I have been blessed with knowing the Lord most of my life and am always amazed at how He has developed my faith along the journey. For it is a continual process of growing and shaping that needs to happen for me to be more Christ like. Through these precious moments and eye opening experiences my faith in Him has deepened. Sometimes those moments will test my abilities beyond what I could have imagined possible but I know that He is with me. One such moment that my family and I just walked through happened while on vacation on the island of Lombok on August 5, 2018.
In the begin of our vacation it all seemed pretty normal with time spent packing, waiting for our flights, walking through airports, and then landing on another island. This time though we were going to get to explore a new island for the first time and celebrate with our oldest son Franklin as he would be turning 16 halfway through the vacation week. After landing on the island of Lombok on the 4th of August our family enjoyed the one and a half hour taxi ride north of the airport as we heading to our villa. The kids and I enjoyed looking at the landscape and comparing it to what we had on our island while Greg visited with the taxi driver. Who by the way learned that we lived in Papua and that we liked trying out new foods! Especially when it is something from that island as each island had different food and spices. About an hour into the drive he actually did a detour for us and took us to a local restaurant that he thought we would enjoy some local dishes. Which we did very much enjoy the new tasty food! After finishing our supper we continued along some beautiful coastal areas were locals were busy selling things to the tourist as they sat upon cliffs watching the sunset. Once we arrived the kids fell in love with the beautiful two story home we had rented and began looking around the place and picking bedrooms out. It was fun to watch as they had not wanted to see pictures ahead of time! After rooms were picked and a movie was watched we headed to bed with plans for the next day to start exploring some and hopeful finding the beach.
The next day dawn beautifully with a nice refreshing breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Little did we know that we were about to start the day that would forever change us in some way. After a great breakfast served by the villa’s two house helpers we decided to head out by foot to see what we could find. I remember greeting the people in the neighborhood and feeling excited about the week ahead of us as we walked down the street. About thirty minutes later two of my children and I had our feet in the sand at the beach while waiting for my husband Greg and my oldest son to bring the motorbikes down. For part way through our walk we discovered that it was longer then we realized and did not want to hike all the way back to the villa. The kids laughed and played on the beach for about three hours that morning. While I enjoyed siting on a mat placed under a nice umbrella eating cut up pineapples and mangos as I laughed at my children. Towards the end the boys thought it would be great fun burying themselves in the sand which their sister was all too happy to comply with. Once they grew tired of the beach and got changed we decided to eat at one of the restaurants that served food right there on the beach. This was followed by some down time back at the villa that led to more swimming for the guys in the small villa pool. However, Jaclynn and I wanted to explore some more and possibly do a little shopping for those rare treasures to take home with us. And not only were we blessed to find some great treasures but God blessed us with finding a few birthday presents for Franklin’s big day later on in the week. By the time we arrived back at the villa after finishing our shopping it was supper time. We had noticed earlier that day that there was a spa and restaurant just down the road from us. As we sat and waited for our food everyone seemed to be just enjoying spending time as a family and trying to make a plan for what we all wanted to try through the rest of the week. Little did we know that in less than two hours God was going to allow our family to be literally shaken to the core and witness His amazing power through it all!
We arrived back to the villa around 7:30 that night and both Jaclynn and I headed to have showers while the guys played their electronic devices. Jaclynn finished her shower first and came knocking on my door looking for me to help her with a small sliver that she got in her hand early that day. I remember yelling to her that I would be out soon and that I would come looking for her once I was finished. So I quickly finished, threw my clothes on, tossed a towel around my head, and walked out of my room and confirmed with Greg that Jaclynn was still needing me. At the same time my son Isaac came down stairs complaining that he couldn’t get the upstairs tv working again and was needing help. So I head upstairs with Isaac close behind me in the hopes of getting the tv working for him as well. For in this house there was a small family area and tv which was right on the top landing of the stairs. Once we arrived upstairs I began changing batteries in the remote control and Jaclynn came out of her bedroom so that I could look at her hand. After getting the tv fixed Isaac quickly tells his brother, who was lying on his bed, that the tv was now working if he wanted to come watch something with us. While Isaac did that Jaclynn and I talked for a minute until he rejoined us at the top of the stairs. As soon as I turned to lay down the remote I was holding the whole house began to shake violently. Isaac reacted the fastest of the three of us and descended the stairs two at a time yelling earthquake. While Jaclynn and I pause a moment or two (for it is a normal thing to pause for us as none of the earthquakes we have felt in Papua have required us to leave our house before) before quickly heading down the stairs. I can remember being half way down the stairs and hearing this deep, hard, banging noise that was coming from the ground and Jaclynn yelling for Franklin. Thankfully, the stairs lead right to the front door of the villa! As I ran through the door I could see parts of our house flying down all around us and I remember briefly thinking about what this would do to our vacation.
