Sunday is a special day for a pastor like me. I am the only official pastor in Meulaboh serving GMII (Evangelical Mission Church of Indonesia). That morning, my heart was so full of joy as I thought through the week’s events that led up to Christmas. That Christmas, we were all invited to attend the Methodist church service. Then we held our own Christmas service at which Pastor Mirna preached. All other church denominations in Meulaboh came and joined us for the service, including the Batak Church. We had such a unity among all the churches.
Now it was Sunday morning, the next day after Christmas, and I was preparing to go to the Sony shop where we would have our usual Sunday church service. Suddenly, the earth shook violently with a loud rumble, threatening to tear apart our house. Everything, from the corrugated iron roof to the wooden beams and boards of the house, squeaked terribly as if any moment everything would break apart. “Earthquake!” we shouted. My husband took hold of my hand immediately to lead me out of the house.
We had such a struggle trying to get out of the house. The ground was rocking to and fro so badly it was difficult for us to balance ourselves. We kept falling over and picking ourselves up. Every step we took threw us off balance. The earthquake became more and more intense with each passing moment. Hand in hand we struggled on until finally we succeeded getting out of the house. We looked around and saw many houses had collapsed and crumbled into heaps of rubble and others in various degrees of destruction. There were houses which had just its front or back left in tact exposing everything in them.
Soon the sound of crying followed, everywhere, all around, in every direction. Could this be the end of the world? Crowds of people shouted,
“The end of the world! The end of the world!”.
“Did it have anything to do with what we had just experienced yesterday at the Christmas celebration we held on the beach?”, I wondered. It was an unusual experience – I cannot recall a more wonderful and joyful time we had together. Every family voluntarily brought so much food to share with others. And the singing and worship was exceptional that evening. Everyone took turns to sing a solo, to praise the Lord. This was unusual. It took was always difficult to get anyone to sing solo, because Batak’s are well known for their natural melodious singing and good voices whereas 80% of our congregation are Chinese and they are always conscious that they can’t sing as well as the Bataks in our congregation. This was despite my reminding everyone all the time that whenever we sing praises, it is beautiful in God’s hearing.
But that Christmas gathering on the beach, it was so different. We reveled and laughed and had such a memorable time together like it was to be our very last time together in this life.
There was another strange thing I experienced that day. During my tenure as pastor of the church I had never experienced anything like it. All through the day whenever I closed my eyes to pray, I had a vision of the sea changing into blood. It was very frightening and disturbing. Was God trying to show me something, I wondered. Each time I prayed, I opened my eyes quickly because I didn’t want to see that terrible image that kept coming back. I thought, perhaps it might just be my imagination. But why was I imagining that? Each time I had to close my eyes again to pray (because that was our tradition whenever we bowed our heads in prayer), I would see the sea of blood again. I decided not to close my eyes again, and I thought to myself that it would be alright if I prayed with eyes opened.
I tried to forget the image I was seeing and began to enjoy the beach gathering. We sang and sang and sang. The sun had set and it was getting late, yet no one felt like going home. Someone asked,
“Why is no one saying that it is time to go home? Usually all of us would be in a hurry to get home when it starts to get dark. Why is this day so different? We have never before enjoyed such a Christmas together!”
And everyone agreed with him. Someone added,
“We are enjoying this so much – we have never been so full of joy, would it be the same when we get to heaven?” Another replied, “Of course, it will be more wonderful than today.”
What a Christmas it was, so memorable, except for that one thing that kept bothering me – that image of the sea of blood. Then in the closing prayer, when I closed my eyes to pray and give the benediction, the image of the sea of blood came to me again. I immediately opened my eyes and just completed the prayer and benediction with open eyes. I was too afraid to close my eyes again.
My short recollection of the previous evening’s events was cut short when I suddenly thought about the Sony shop where we would have our services. I didn’t know why but I felt a certain apprehension. What was the condition of the three storey building, I wondered? Did it survive the earthquake when it finally stopped? I asked my husband, Iwan Sinaga, (who is a policeman, but has a heart of a pastor), to go and find out.
“Pa, please go and see how the Sony shop is, I am having bad feelings about it.”
So he got on his motorcycle which was a gift to us from our congregation and Pastor Mirni, and proceeded to check on it. Aphin, the owner of the Sony shop, was a generous member of the congregation. He helped me so much. That Christmas, he supplied all the sound equipment for the combined church service. Why was I suddenly thinking about his family? He had a wife, Sari, and daughter, Cindy.
“If only all the church members were as kind as Aphin”, I thought.
While I thought about their family, I tried to clean up the mess that had scattered all over the place in our home. Somehow, I thought thankfully, our house did not collapse.
While I was busy, my husband appeared at the front door. He looked pale and appeared as if he was going to faint any moment. I asked, “How was it, Pa?” He just kept silent. Perhaps my question was not clear to him, so I repeated my question once again clearly, “How is Aphin, Pa…?” My husband still kept silent and sat down. I asked him again, “Please tell me, what happened..?”
Eventually, my husband replied,
“The Sony shop has collapsed, Aphin and his family are gone…”
My knees gave way and I felt my heart stopped. But, I quickly gathered up strength and picked myself up and said, “Take me there…” My husband replied, “No, you are in no condition to go there.” “Please take me there quickly..” I replied. Eventually, my husband gave in and said, “You have to promise me that you won’t faint..”. I prayed, “Lord Jesus, strengthen me..”, and off we went on the motorcycle.
Later it was confirmed, those of us, almost the whole church, who left for Aphin’s house before the Tsunami came were saved. It meant that God used the death of Aphin to save all of us.
“Our Lord, why does it have to happen this way? I don’t understand You, God..”, I cried bitterly. Truly as it is said in His word, “precious is the death of His saints.”
I remembered when the Synod assigned me to Aceh, I was so upset “Why must it be me, the only woman to go? Was there no other suitable candidate to be posted to Aceh? But the Elder Pastor told me, “Don’t be angry, pray to go in peace. Wherever you are posted, Jesus is there. Learn to be obedient”. But those feelings of anger were only temporary. I soon felt joy serving in this place where people called it “a terrible place”. Now after the disaster, Aceh has become an even more terrible than I thought. But I feel the Lord has given me the strength to overcome this prejudice and has impressed upon me deeply that I should have compassion and love Aceh even more.
I believe God wants me to stay in Aceh to complete His work for this place. God placed me here and by His grace I will be faithful to shepherd my congregation.
Moreover, since this terrible disaster, they need me even more than ever to give them spiritual support. I will not leave, for God alone decides when it is His time to move me on to another place. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, after reading this testimony, please keep me, Amyati Damanik, in your prayers. I need you to pray for me. Thank you.
Used with Permission. Indonesian Mission Church. http://dairicf.googlepages.com
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfataustralianaid/10730592474/in/album-72157637431458746/ Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade