The death toll has risen to more than 2000. 86 church buildings in Palu have been established as aid centres. Pastors ask believers “to pray for strength for their communities to endure in the midst of trauma”.
Almost two weeks after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated homes, businesses and churches on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, the death toll has risen to more than 2000.
“On October 11, we will hold joint prayers in Balaroa, Petobo and Jono Oge areas of Palu city to end the evacuation of bodies”, the national disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
Agency spokesman explained that efforts to retrieve bodies will not continue because of the difficult terrain and advanced state of decomposition, that made the bodies unrecognisable and could cause contamination.
The quake in Palu caused loose soil to liquefy, swallowing houses and burying the occupants with them and that could provoke the spread of disease.
During the daily news briefing on the relief efforts, Nugroho confirmed that, while the official search will end, authorities will not stop villagers from continuing to dig through the ruins for their loved ones.
The disaster destroyed more than 65,000 homes and buildings, and displaced more than 70,000 people.
Thousands are still living in temporary shelters and tents across Palu, but the life of others is beginning to return to normal in some areas.
That is the case of an evangelical church near the coast hardest-hit by the earthquake, Bethany Fresh Anointing Church in Palu, which resumed worship on Sunday and Monday, as Christianity Today reported.
The congregation praised God for keeping their building standing and prayed for the two dead and two missing from their body.
“We pray for our town, and we pray for our leaders. We pray and praise and worship. We are always in the presence of God”, a lay leader told Christianity Today.
While dozens churches in Palu held services over the weekend for the first time since the disaster, many Christian villagers outside of the capital city have no building to return to.
“I’m here at this particular church because my own church is no more; it’s levelled, and on its location there’s a corn plant. That was very strange to me”, Min Kapala, a believer who travelled to the city from the outskirts, told The Washington Post.
Because of severe damage to roads and buildings in remote areas, it has taken days for the Indonesian Protestant Church in Donggala (GPID) officials and aid workers to reach the farthest-flung of the 100 churches across the province.
Christian ministries in Central Sulawesi and West Sulawesi provinces are bussing in hundreds of kilos of basic necessities, items ranging from ramen noodles to Pampers.
Christian organisation World Vision International has coordinated relief workers to arrange trips to markets and gas stations that are finally reopening; set up field hospitals for emergency surgeries; distribute thousands of blankets and tarps and offer counseling for children in villages.
A Christian response team from the YAKKUM Emergency Unit (YEU) treated 40 patients at the Great Mosque of Palu and set up clinics at several local churches serving as evacuation sites.
CHURCH BUILDINGS AS AID CENTRES
Since the beginning of the tragedy, Christian leaders in Central Sulawesi province have been coordinating relief efforts for the tens of thousands of people displaced by the disaster.
According to Christianity Today, 86 church buildings in Palu, mostly shaken but still standing, have been established as aid centres for victims across the province.
“The refugees who came to take refuge there were also Muslims. They blend in supporting each other both materially and psychologically” wrote Yuberlian Padele, rector of Tentena Theological Seminary and former general chairperson of the Central Sulawesi Christian Church (GKST).
GPID pastor Eben Haezer has opened a health center in South Palu for injured victims, hosting a Christian doctor from City Harvest Church in Singapore.
A Salvation Army congregation in Palu set up a kitchen at its building to cook, pack, and deliver 100–300 meals a day, starting the day after the quake and tsunami hit the island.
The pastors asked for fellow believers “to pray for strength for their communities to endure in the midst of trauma and loss and to find access to resources”.
They said residents are left desperate for basic necessities like food, water, and gas while their city has been overrun with violent looters and price-gouging.