When the Waves Are Silent: 10 Years after the Aceh Tsunami


10 years ago today, Candra had no idea that his life was about to be forever changed. Candra and his fiancé were visiting friends and family in a small village two kilometers (1.24 miles) from the coast in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. They were planning to spend an enjoyable Sunday at the beach. While they waited for friends, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake tore their world apart, releasing destructive energy equivalent to 1,500 atomic bombs. Unfortunately, the earthquake wasn’t the worst thing that would happen on December 26, 2004. Shortly after, Candra and his friends saw crowds of people running from the coast. When they asked what was happening, those running by told them of an approaching wave. Candra and his friends laughed in disbelief. They decided to watch the canal to see what kind of wave could come two kilometers inland.

Fifteen minutes later, Candra and his friends saw something that most of us have only seen in movies– a gigantic wave overwhelming everything in its path, washing it all away: cars, buildings, electric wires, buses, and people. Children. Then they began running for their lives. Candra and a few others squeezed into the back of a truck already full of people. But the tsunami was faster than the truck. It caught the truck and lifted it high above the ground, carrying it until it collided with the roof of a house. The people crammed inside the truck immediately jumped out and waited for the water to recede, talking frantically, planning, praying and wondering if this was the End of Days.

Aceh immediately after the Tsunami
Aceh immediately after the Tsunami

After the wave washed back out to sea, Candra and his friends began running for safety again. They ran another mile through the mud and destruction, and the people frantically searched for lost family members, trying to get to the high water mark and what they hoped was safety.

One of the deadliest natural disasters on record, the Aceh Tsunami devastated Indonesia and surrounding countries. Candra and his fiancé survived, but more than 230,000 of his fellow Indonesians did not. The scars of this traumatic experience run deep. The tsunami broke families apart, destroyed businesses, ruined homes. Those who survived are still healing from the psychological, physical and emotional wounds.

More of the destruction the Aceh Tsunami left in 2004.
More of the destruction the Aceh Tsunami left in 2004.

Candra ended up joining World Relief in its efforts to restore Aceh. Motivated by that disaster, he studied disaster risk reduction and is still working today for World Relief as a Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist. It is his job to empower local churches and organizations to help vulnerable communities prepare for future disasters. When asked why he works for World Relief, Candra’s response is simple. “We are building the people, not just the houses”. Anybody can build a house. But building a person, empowering a community, seeing real transformation in all areas of life is something special.

To learn more about World Relief’s current programs in Indonesia, visit

"This should not happen to people"

In honor of International Women's Day, our Country Director of Indonesia, Jo Ann de Belen reflects on those close to her heart and why she wants to be part of changing the world. I once knew a leper. He was close to me. Apart from his leprosy, he was just like any one of us. A creation made in the image of God. Without touching me, he taught me music, math, and how to laugh at myself. He contracted this dreaded illness when he was a child, at a time when there was no definite cure for it.

The stigma of the illness was so great, that his own family was ashamed to tell others. And so his parents kept this dark secret to themselves while they can. The teenage boy did not enjoy what others enjoyed. He was kept inside the house, not brought to big family gatherings or to be “displayed” publicly. He wore clothes that would conceal his open lesions.

Even when he was in a crowd, he felt alone. He suffered all this by himself, not understanding what it was. His parents, perhaps not knowing what to do, just pretended to the world that he did not exist. He grew up to be an adult and married and had children and tried to live a normal life. But the world wouldn’t let him. He died a lonely man, alone in a room, visited by only a handful.

As I remember this friend with leprosy and feel his isolation and pain, I remember the people we serve in the highlands of Papua. The ones infected with AIDS. What could they be feeling? Whatever it is, it couldn’t be much different from what the leper felt. Alone, isolated, shunned.

The stigma against AIDS is so strong, the oppression against people with AIDS so overpowering, that I ask…. What can we do? How can we change all this?

This should not happen to people, God’s own creatures made after His image and likeness.


This is why I feel so strongly about God’s children learning to love those that the world has shunned, ridiculed, thrown away, isolated.

I long to see the church in Papua embrace back those who are afflicted with AIDS, to care for the children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS, and to make sure that this disease is wiped out of Papua.

I pray that God makes this happen soon. So that no one will have to suffer, and suffer alone.

