On 7-8 September, several missiles were reportedly fired by al-Qaeda-linked rebels toward the predominately Christian town of Mhardeh, Syria. Reports indicate that the missiles carried cluster bombs, killing at least 10 civilians and seriously wounding at least 20 others. Two more died later in hospital.
Five of the dead were children under 15, three from the same family, whose mother and grandmother were also killed. The children’s father is in hospital.
“Do you feel that you are safe now?” asked a reporter for Norwegian newspaper Dagen, which has links to Mhardeh. “All we can do now is to pray,” a local source told its reporter. “The only thing we feel is grief. Please pray for us.”
Mhardeh, reported to be one of the most densely populated Christian villages in Syria, has received thousands of internally displaced people from other parts of the country.
Mhardeh is controlled by the Syrian government, which has retaliated by attacking nearby towns as part of the build-up to the offensive against Idlib Province. The province is the last remaining stronghold controlled by the opposition.
Sources: International Christian Concern, World Watch Monitor
- Ask the Lord to comfort these families in their time of shock and grief. Pray they will rest in the knowledge that the good shepherd walks with them (Psalm 23).
- Ask the Lord to bring healing to those who are injured; pray for the medical staff who are treating them.
- Ask the Lord to intervene and bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria.
Pastor Estefanus relates his story and heartache
Pastor Estefanus was not at the main church on that fateful Sunday when the bombs exploded at the Pentekosta Church Central Surabaya (GPPS), as he was preaching at another church in West Surabaya when it happened.
“I have known Martha, affectionately known as Bing Bing, for many years that we served in the ministry together. Tragically my wife died early last year of a heart attack. Bing Bing and I became close friends in the last three months, starting a relationship.” Pastor Estefanus describes Bing Bing as a dedicated and kind-hearted woman.
She had been a faithful servant of the ministry for many years, living in the dormitory with the Bible students, assisting as a mentor to them. Bing Bing had a Christian father and Muslim mother and converted to Christianity as a young adult and in 1987 became involved in the ministry.
She had never married and at 52 years of age had well given up on the idea. That was until her developing relationship with Estefanus, led to a proposal. They became engaged on Saturday 12 May but tragically, Bing Bing had her life cruelly taken from her the following morning as she was serving in the church, which was to greet the churchgoers as they arrived before the service.
Explosion in the church
Bing Bing was in the church entrance when the explosions took place and stood very little chance of surviving the magnitude of the blasts. When the first blast went off, she was wounded and reached out to help another more seriously wounded person. Minutes later, a second blast, as severe as the first, cruelly ended her life.
As her loved ones gathered to celebrate her life, it became apparent how popular and well-liked Bing Bing had been. The room was filled with friends discussing the tragedy, but they also talked of how she impacted their lives with her love for God and for others too.
Stories of her generosity towards others and her selflessness showed how her faith was demonstrated in her life.
A life with so much to offer, tragically taken away in an instant.
“I have seen this hatred for Christians before in Indonesia and it is frightening that they use their own children to wreak this havoc” Pastor Estefanus expressed.
He sits, head in hands, “I have many questions at this time, but not many answers as to where to from here for me. Even though it is tough for me, we must forgive. That is God’s way!”
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Mark 11:25-26
by Craig Tee
Daniel aged 15, is described by Ms Sumidja, his loving grandmother who he lived with, as a typical young boy in character, but a diligent grandson who knew what he desired.
He attended church every week faithfully. Following carpark duty for the first service, he would head off to youth service. He played the drums and taught others at youth to play as well. He loved being a part of the worship team. Daniel’s 20-year-old sister Novi, who recently started working, supported Daniel and his grandmother and paid his school fees. Daniel contributed to the running of the home from the tips he received from his carpark duties at church every week.
Daniel’s father had taught him since childhood to work persistently. He worked as a parking attendant in Pentekosta Church Central Surabaya (GPPS) alongside his father on Sundays. His responsibility was to manage the parking lot at the front yard of the church, while his father worked at the parking lot at the back of the church.
Life and Loss
On that fateful Sunday, 13 May, Daniel was performing his usual duties when a black van tried to force its way into the carpark. He reacted and signalled that the van stop! The van swerved to avoid hitting Daniel, yet the driver kept going. Daniel commanded the van to stop once more and as the van neared the front entrance of the church it exploded with such force that the entrance awning disappeared, rocking the whole building to the core and sending churchgoers everywhere with the impact.
Daniel’s life, like that of many others, was cruelly taken away that day. His grandmother explains tearfully as she clings to a recent photo of Daniel.
He had been taught to read the Bible and love God. The proof of his love for God can be seen on his Bible where he wrote “I love Jesus” on the last page. The book of Matthew was his favourite. He grew to be a spirited, brave and responsible young man.
As a grandmother and mother, who had lost Daniel’s mother when he was just two years old, Sumidja loved her grandson and the high spirit he brought to the home. She holds back tears as she shares how he had a desire to acquire an old motorbike which he could refurbish. Taking from her last savings, she managed to help him buy a motorbike, which he doted over at every chance he had, frequently cleaning it and occasionally doing the minor services. It was his delight and satisfaction.
Daniel had recently completed his exams and Novi excitedly showed me his workbooks. All neat and in order, quite unusual for most teenagers his age.
This was a life taken away by an act of violent cruelty. I could not help my own emotions surfacing whilst I struggled to continue to hear about this fine young man. I pondered my own childhood and my close bond with my grandmother, while still struggling to comprehend the loss thrust upon this family.
The loss and grief displayed by this grieving grandmother was heartbreaking and very touching.
As I bid my farewell, I hugged and held her tightly as she wept, and through her tears said to me “I know where he is, he is in God’s hands.”
I left feeling empty for their loss, promising to continue to pray for them as they deal with the senseless and tragic loss of life of Daniel.
Sadly, cut short in life, not in the least ever forgotten.
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.” 1 John 5:4
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
I travelled to Surabaya two days after the bombings of 13 May took place and I was struck by the uneasy calm which enveloped the city. Whilst there, I attended many celebrations of the lives of victims, and funerals too. I was taken aback by the sheer nature of the evil that was administered indiscriminately to the victims of these bombings. The devastation is alarming and senseless.
The Bible is clear that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12). As we begin to understand the scale of these attacks, we need to remind ourselves of what God’s word says.
Christians in Indonesia have endured many hardships as history informs us, but their resolve is equally resilient! “Good must triumph over evil. We cannot allow the enemy to overshadow the purpose God has for us. We must pray” were the words echoed by a pastor who is facing a divided church, some angry and some heartfelt, wanting to forgive and move on. “We cannot allow the enemy to steal our joy,” he claims.
As things return to a state of calm after the bombings, we reflect on those who have tragically lost loved ones and are left to resume their lives. Many of those affected are dealing with a range of emotions and the reality of financial loss. Voice of the Martyrs has stepped in to assist where most needed and we stand ready in support of those who need our help. We are receiving regular updates on the needs arising from this tragedy.
Let us not forget everyone who has been impacted by this tragedy. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered, so please pray for them.
“Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:15