Greg was the first one out of the house since he was on the ground floor and he was already holding Isaac in his arms by the time I come out the door with Jaclynn. I run to them and turn to grab Jaclynn when I am hit with the sickening realization that my oldest son is not behind us. At this point Greg gathers us in his arms and tries to hold us as the earthquake continues to violently shake us. At this moment all of our hearts are breaking as we stand and watch the house we just ran out of continue to shake and pieces fall around us. I remember just screaming my sons name and listening to my other children do the same thing while my husband held us in his arms. Finally, the earthquake stops and Greg very quickly gets us to quiet down so he can call out Franklins name in the hopes of having him answer us. At the same time Greg pulls out his small flash light and starts shining it towards the boy’s upstairs room in the hopes of helping Franklin. Seconds after having only Greg call out his name we heard the sweet sound of him answering back to us letting us know that he was still in his room upstairs and that he was okay. Greg told him to try to get out of his room and downstairs as safely and quickly as possible. We could tell that most of the large windows in the house were gone and that his ceiling (gyprock) had all come down with one even covering were the large window pane use to be. Even though it felt like forever until we saw him on the stairs he was actually able to get out and down most of the stairs within seconds. He had barely stepped off the stairs, while we are having an aftershock, when we saw the ceiling up above the stairs come down.
Having him walk out of the house and be able to hug him in my arms is one of those rare moments as a parent that I will not forget. Once Greg and I finished hugging Franklin he quickly makes his way to his brother and sister for hugs as they ride out that aftershock. Now that Franklin is safe both Greg and I jump into survival mode! The first thing that Greg and I realize is that we were all walking over glass and other things completely barefoot. Thankfully, since our family had been living in Indonesia for a while all of our shoes were outside the front door which is custom to life here when you are a guest somewhere. Greg quickly runs to the porch as another aftershock begins while I quickly tell the kids to not move too much. And he just starts throwing everyone’s shoes towards me. As we ride out another aftershock together as a family and the dust settles it is starting to sink in just how much God was with our family as we finally starting looking around. God allowed the four of us to run out of a shaking house with glass, bricks, and other things being thrown all over the place barefoot and not one of us had cuts on us. Our oldest son was alive and at the moment we could not find one mark on him as well. Plus he walked through the destroyed house barefoot without cuts on his feet and the ceiling held until he finished walking underneath it.