So Much Happening in Twenty-Thirteen...

by Larissa Peters, World Relief Communications Liaison I don’t know about you, but I have an especially good feeling about 2013. I admit, I keep a journal, and on the first of every year, I wonder what will fill its pages. The same is true in managing this blog – what will be the stories, reflections, and prayers that fill this year?

So many things are happening at World Relief, and so many great things we get to be a part of this year as more and more stand for the vulnerable! So I thought I would share 13 of the ones that I’m personally excited about and that others could even join:

In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Immigration Reform: From publishing the book Welcoming the Stranger in 2009 to speaking at Willow Creek Church and the G92 Summit, Jenny Yang – Vice President of Advocacy & Policy  and Matt Soerens – US Church Training Specialist are truly affecting change for the immigration system. We believe this is the year for reform. Want to keep up to date on the issue? Follow Jenny and Matt on twitter at:  @JennyYangWR and @MatthewSoerens.
  2. Peace building in the Congo: Village Peace Committees are changing their communities in the DR Congo. Conflict still abounds, but the grassroots movement of the Church is transforming lives. This is something to be a part of!  Follow updates and watch our video.
  3. Our partnership with Pure Charity: if you haven’t checked this organization out and you shop online or use a credit card (which should cover most of you), click here now. Here is a creative way to raise funds: shop and the stores you shop at will give to your charity of choice. World Relief has a few projects of their own there, and you’ll find Pure Charity at the Justice Conference. I already wish I knew about them earlier – I have to admit I’ve become slightly addicted to online shopping.
  4.  Fighting the battle of slavery: more and more people are taking on the cause of anti-trafficking. Currently, there are 14,500 people trafficked into the US each year (this is a low estimate). But our offices in Spokane, Tampa, High Point (and even internationally in Cambodia) are fighting to prevent that number from going up. Follow World Relief’s efforts on twitter and find out how you can promote awareness through races, workshops, or advocacy.
  5.  Church Partnership: Churches around the US have partnered with World Relief with a commitment of investing in a country or program for 3 to 5 years. Building relationships with the field and giving opportunity for long-term sustainable development, partnership is about wholistic mission. More and more churches are signing on, and we are excited about the changes it is bringing! Want your church to be part of this?
  6. Catalog of Hope: This year, our Catalog of Hope has a new section: fair trade items that benefit refugees in the US, empower women in Burundi, Rwanda, and Indonesia, and provide a monster for children in the US. A monster? Yes! See what this is all about.
  7. Stand Together Project: The premise is simple: Empowering women who are heroes in their own communities around the world. Check it out here:
  8. Savings for Life: A woman in Rwanda had never held a 5000 Franc note (worth $8 USD).  For the first time in her life this year, she saved up SIX of them because of her Savings group! How much more exciting can that get? Savings for Life is making credit available to those even the microfinance institutions can’t consider.  Watch a video on what Savings group is here: .
  9. Reviving and strengthening marriages in India: There is a quiet and unique program in India. One that is saving marriages, helping couples to be faithful to each other, and actually preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Check out the story on India.
  10. Volunteering with refugees in the US: more and more people are asking, “What can I do?” Our US program with refugees provides tangible volunteering. I can promise you that your 2013 will be incredibly enriched by befriending a refugee and welcoming them into your home and life.
  11. Volunteering with refugees in Indonesia: you have to check this unique opportunity out:  living in Indonesia and ministering to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka. You can read about some of the volunteers’ experiences here: .

12   AND 13

Tis the season for conferences! So I’ll have to just wrap them all up into the last two: Churches and organizations are stepping out and bringing awareness to issues of injustice, educating their communities on how to respond. World Relief is privileged to be a part of these conferences with other Justice advocate hall-of-famers:

My hope is that these 13 (and then some) inspire and encourage you.  And may this year be full of all that is more than we can ask or imagine!*

*Ephesians 3:20

Recycling to Beauty: Un/Plastic Project

Ibu Aci is an Indonesian woman who is part of World Relief''s up-cycling program in Indonesia. This program, The Un/Plastic Project, teaches women to turn their plastic waste into beautiful products and income.Here in her own words, she shares how she gained confidence and pride in her work:

Fifty percent of Indonesia’s population lives on less than $2 per day. The Un/Plastic Project is a livelihood project that re-purposes plastic and paper into jewelry and household items.

World Relief volunteers teach young mothers skills such as beading and plastic yarn crocheting, but also important life skills. As products are sold, these young women are empowered with incomes that help support their families while surrounded by a faith community.

