“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 the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46:1-3
This past weekend, these verses, which Zoe and I learned together a few weeks ago, became very real for me.
We decided to go on an outing with some friends to a local swimming hole located on a military base. However, when we got there we were told we couldn’t go in because the Pramuka (Indonesian version of Boy scouts) were still having their jamboree there and it was closed to the public.
We then decided to go to another waterfall, which involves a longer hike and is a bit more precarious. As we were hiking up the trail, my ever-worrisome mind was conjuring up all kinds of potential disasters that could befall us at the waterfall – mostly kids falling, cuts, broken bones.
And so I did what I try to do when I am battling fear – I prayed. “Lord, please protect us.” And then I focused on the trail ahead, and kept an eye on Zoe.
We got to the spot where we usually go to play, but it was overrun by Papuan boys who had stopped off for a swim after school, so we kept going on to a higher spot in the river where there’s a high waterfall.
We were a group of 10 kids and 6 adults, and the kids immediately jumped in the river to play and climb on rocks. The adults mostly hung out on a cement box built into the river to collect water for the city. After 30 minutes, the kids got hungry and we all gathered on the box for a picnic lunch.
There were dark clouds on the mountain above us, and it looked like it might rain where we were. We started debating packing up and leaving.
One of our group commented on a strange mist above us. The next thing I remember was looking at David as he pointed to the falls behind me and yelled, “Look out! The water!!!!” And I heard a huge rushing sound – like an airplane was zooming low over us. I turned around and time stood still.
A huge mountain of water was surging over the top of the water falls. It took me a few seconds to realize it was a flash flood, and it was headed straight for us.
I have never felt such fear, such panic, in my life. My first thought was, we can’t outrun this, and the little ones won’t be able to swim it, probably not the adults, either.
My next thought was, this is the day we all die.
Most of our group froze, and then David started yelling, go up! Go up!
I don’t remember exactly what I did. I know that I grabbed Zoe like she was a sack of potatoes, and ran up the hill to a large rock. The water was rising rapidly. In less than a minute, it rose two meters. I know at one point I was praying out loud, “help us, Lord! Help us!”
Once on the rock I looked around to see where the other kids were. One of the kids had been in the river playing when it happened and his dad ran to him and crossed safely to the other side, but then the water rose so fast they were stuck there (eventually they would make it down safely). All the other kids made it safely up to the rock. The Papuan kids who had been playing below us came running up to where we were. They were concerned about us, and urged us to follow them to the trail. I thought it was so cool and kind of them to do that.
The kids were all crying and freaking out, but we kept reassuring them we would be okay, and we started down the trail. We made it down safely, but we were all very shaken up by the whole experience.
I have been battling the “what ifs” – what if the kids had been all spread out in the water playing? We never could have gathered them in time. What if the older kids had been climbing higher on the falls, like they wanted to but we wouldn’t let them? They would have been washed away. What if, what if, what if? But there are no “what ifs”; there is only what happened.
My mind keeps wanting to replay that awful moment when I turned and saw the water and realized what was happening. I am stuck there, contemplating losing those most precious to me.
I have to keep going back to Psalm 46 – the waters roared and foamed and I felt like my “mountain” – my family, my friends, myself – was about to fall into the heart of the sea, but the Lord was our help in trouble.
We have been hugging each other a little tighter the past few days. Praise God for his protection over our family.