Even though I was shaking inside and my children were crying (especially Isaac who just wanted his special blanket) I knew that God and his angels had been in that house with us which is the only reason my entire family was alive without a mark on them. After confirming that everyone was physically okay and riding out another aftershock Greg started running into the ground level rooms to start rescuing things. Since most of the huge front windows had shattered it made it easier for him to run in and out faster and the kids would start yelling at him when they felt another aftershock start up. His computer was sitting on the kitchen table as he had just left it a moment before the earthquake started so that was the first thing out of the house. He uses that for work and if we could not get to any on our documents we had digital copies on his computer. When he had left his computer, he had left the computer screen lid up and it was running. So you can imagine our surprise when he found it covered with dust but it seemed totally fine. Next, Greg went into our bedroom and found cell phones, purses, passports, and anything that he could easily and quickly grab that was thrown all over the floor in between the aftershocks that kept coming one upon another. Once he handed me my purse I quickly called our program manager from Papua to fill them in what had just happen and that we were all alive. At the same time Greg was on the phone with our teammates here in Merauke to also let them know what had just happen and that we were all alive and to be on stand-by if we needed help getting off the island. As soon as we got off the phone with them we started getting messages from different friends and teammates asking if we were okay as the news of the earthquake was making the news across Indonesia. This is also when our teammates in Merauke text us the news that our family had just experienced a 7.0 earthquake! Once those first few calls were made Greg went back into our room to try and find more belongs and all of a sudden it dawns on me that I was not wearing my glasses and for him to keep an eye out for them. To be honest with you as I looked at what was left of our room, I felt that there was no way he would find them as I had just laid them on top of the dresser. And I could see that the dresser tipped over with part of a wall on top of it. Not more than one minute later Greg calls my name and hands me my glasses. As I looked at them I realized that there is not one scratch on them and quickly put them on my head and continued helping Greg. Next came the small room where we kept our suitcase which Greg could see was completely buried by parts of different walls that had collapsed. Both of us were thinking that we could at least find our clothes but did not expect the suitcase to have withstood the weight as they were light weight Indonesia made suitcases. So it was with more shear amazement that Greg handed me the first suitcase and I carried it over to the one security light that was solar powered and quickly pulled the larger bricks and glass out of the clothes and threw in any of our lose belongs that he had found moments earlier. This same process happened with all three big bags in the exact same fashion however there were breaks between finding things as the aftershocks kept him out of the house. Through all of this we could also hear the neighbors screaming, people going from house to house (ours included) checking for people, and then everyone had been gathering in the soccer field across from our villa. Then all of a sudden the people who had lived along the coast line came rushing up screaming and causing a lot of panic due to the fact that a tsunami warning had been issued and could happen at any moment. However, both Greg and I felt that we were a safe distance away from the beach and we were also on an incline that we were safe. Add to that was the fact that all of the people in the neighborhood who had taken shelter in the soccer field after the initial earthquake stayed right where they were gave us peace. That being said, it did set our kids off again and really scarred them into thinking that they should join the people and run up the road. We had to pause from our work to explain to them that they were okay and I started singing Jesus Loves Me to them a couple times before they once again calmed down. Well, as much as one could calm down after living through that and riding out the aftershocks that kept coming. Through it all Greg and I kept pointing out to the kids how much God loved us and was right there with us as we continued to pull cameras, tablets, and backpacks out of our bedroom. And through that first hour or two Greg was able to locate all of our belongings from the master bedroom with nothing broken or destroyed including my bag of treasures I had just purchased hours earlier with Jaclynn. Even though the kids agreed with us about how God was with us it was still very hard on them as at that moment they had not one extra pair of clothing with them. And two of our children had prized blankets and stuff animals that they had from birth still up stairs.
Thankfully, we were able to pull our king size mattress out the front window after removing large pieces of glass that had been driven into the ground from the boys upstairs window. We found the safest place that we could think of in our courtyard and laid the mattress down after banging it to clear the rubble off of it along with the three pillows and two blankets from our bedroom. The kids gladly left the wicker chairs for the bed but found it took a while to get use to laying on it due to the fact that the springs in the bed felt like the earth moving when people rolled over. However, a few hours into it they could tell the difference between someone rolling over and an aftershock. Also, by this time I had started to time the aftershocks to see how long we had between them to see if it would be possible to get upstairs. We noticed that it seemed like they were only ten to twenty minutes apart but then we would have a stretch with only five minutes apart sometimes as well. At that point both Greg and I knew that it was not enough time to try to get upstairs, find things, and get back down before it started again. That led Greg to thinking about how to get us all off the island in the safest but also fastest way possible. He noticed that his 3G was still working on his phone at that point and decided it was time to try and buy tickets. However, we still did not know what the roads were like and if we could even get out of our neighborhood at that point. So we decided to book a late afternoon flight for Monday which we thought would hopefully be enough time to try and get to the airport that was an hour and a half south of us.
After that was completed there was nothing to do but wait till the dawn and try to get off the island. Which seems easy but it was a very long night without really any sleep! Words could not express how thankful I felt as I laid on the bed with our children and we look up into the perfect night sky. I started remembering a bible verse in Psalms that talked about even if the earth gives way and the mountains shake I shall not fear for God was still there and in complete control. Then I could not stop my mind from replaying the past few hours in total shock of what had just happened. But every time fear came I would remember different ways God showed us his love and great power. Not only with sparing our family (especially our son who was stuck in the house standing in his bathroom doorframe) but handing back at least all of Greg’s and my possessions back to us. They may be covered in dust and glass particles but we had them. And to top that off God just threw in shooting stars all throughout the night for us to enjoy!!!! I was just blown away by all the things we had seen God do in such a mighty way.
