Indonesian Churches Rise from Rubble to Help Others

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PADANG, Indonesia - Nearly a month after the devastating earthquake that struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra, survivors have already started to rebuild their lives.

Some residents, however, have delayed those plans in order to help their fellow quake survivors.

Lenny Tanusubandri was in the kitchen of her restaurant the day the ground shook.

"The building began to shake. At first, I thought it was an airplane that had crashed nearby. And then, in a matter of seconds, my kitchen was on fire," she recalled.

Tanusubandri believes that if it hadn't been for God's protection and the kindness of strangers, she and her family would not be alive today.

"I know Jesus was helping us," she said. "He used many people, not just Christians, to help us put out the fire."

Almost a month after a deadly earthquake struck Indonesia's West Sumatra province killing more than 1,000 and leaving more than half a million people homeless, Tanusubandri and countless other Indonesian Christians have been working around the clock to help survivors.

"So many people here are still suffering. I can't bear to see others suffer," Tanusubandri said. "So I help by cooking, preparing meals for them. I love to cook."

She erected a makeshift relief tent next to her badly damaged church.

"The church is practically unusable. It sustained severe damage during the earthquake," said Pastor Johan Makmur of Gereja Bethel Church. "We are very sad about this, but we have an opportunity to demonstrate God's love in the midst of this crisis. Many of our church members lost their homes yet they are out here helping others."

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation. About 8 percent of the population is Christian-- a number that's even lower in West Sumatra.

There are just a handful of churches in the entire province. Now, many of them like the Batak Protestant Church lie in ruins.

The earthquake could not have happened at a more inopportune time for the members of the congregation. In the last few months, they spent thousands of dollars renovating the church.

"Since this is a Muslim country, it is very hard to get permission to start or for that matter build a church," explained Batak Protestant Church's Siringo Ringo. "Many of our members cried when they saw the damaged church."

But after a few days of clean up, the church gathered to worship for the first time since the earthquake.

"God has not called us to live for ourselves, but to live for others and to serve others," Ringo said.

So, like Tanusubandri's church, members of the Batak Protestant congregation began reaching out to earthquake victims.

"We too have opened an outreach center primarily to care for our church members, but it is also open to the public," Ringo added.

Recently, CBN's Operation Blessing partnered with several churches there to deliver much needed relief supplies to some of the hard-to-reach areas of the disaster zone.

For Operation Blessing, it's not just about getting to the hardest-hit areas in devastation, but also the hard-to-reach areas.

Some 1,500 people live in one village the charity help that's evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Several of the homes up there where destroyed.

The village elder, who's a Muslim, tried repeatedly to get local government officials to bring aid to the people. They refused, and instead asked the villagers to make the trip down the mountain to an area hospital.

"That's why I am so glad that Operation Blessing is here today," Karim Mohammed. "Nobody else wanted to come up here since this village is very difficult to get to. It means a lot to us that you are here."

Local Christian volunteers joined the Operation Blessing team to deliver food and water. Several Operation Blessing doctors were also on hand.

It's all part of what believers there say is the quiet heroism of survivors reaching out to fellow survivors and giving them the strength and courage to move on.

"We've all lost so much but I know something good will come out of this tragedy," Tanusubandri said.

*Original broadcast October 23, 2009.

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