Faith in ActionMagazine

Shekinah Glory in Indonesia

On July 28, 2015, just a day after authorities had said volcanic activity was decreasing and allowed thousands of villagers who had been evacuated to return to its slopes, Mount Sinabung erupted. It spewed fire, lava, and billows of hot ash into the air for miles over the Kabanjahe region on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra. 

Major James Cocker (third from right) and Bram Bailey (center) meet with local leaders and Salvationists.

Major James Cocker (third from right) and Bram Bailey (center) meet with local leaders and Salvationists.

Panicked residents ran for their lives down the side of the mountain. The pyroclastic cloud killed 14 people and left two others with burn wounds. Two more people died in its aftermath. Thousands more were evacuated to shelters on safer parts of the island. 

Three weeks after the eruption, Major James B. (Jim) Cocker and Major Marcia J. Cocker arrived to serve as the territorial project officers and to check on projects and the refugee emergency relief work. Bram Bailey from the Salvation Army World Services Office (SAWSO) at National Headquarters accompanied them. The following is Major Jim’s recollection of what happened after Mount Sinabung’s second major eruption since September 2013. 

Authorities evacuated as many as 3,500 people from the other side of the mountain. The government gave the Army responsibility for 350 families, totaling 2,000 more people to our care.

One of the biggest concerns was the falling ash. To protect themselves from it, the people wore masks. The city of Berastagi, which is 18.6 miles away, was inundated with ash.

Only after 20 minutes during a visit to the foot of the mountain, my Army blue uniform trousers became gray with ash. I was thankful for the mask, but I thought about the people living in constant exposure to the ash.

I was proud of our Salvation Army workers who had been on duty for a year. And now, there were even more refugees who needed our help.

Each evening, rice was cooked in a large kettle and distributed to the families living in temporary shelters.

In one large room, there were 50 families living together and each family had an 8 x 10 ft., area with all of their belongings piled up around them. At night, their babies cried.

During my walk around the camp, I talked to and prayed with the refugees. And I was struck by how, even in this setting, they were trying to make the most of it.

Homes, schools, and clinics need to be built. And refugees need to be relocated to safer areas. We’re proposing income–generation programs so the farmers who have lost their land can again become self–supporting.

The corps officers have worked alongside the soldiers of the Kabanjahe Corps and, along with a doctor from the government, have been providing daily medical aid. It’s been a real blessing to see the officers and soldiers working together.

In an evening worship service, I was asked to share God’s word. About 125 people crowded into a small room and sat on the floor. But then, we suddenly lost electric power. Without missing a beat, they quickly lit candles, which cast a beautiful glow on everyone’s faces. My interpreter was top–notch. And the service was led by the Holy Spirit.

I spoke on Psalm 46:1–10 and included the following verses:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake with their surging.”

How well our friends in the service related to those words! The most important verses for them were vs. 10–11:

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Of the five people who came forward to receive Christ, two of the men were Muslim. About 50 percent of the refugees are Muslims and I believe the Army is making a real impact on them through our hands–on ministry.

That night as the people made their way back to the dorms, there was a Shekinah glory (God’s presence) that radiated from them.

The next day, the press attended a public gathering. Dignitaries meet with Jokowi Widodo, the newly elected president. He also met with members of the refugee camp and promised to set aside land to be used by The Salvation Army.

I met with the district governor who promised to work alongside The Salvation Army.

I was proud then to be a Salvationist and even prouder now to know that Marcia and I will have a part to play in the long–term rebuilding project for the refugees of Mount Sinabung.

by Major James B. Cocker

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