As dawn finally came I think that all of us breathed a little better at least for a few minutes until we started to get our first real glimpse of the house in the daylight. Even though it looked bad Greg decide that since the house had held all night long through all the aftershocks that it was time to try to get to the second floor. First he had to remove the ceiling off from the stairs but thankfully the stairs still felt secure to him. He then began the process in the boy’s room first and threw down to us through the window anything he could so he did not have to make as many trips up and down the stairs. Isaac was one happy camper to hold his blanket again and relieved when he knew that his dad had found all of his things. This allowed Isaac to finally let go of the beach towel that he had rolled up and clung to all night long in place of his blanket. Next came Jaclynn’s room which was by far the worst and with the light of day it became clear to us that God had spared another one of our children through the use of a simple sliver in her hand. That simple sliver not only had her out of her room standing at the top of the stairs but was the reason I had taken a shorter shower as well and was standing with those two at the top of the stairs. It took Greg a lot longer in her room and more trips that required digging through more rubble to find things through the next couple hours. The last two things he unburied were her two electronic devices (cases have holes but devices themselves not a mark and they work fine) and her bathing suit. All in all God allowed us to recover all but some bathroom stuff for the kids and Jaclynn’s craft stuff that were left somewhere on her floor.
During the morning hours all the people in our neighborhood started grabbing things from their homes if they could and began making up campsites outside what was left of homes or out in the soccer field. The people there seem to understand the importance of staying out of their homes and that they are not built to handle this kind of force especially with us still having aftershocks. Greg was able to help one person whose home crumbled into our yard by helping carry out his little cooking stove and propane bottle that was not buried to badly. People began walking the neighborhood looking at all the damage and helping when they could. However, I remember most of the people just walking around in a fog, shaking their heads in disbelief that this had just happened. While this was going on I was once again empty our bags, shaking out clothes in the attempt of removing glass, and repacking our bags again. During this process our two house helpers arrive at our house. It was such a relief to see them as we knew they lived in our neighborhood but had not seen nor heard from them all night long. They we very happy to see us but were also amazed that we were still alive, unhurt, and had recovered most of our belongings once they saw what remained of the villa. Greg was also able to share the leftover fruit we had with a couple of people and gave the rest of our good water to them after filling up our water bottles.
While doing these things we all began taking pictures outside while Greg went inside the house and took photos of the upstairs. I remember him coming down and almost being afraid of showing me the pictures as he was not sure if I was ready to see what it really looked like. For when I came to the picture of my daughters room I started shaking inside as I see what is left of her room and I have never been more thankful for a small sliver in my life. For if she did not have that in her hand she would have been on her bed just like Franklin was instead of standing at the top of the stairs with Isaac and I. Once Greg finished showing me the pictures he had taken and we talked about God’s amazing protection he called Jaclynn over to ask her if we still needed to get the sliver out of her hand. She looks down at that hand and just smiled at us and then turns her hand towards us and shows us it was completely gone. Talk about a moment of silence as we still try to grasp the amazing ways God was taking care of us.
At nine that morning we are putting things into our taxi and saying good-bye to our two house helpers and few neighbors we had met. I will admit it was hard to leave these people who had lost so much but the need to get my children to safety came first. And in reality there was nothing we could do as things were still shaking and they would have tried to take care of us with what little they had left. As we drove down the road we saw houses just lying in heaps, while those still standing had so many holes I could have pushed it over, and some homes that looked just fine. Most people had their belongings in piles outside their homes while tarps were being set up as make shift homes. It was such a different view then the morning we had before as our family walked down that same road heading to the beach. As we drove away my heart was divided in so many different ways. I was grieving our lost vacation, I was thankful and in awe that we were all alive and together, I was heartbroken for the people that we were leaving, and relieved along with guilt that we had the ability to leave and go home while they had nothing left. While driving away our kids just looked out the windows at all the damage. While we kept looking outside Greg was busy talking with people back in Papua who were still working on getting us all the one home as we had only been able to get off Lombok and to another island. Other teammates kept texting for information and also give us updates of the things they were reading about from the news they were hearing on line. We learned that by the time we reached the airport our family had gone through one 7.0 earthquake and 132 aftershocks at that point.
