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Christians give thanks, mourn amid debris of Indonesian quake

Indonesia has the world’s biggest Muslim population but there are Christian communities throughout the archipelago.

An Indonesia Red Cross official works through the aftermath of an earthquake. Picture: @palangmerah/Twitter

PALU - Dozens of Christians gathered outside ruined churches on the island of Sulawesi on Sunday for open-air services to give thanks for their survival and to mourn members of their congregation killed in a devastating earthquake.

Indonesia has the world’s biggest Muslim population but there are Christian communities throughout the archipelago, including in the small city of Palu hit hard by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on 28 September.

The official death toll stands at 1,649 but will rise as bodies are recovered from the ruins of buildings and from morasses of debris and mud in the city’s southern neighbourhoods hit by liquefaction, a phenomenon that turns the ground into a roiling quagmire.

“We are so relieved to be alive but sad because so many of our congregation died,” said Dewi Febriani, a 26-year-old economics student, after a service in a tent set up outside her damaged church.

The Toraja Church in Jono Oge village, just south of Palu, had cracks through is walls and is considered unsafe. Its cross stood high.

Pews were brought out and set up under the tent.

Febriani said her house was destroyed in the disaster.

“One of the only things I have dared to save was my Bible,” she said, holding the well-thumbed copy in her lap.

Jono Oge was particularly hard hit by liquefaction.

Dozens of teenagers at a nearby church and Bible camp were killed. Many of their bodies lie buried in the mud.

A woman attending a service outside a nearby church that was also badly damaged said the disaster was a “reprimand” from God.

“We are witness to God’s power. We’re still scared but we pray because we believe God will help us,” said the woman, Eliwati, who wore a bright blue dress with an ethnic Toraja pattern, a splash of color in a bleak landscape.

The congregation sang hymns just behind her as she spoke.