Check out World Relief's Catalog of Hope to find products made by Ibu Aci and other gifts from around the world.

Preventing, Not Just Treating, HIV/AIDS Must Be Our Priority

by Joanna Mayhew “The cusp of the end of AIDS.” That was theme echoed repeatedly at the International AIDS Conference last week in Washington, DC. The enthusiasm was palpable. The 23,767 participants from 183 countries represented the best minds addressing the epidemic around the world. Optimism abounded regarding the new era of using “treatment as prevention.” And it is well founded; we have much to celebrate. Recent medical advances hold much promise. The first pill that could prevent HIV in high-risk individuals was recently approved by the FDA. There is growing evidence that starting antiretroviral therapy earlier for HIV-positive individuals not only allows them to live much longer, but also makes them much less likely to pass on the virus to others. Eight million people now have access to treatment. And people with HIV are living far longer than we—than I—could have imagined.

I have been exposed to the ugliness of AIDS for a decade now. I first came face to face with it while living in Benin in 2003. I was there volunteering and writing a series of articles on the different facets of the epidemic through the stories of people living with AIDS. At that point, treatment was not widely available in many places. These individuals were being provided simply with Bactrim, an antibiotic used to treat basic infections. It was a band aid at best, given by health workers who had no better regimens to offer. And AIDS continued to take its victims without prejudice. Within three months of my leaving the country, every beautiful individual living with AIDS that I had met had passed away.

In contrast, today in the United States, if a 25-year-old individual discovers that he has HIV, the doctor is able say that with the right treatment he will likely live an additional 50 years. This represents incredible advancements. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her speech last week, “Caring brought action, and action has made an impact.”

Amid the hustle and bustle of the conference, with the long lines for Starbucks and the neatly dressed decision makers gathering in decorated halls, I couldn’t help but contrast the developments being lauded with the harsh reality of so many of the countries in which we work.

In Papua, Indonesia, the treatment-as-prevention approach simply won’t work, because even treatment for treatment’s sake isn’t available in many areas. And in numerous other countries where treatment is available, the poor have untold barriers accessing it. People are still dying, just like my friends in Benin. Last year the number was 1.7 million.

Despite our highest hopes, we will never be able to treat our way out of this epidemic. New infections continue to occur. Seventy percent of people living with HIV do not know their status.

In these contexts, we have to return to a single truth: that we must address the structures, attitudes and behaviors that allow HIV to flourish in the first place. We cannot hide behind the incredible medical toolbox we now have to support and care for those living with the disease. We have to address root causes head on. We must mend relationships. We must protect women. We must continue to educate. We must go to the most vulnerable.

Prevention happens at all levels. It happens by teenagers and adults opting for healthy sexual behaviors—such as delaying sex, remaining faithful to one partner, and using condoms. But it also happens at much more rudimentary levels. It happens by children feeling supported, by teenagers choosing good friends, by adults learning how to spot traffickers, and by community leaders uniting to address poverty.

These interventions are always going to be at a much lower cost than treatment.

Churches can be the key to mending brokenness, to keeping families healthy and whole, to stopping abuse, to promoting hygiene and health. The Church is well positioned. She is in every community—from the metropolis of DC to the conflict zone in Congo to the remote highlands of Papua.

Last year Clinton said of AIDS, “The worst plague of our lifetime brought out the best in humanity.” Can it also bring out the best of the church? To truly see the end of AIDS, I think that it must.

Joanna Mayhew is World Relief's Asia HIV/AIDS Programs Advisor

Papua: Health on the Margins of Indonesia

By Catherine Patterson, Maternal and Child Health Intern for World Relief Indonesia Today began as Saturdays usually do in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia: with children calling at the front gate with berries and flowers.

Most are barefoot, wear ill-fitting clothes and come from the surrounding villages. Today, a little girl came with a badly infected lip. We sent her home with a tube of ointment and a few Rupiah in exchange for a bright orange and red bouquet.

Another boy came with juicy raspberries and one foot wrapped in a plastic bag.  After examining his foot, it was clear that jungle rot had started to take over his big toe.  We gave him sandals, provided a few antibiotics, and purchased his berries.

Indonesia has made great strides in addressing some of its most pressing health problems.  Since 1990, the number of children who die before age 5 has been reduced by half, and Indonesia is on target to meet many of its Millennium Development Goals.