It was a moment of relief that hit me when we pulled into the airport that morning as the first leg of our journey home was done. So we joined the growing crowds outside the airport as all the other tourist that could get out were all trying to get off island. The lines were outside the door and people we sitting and laying everywhere at the airport. After a while we decided to find a place inside so we could try to get some food. However, I was not very comfortable being inside a building again at all. Thankfully, on the other side of the restaurants there was a small courtyard that made me feel like I was not trapped inside and that is where we sat for many hours. The kids and I found some food while Greg stayed with all the bags as we had hours to wait until we could check in. After eating the kids played their devices or rested while I made my first call home to parents to talk for the first time. Then we just sat and watched the crowds of people as we were all in shock and trying to come to grips with what really did just happen. We saw a couple of people wearing their pjs and bathrobes without anything else besides the ladies wallet. Some only had bathing suits on with beach towels around them. Some were tourist who had just arrived as they had already been in route already and were trying to decide what to do. Some people had tickets like us but most did not and we heard from some people that it could take days to get flights out. It did not help that flights kept getting delayed or cancel as well. Crazy as it sounds though for a packed airport there was a complete calm through the entire building probably due to the fact that we were probably all still in shock. Along with the shock and due to that fact that we had so many aftershocks our bodies and senses were on high alert to feeling the ground move. We felt the planes land and take off and when the huge ac’s turned on we all jumped, along with any other loud noises.
The flight only last one hour which was not enough time to sleep for Isaac was next to me and I had become his pillow. When we landed it felt nice to know that we had finally gotten our family off the island safely along with all of our bags. Even though we were all excited to be off island our bodies were reacting to everything around us still and making it hard to relax at all. There was one time when Greg almost ran for the door when the machine that put plastic wrap around the bags started up. And we could still feel any kind of vibration that was around like the planes and ac’s. We boarded our last flight a little after two in the morning on Tuesday morning. By that time I was done in with not having really slept since Saturday night and was blessed with three glorious hours of deep sleep (almost wished that the flight was longer). I woke up just a few minutes before landing in Sentani and tried to start waking up the kids. When the planes wheels touched down my tears started to flow as I finally felt like I was safe along with my family.
We were met at the baggage claim area by our Papua program manager who helped us get to base where his wife was making breakfast for us. We enjoyed some pancakes and shared with them all that had happened to us since Sunday night. Then we headed to the guest house where I started opening suitcases to see if I could fine clean clothes for everyone as we had not changed clothes since the night of the earthquake. Now, when I say clean clothes I meant something that looked less dirty and that I could shake out pretty easy since all our clothes came out of the rubble. We all hit the showers and found ourselves in beds by eleven that morning again for another few hours of sleep. Then after sleeping we started our journey as a family to process all that God had walked us through. Throughout the week our kids were loved on by other kids on base, teammates listen to us, cried with us, and praised God for all He had done for us that night. On Wednesday our house helper in Lombok (who we were still talking with) texted us to inform us that they had just had another 6.2 earthquake and that this time the epicenter was in our neighborhood. They sent us videos of stores just crumbling which was hard to see as the people had hardly anything left before that point as well.
Our family finally reach our house in Merauke the following week and still continue to heal and adjust to the new normal of our lives. For most people it takes weeks, months, or years to heal from something like this. Even though I am still struggling at times, I am thankfully for God showing His great power and faithfulness in such a powerful way that night and through the next couple of days. A couple of days later I read that scientist have discovered that the two plates that run on each side of the island have completely change position. The plate on the bottom is now pushing its way on top of the other plate through a hole it found. Which means that the people of Lombok these last few weeks have experienced over 30 different earthquakes and aftershocks. My prayer is that the people will seek out the Lord (as most are not believers) and that God will place aid workers there that can reach out to these people in a special way during this time as that is where they will find true peace.