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Pastor Yonathan, Pentekosta Church Central Surabaya (GPPS) interview by Craig Tee

“As a pastor of GPPS Ministry I was conducting my normal 6am service on Sunday 13th May 2018, which is one of four services we have and was about to pronounce the benediction to close the service where more than 1000 followers were present, when the deafening explosion occurred. The first one was the biggest, followed by two smaller blasts. The whole church filled with thick black smoke as everyone started to panic and head in the direction of the main entrance where the blasts came from.”

Our VOM staff on the ground were told that churchgoers and staff who were gathering for the second service bore the brunt of the blasts under the main entrance awning of the church, as a madman in a black van tried to drive a vehicle through the parking area and into the church entrance. The parking attendants and security guards tried in vain to stop the van proceeding and in his haste, the driver detonated the bombs killing and injuring many.

“Stunned and confused, I directed everyone to go to the back exit, away from where the blasts had come from. With 1000 plus people at the service it was chaos with everyone trying to get out first while coughing and spluttering from the thick black smoke that engulfed the congregation and filled the church.”

I screamed “This way, this way” as people ran to safety.

According to Pastor Yonathan Biantoro, it’s a miracle more people were not killed.

The aftermath of these blasts is astounding. Charred remains of motorcycles lay strewn across the church entrance. The intruding black van had only remnants left identifying it. The awning is visible but now represents just burnt twisted metal framing black from the blasts. Windows around the building shattered. Such was the force of the explosion that the adjacent three-storey building had all the front windows blown out. Personal effects lay badly burnt and scattered all over the blast site.

With the congregation in a state of shock, leaders gathered to find alternative accommodation for 51 fulltime Bible students who normally reside in the dormitory above the church. Some of the eldership rushed off to hospital to check in on the wounded. Others make the dreaded calls to report the deaths of those from the bombings.

Calm after the storm
By Sunday evening the church front entrance was boarded up as police forensic teams scoured the area for evidence. There is an eerie silence in the neighbourhood surrounding the church as many ask … “Why us?”

The GPPS church stands boldly as one of the longest standing Pentecostal churches in Indonesia, with a long proud history. This is a church that sends out many missionaries into the field and prides itself of it’s community spirit. That spirit is all but shattered today as they come to terms with what has happened.

I return a day later to a smiling Pastor Yonathan as he greets us at the church office which is located at the rear of the church. The office entrance is scattered with large wreaths from Indonesian dignitaries. Pastor Yonathan is in high demand as the staff scurry around making alternate arrangements for students. We arrived offering immediate assistance which was graciously accepted and plan on what more we can do in the immediate aftermath. The assistance we agreed on will take time, as many are still in hospital and may need ongoing care. The repair of the church, to make it functional again, is one of our priorities. Many motorcycles, which are a common mode of transport have been lost. Bible students need meals and other necessities, as there are no usable facilities because the integrity of the electrical system in the building has been compromised by the explosion.

We need your help
Our team is on the ground and is committed for the long haul. We are working closely with the church and its elders to assist in normalising its operations as soon as possible.

We are reaching out to many of the victims and assessing what their needs are and putting in place practical solutions as best we can under the guidance of the pastoral team.

I see Pastor Yonathan late in the day. His body language shows one in need of a rest. Defiantly he scurries around meeting and greeting the church community who turn up offering their condolences and prayers.

Tomorrow he starts all over again.

Our prayers and support are with them as they face a significant time in the life of Christians in Indonesia.

“The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Saviour, You save me from violence.” 2 Samuel 22:3