
‘My wife had a broken arm,’ Jonah recalls the painful memory, ‘and I am lucky just to have some minor injuries. My daughter is still suffering from the trauma. It is thanks to the local Muslim community that we are still alive.’
Jonah met the Imam and shook hands with him: ‘Today, me and my family will consider you all as family.’
Laying down his life for a stranger...
A number of people from the Muslim village also died in the disaster. Tragically, one person lost their life in the effort to save Jonah’s family.
‘He was sucked into the mud,’ remembers Jonah, sadly. ‘No one could help him. And it dawned on me while it all happened, that they really, really wanted to help with a genuine heart.’
‘I met the Imam and shook hands with him. I felt there was a brotherhood connection there.’
Jonah told the Imam, ‘Today, me and my family will consider you all as family.’
‘It put me into a place where I was willing to connect with other people as brothers without judgment.'
Jonah’s story holds a powerful message for the Christians and Muslims of Indonesia and around the world. The nation has long prided itself on its tolerance between faiths, and in many parts of Indonesia that still holds firm. However there have been a number of incidences of inter-religious violence in the last two decades, and an increase in more radical forms of Islam among some younger people.
Jonah’s church had been receiving training in how to cope with disasters from PGI, the largest network of churches in Indonesia.
Rev Henry Lokra of the PGI network, in Sulawesi, shared news of the remarkable rescue with Tearfund. ‘I want people to know that people of different faiths here in Indonesia are working together,’ he said. ‘We will continue to support each other and lift one another up in prayer.
Jonah says that the experience has changed his attitude to his Muslim neighbours forever.
‘It put me into a place where I was willing to learn how to connect with other people as brothers without judgment. Often our faith will not grow unless we experience things in our lives. In that moment of understanding when these things happened I gained something very precious. And I no longer have these suspicions against them at all.’
‘Now, we’re going to go there to bring aid and help. I promised them that in these coming few days I would come.’
- Pray for the many thousands whose lives, and livelihoods, have been devastated by the earthquake on Sulawesi that they can receive the help and strength they need to rebuild.
- Pray for good coordination between local and international organisations as they work together to rebuild communities.
- Pray for the PGI network as they continue to promote peacebuilding work, including between Christians and Muslims.
Photo: Lewis Inman/DEC