How the 2004 Tsunami Changed my Life

Illustration by Galih Suseno
Written by Kelty Tjhin, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

On 26 December 2004, one of the deadliest tragedies in recorded history struck when a massive tsunami triggered by an undersea earthquake swept across the Indian Ocean, killing more than 200,000 people in 14 countries. One of the worst-hit places was Banda Aceh in Indonesia, the first major city to be struck. More than 150,000 died when the tsunami swept 4km inland. Kelty tells her testimony of God’s goodness.

I can still clearly recall the events that happened on that fateful day as though it were yesterday. That day, 26 December 2004, was the day my hometown, Banda Aceh, was destroyed and my life was changed forever. I was just nine years old.

It was Boxing Day and everyone was in a festive mood. I was lying idly on my bed when all of a sudden, the furniture started to shake violently. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were being hit by an earthquake. My grandma gave a loud shout and ran into the living room. We heard a loud noise and saw three shop houses just across the street collapse into ruins. When the tremors stopped, we tried our best to stay calm, but that was short-lived. We soon saw people running and shouting, “Run! The water is coming!”

My mother and I quickly started to pack our precious belongings, but it was a futile endeavor. Little did we know that what we were dealing with was no ordinary flood, but a giant tsunami.

Everything happened so quickly. I heard a loud rumbling noise, and looked up to see a boat being pushed by huge waves right past my house. Shortly after, murky water started flooding into the house till it reached up to my chest level—a height of about one meter. Immense fear overcame me, and thoughts of impending death crossed my mind.

“Is this really the end?” I thought to myself. I was suddenly reminded of a picture of the End Times from the book of Revelation which my Sunday School teacher had showed us. “How am I going to escape from this flood?” I cried out in desperation. “God, please help us! We need your help!”

Then I heard an explosion as a huge wave of water gushed into the house, destroyed the walls of the house, and carried us right out. Helpless—not only was I small, but I also couldn’t swim—I started to sink.

Just when I thought that all hope was gone, I heard a gentle whisper in my ears saying, “Kelty, shout!” I had no idea where the voice was coming from but I heeded its advice and shouted as loudly as I could. “God, help me! Mom, help me!”

Suddenly, I felt my body being pushed upwards to the surface. When I opened my eyes, I saw my mom. She had heard my voice and pulled me out of the water. I could breathe again. Praise the Lord, I was still alive!

My grandma, mom and I then climbed onto a neighbor’s balcony, where we stayed for several hours until the waters subsided. Then we made our way towards high ground in the evening to seek shelter, having nothing but the clothes on our backs. We ended up staying with my mom’s friend for two days before the army told us to leave Banda Aceh. As we made our way out, I saw corpses piled up in great heaps on the roads and heard the heart-breaking cries of people who had lost family members in the tsunami. Their cries still linger in my heart to this day.

Each time I recall this tragic event, I’m reminded of what the psalmist says in Psalms 121:1-2, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” My life is in the hands of the Almighty God; I believe that it was He who gave me the courage to shout when I was sinking, and He was also the one who rescued me out from the deep waters and saved my life.

The tragedy has changed the way I live and taught me to trust in God fully. Whenever I think I can do a lot of things with my own abilities, God reminds me that everything that I have and am able to do is because of His grace in my life. And whenever I desire to live freely and attempt to find my satisfaction in the things of the world, God reminds me that He is the Lord of my life and only He can truly satisfy every longing in my heart.

The experience has caused me to cherish every breath that God has given me, and to want to live the rest of my life in a manner that is pleasing and worthy of Him.

Photo credit: simminch via / CC BY

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