UPFRONT: Floods, Volcano

Majors Jim and Marcia Cocker, who previously had served in Papua New Guinea (Priority! Summer 2009, Spring 2008), recently arrived for three years of service in Indonesia. Jim, assigned to direct the emergency disaster program, wasn’t sure he was up to the job. But he soon found out he was not alone.

He first traveled to Sulawesi, an island that is a three–hour flight from the capital of Jakarta, to assess damage and needs following floods and mudslides.

What Jim found was that the ministry to flood victims was not being delegated to professional volunteers, but 100–plus Salvation Army soldiers (members) and officers themselves were standing in the gap for their neighbors. In addition to feeding people and providing blankets, sleeping mats, and clothing, the Army had opened up three emergency clinics where trauma care was being provided by their own doctors and nurses.

“As I watched the soldiers working, they reminded me of the stories I had heard of ‘slum sisters’ who entered into people’s homes in the early days of the Army to assist with the menial task of cleaning,” Jim writes. “These brave workers were doing this and so much more. …

“The people here appear so resilient to the devastation that occurs all too frequently in this land of islands. One old Muslim woman who grasped my hands tightly said ‘terima kasih, terima kasih’ (thank you, thank you). She then proceeded to tell us how she had to swim through the floodwaters and feared that she would die.

“What made the biggest impression on me personally was that the flooding area is nearly completely Muslim, yet the Christian Salvationists moved in as the hands of Christ and were welcomed and loved for their faith.”

Jim’s next stop was the area around Mount Sinabung, an active volcano that has been erupting since September; in late January, the eruptions became more violent, claiming at least 16 lives. More than 30,000 people are homeless and living in temporary community camps run by the government in association with The Salvation Army. As of February, the Army had provided more than 10,000 people with temporary housing, food, medical aid, and spiritual guidance.

Major I. Ketut Putrayasa, the Salvation Army officer overseeing the emergency operation, says the current phase of the response is likely to continue for some time. In the longer term, The Salvation Army will also look to play a part in rebuilding homes and relocating people.

Jim Cocker has witnessed once more the depth and breadth of the Salvation Army’s ministry. Writes Marcia Cocker, “I know the Founder [William Booth] would be proud.”


221 million
130 million on island of Java

742,000 square miles

Number of islands:

86% Muslim

Languages & dialects:

Earnings per capita:



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