PADANG, Indonesia - Raymond Sitorus is most comfortable behind a camera documenting Operation Blessing's disaster relief work in the earthquake zone of Indonesia.
But this week, he found himself in the uncomfortable position of trying to convince an Indonesian police chief to loan him a helicopter.
"I was filming at an Operation Blessing medical outreach when an earthquake survivor told me there was a village close to the epicenter that had not yet been reached by aid workers," Sitorus said.
The location was remote and all the roads leading to the village had been destroyed in the quake.
"I went to the local police chief and asked if we could use his helicopter to go to this village and check for survivors," Sitorus added. "He looked at me as if I was crazy and said it was not possible."
But Sitorus would not take no for an answer. Finally, the police chief agreed, but reluctantly.
Uncovering Remote Village
So on Thursday morning, Sitorus, several Operation Blessing doctors, and a couple of Indonesian police officers, set out for the village of Ambacang Gadang. What they saw as they approached the village was shocking: several massive landslides had engulfed the village.
"I didn't think anyone could have survived this kind of devastation," he said
Miraculously, dozens of people had survived and Sitorus began to document what he saw and heard.
"We've had no water, no rice, nothing to eat," one earthquake survivor said. "We've been living on coconut juice for the last five days."
Everywhere Sitorus pointed the camera, there was devastation. Homes were completely flattened, and roads were split in half.
Seventeen-year-old Zaino Abiu was caught in one of the landslides.
"I was hit by a huge wall of mud," Abiu said. "I was tumbling down this mountain completely buried. I could not breath. I thought I was going to die."
Incredibly he survived, but two of his friends who were standing next to him are still missing.
Sitorus met another survivor, 49-year-old Emira. She too had an amazing story.
"In seconds (my home) was all gone," she said. "Flattened by the earthquake."
The police officer asked the villagers what they needed.
"We need blankets, we need rice, tents, food, water, clothes," one survivor said. "Some of our people are also sick with fever, cough and pains."
Operation Blessing Steps In
That's when the Indonesian police chief, who had been so reluctant to help, turned to Sitorus and the Operation Blessing team and smiled.
Minutes later the helicopter was making the return flight to base. An hour later it was back in the village with boxes of relief supplies from Operation Blessing.
"Today is the first time that I will have a meal because of you," Emira told Operation Blessing workers.
The Operation Blessing doctors immediately setup camp and began to examine each villager.
For the man behind the camera documenting the moment, there was a sense of personal satisfaction. But he refused to take credit.
"The real heroes are the men and women who volunteer for Operation Blessing and those who make it possible to help my people who are suffering," Sitorus said.
Operation Blessing had favor, not just with villagers, but also with the Indonesian police force.
"The police chief told me that whenever we need to ferry supplies we can count on them and they will let us use the helicopter for free," Sitorus said.
*Originally published October 9, 2009