Trusting God in the Middle of Tragedy – MAF in Sulawesi, Indonesia

On that particular Friday, in the late afternoon, Maryam and her husband Laurens said goodbye to some guests and planned to attend an evening church service. Laurens decided to take a short nap while Maryam went to the small store next door in a two-story building that shared a wall with their single story residence. As she returned to their house, the ground began to shake. Standing in the entry she shouted frantically to her husband, “Come out! It’s an earthquake! Come out!” but there was no response.

Neighbors ran from buildings and yelled to her as they saw her still standing inside, but she didn’t want to leave her husband alone. As she called to him again, the roof began to crumble and suddenly the floor dropped almost five meters as if the ground beneath the building had simply disappeared. Maryam fell with the abrupt drop as the concrete roof and walls came down around her, but not on her. “God, help me!” she cried, and finally started to climb out. She was now below street level, surrounded by falling, twisted debris.

Maryam can’t remember how she managed to climb out through the crumbling building and shaking ground, but she does recall a city electric post and a dangling power line that she reached for, knowing there could be high voltage. For a split second she thought, “If I’m going to die, no problem,” then grabbed the cable to pull herself out. The line was dead. A friend’s hand reached for her and pulled her the rest of the way.


Maryam and Laurens are Alfa Kawengian’s mother and father-in-law, his wife Jenny’s parents. Alfa is the Assistant Flight Ops Manager in Yayasan MAF Indonesia’s Papua program and he joined MAF’s Disaster Response team in Palu after the massive earthquake and tsunami on 28 September that devastated the city on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island.

Alfa worked as ground operations for flights to help victims of the earthquake, but he and MAF’s Evrin Pratama found the time to meet up with Alfa’s family at the site of their home one week after the earthquake. The area where Maryam and Laurens lived happened to be in one of the hardest hit areas of the city with block after block of devastation. The military had set up checkpoints, only allowing family members into the area. Excavators worked on digging up the dead. The smell and flies confirmed that no one in the rubble could still be alive. The body of Maryam’s beloved husband was still buried under concrete. Although the pile of rubble made the buildings barely recognizable, the family had caught sight of a bit of blanket that had covered the bed where Laurens slept that day.

“After seeing the place, I couldn’t believe how Maryam is still alive,” Alfa said.

For Evrin, the most heartbreaking story came from Maryam’s brother who returned to the site four hours after the earthquake to hear people crying for help and he could do nothing. “They were inside the collapsed buildings,” Evrin says. “On the third day he said he still heard some people crying and asking for help. Finally they didn’t hear anymore.”


On the eighth day following the earthquake, Lauren’s body was finally found lying in a pool of ground water as if he was still sleeping. The family buried him on 7 October. Alfa made a small cross to put on his grave.

As Alfa describes how heartbroken he is over all that happened, what a good man his father-in-law was, and how his mother-in-law’s heart is ‘destroyed’, he begins to cry. He can’t help them. “But I came here not for my family only,” he says. “I came here maybe to help another family,” referring to MAF’s work flying food and doctors to hard-hit remote areas beyond the city of Palu.

“My family praise the Lord with everything,” Alfa says. “Mom survived. They know that there was a God-plan, so they are praising the Lord. They are trusting God in all this.”


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