Despite these advances, however, Papua Province continues to experience health standards below those in other areas. About 30% of children under age 5 suffer from malnutrition. While nationally, 17% of people live in poverty, in Papua, it is estimated that at least 30% of residents are poor. HIV is reaching epidemic proportions here with a reported 3% prevalence rate, and the situation is made worse by a lack of testing and treatment facilities.

The remote nature of this beautiful, mountainous land exacerbates the problems faced by people living with limited access to essential medicines and care. Stigma and fear of HIV/AIDS frustrates efforts to provide prevention and care. All too often, outbreaks of violence and tribal warfare interrupt regularly scheduled programs aimed at improving the health of Papuans.

Since 2008, World Relief has been reaching some of the most vulnerable in Papua’s Tolikara and Jayawijaya districts. Through its Mobilizing for Life:  Protecting Papua program and in partnership with the local church, local staff provide outreach and education to youth, men, and women on HIV/AIDS and teach communities how to protect themselves and stop the spread of the disease.

But there is still much to be done. Less than half of all births are attended by a skilled health worker, and far too many women die in childbirth each year. Despite substantial investments by foreign donors and the Indonesian government, Papua Province is the only area of Indonesian where the Human Development Index is falling. Our church partners have requested help to reverse this trend, and World Relief is currently exploring how we might reach this area with additional life-saving health messages.

As I think about the realities of Papua, my heart is hopeful. Her people are strong, proud, and resilient. They are eager to learn so they may take control of their health and strengthen their communities.

I think of the flower children, with their big eyes and bigger smiles. It is easy to be discouraged that at times, all we can offer is some ointment or antibiotics. But I am filled with hope and the knowledge that God offers much more through the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It has been my honor to stand with World Relief in Papua, Indonesia, as they seek to empower the local church to reach out to those who need health and healing in the highlands.

As World Health Day approaches on April 7, take a moment to stand with me for the health of people living in Papua and pray that God will bring healing and strength to all who need it in the mountains of Indonesia.

Photos from David Peth and Kirsten Pless

Catherine Patterson serve with World Relief as a volunteer. To learn more about World Relief Indonesia and the work happening there, click here.

Refugees in Indonesia: Ministry of Presence

By Mikey and Jeana Master, Church Engagement Coordinators for World Relief Indonesia Stepping out the door of the detention center, into the courtyard shared by the asylees’ rooms, we were greeted by twenty faces waiting to see ours. Twenty men: all with different stories, all from broken places, all carrying disappointment. Literally trapped between the land they are fleeing and the land that could give them freedom, they spend their days waiting. We did not exchange handshakes or words for long, but it was a moving moment. It was moving because we cannot give them the freedom they desire. It was moving because many of them come from countries that are broken, in part, because of ours. It was moving because as they unapologetically stared at us, their eyes spoke louder than their words.

The detention centers here in Indonesia are holding people who were caught attempting to flee their country for Australia. They come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka, Nepal and more. Some left because they were being harassed by the Taliban, some are part of ethnic groups that leave them as refugees in their own country, and others fled the consequences of war. The majority tend to be young men, but there are also elderly men and families as well. Most commonly, fishermen promise these people a safe boat journey to Australia. The price for a spot is high, but for many, it’s worth the cost. However, these fishermen leave out an important detail: as soon as the boat nears Australia, the Australian Navy directs them to Indonesia where the asylum seekers will be held in legal limbo.

photo by Michael Masters
photo by Michael Masters

World Relief partners with IOM (International Organization for Migration) to serve these people as they wait for the appropriate paper work to begin a new life in Australia. Ours is a ministry of presence, teaching English, photography, arts and crafts.

For those we work with, the center in Bali is the first stop. This is a high security holding place from which they are transported to West Java, where they are given bigger living spaces and small freedoms. The length of time they spend there is uncertain; some people have been waiting for eight years.  Currently, the center on Java has about 200 people, and 100 people stay here in Bali, although the numbers are always fluctuating.

For these refugees trapped in a place of waiting, disappointment and little hope, World Relief steps alongside to love, serve and listen to those made invisible behind walls - yet still remain incredibly close to Christ’s heart for the homeless and displaced.

The Masters serve with World Relief as volunteers. To learn more about World Relief Indonesia and the work happening there, click here