As other events captured the headlines, Tropical Cyclone Seroja swept across south eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste, causing loss of life and widespread devastation over the Easter weekend.
Heavy rain and winds also caused flooding, landslides and storm surges, killing over 200 people with tens of thousands having to flee their homes.
As a result, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, has encouraged PCI to pray for its partner churches in the region and, if possible, to give practical support to the relief effort.
Rev Uel Marrs, Secretary to PCI’s Council for Global Mission, said that the area worst hit was the island of Timor and smaller neighbouring islands, “PCI has a long-standing partnership with the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor, who have shared distressing accounts and images of the situation there with us. They report that as thousands of people filled hospitals and evacuation centres in search of medical aid, shelter and food, they also had the additional pressure of seeking to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The remoteness and difficult terrain has hampered the rescue and recovery effort,” he said.
Talking about the natural disaster, Dr Bruce said, “It is distressing to hear of the devastation caused by Cyclone Seroja, the tragic loss of life and damage done by the severe winds and rain. At a time when the world is focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, other disasters such as this, often go largely unnoticed.
“Our relationship with our partner churches in Indonesia goes back half a century or more. I understand that many of the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor’s buildings have been damaged and that a pastor, along with her daughter and niece, were killed tragically when a section of the church building they were sheltering in collapsed. I hope that we can stand in prayer with our partners in Timor, Sumba and the neighbouring islands, while giving practical support to the relief efforts. I would encourage our members across Ireland to pray for all those affected and support the relief effort if they can.”
Many buildings, roads and bridges along with electricity and internet networks have been damaged, or destroyed, by the cyclone. Public services in many places have either been curtailed, or totally broken down, and there is a shortage of basic items such as food and fuel. Livestock has been killed and crops washed away. Latest reports say there are 179 people dead and 45 missing in Indonesia, with a further 42 killed in Timor-Leste.
Rev Mery Kolimon, Moderator of the Evangelical Christian Church of Timor, has reported that local churches responded immediately. Church buildings that escaped serious damage were opened as shelters for those of all faiths who had to flee their homes. The Timorese church also opened an emergency response centre and has been actively coordinating with regional and national government to provide aid to people who have been displaced and to help find and evacuate victims of the storm.
The Christian Church of Sumba is also a global PCI partner in the region. While the island of Sumba escaped the worst of the cyclone, its population of just over 750,000 still suffered greatly with over 6,000 houses and other buildings being damaged or destroyed, 16 bridges have been destroyed, 23 roads damaged and large areas of agricultural land badly flooded.
Rev Dr Liz Hughes, Convener of the Council for Global Mission said, “Having visited the region twice in the last five years, and met with church leaders from both islands each time, I have a special place in my heart for this part of the world. Despite the devastation, however, it has also been truly inspirational to hear that some churches were still able to hold short Easter services to worship the Lord and seek refuge in Him. Indeed, I have been deeply moved by the account of one minister, Rev Niko Selan, serving on Alor Island.”
“Even with landslides early on Easter Sunday morning, which washed away nine homes, homeless members of his congregation still asked him to lead a simple short service, which he did. I along with our Moderator, I commend them and all our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been affected by this cyclone to our Church in prayer, and encourage our members to consider supporting the relief efforts.”
As it did following the devastating explosion in Beirut last year, PCI’s Mission Department is ready to channel any donations to the emergency initiatives being undertaken by its partners.
Anyone wishing to donate to the relief effort can do so in via the PCI website here or by sending a cheque made payable to ‘The Presbyterian Church in Ireland’ and posting to at Assembly Buildings, 6-10 Fisherwick Place, Belfast, BT1 6DW. Please state the donation is for Indonesian Cyclone relief.