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 (Manna 48)
Peace in the Storm
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Peace in the Storm

Lew Lee Fen — Singapore

            Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (Jn 14:27)

Sis Lew Lee Fen and her family were originally from the AlorSetarChurch in the northern region of West Malaysia. Currently, her mother, elder brother, his wife, and their two daughters live in Penang, and worship at the PenangBayanBaruChurch. Sis Lee Fen and her husband live in Singapore and worship at the AdamRoadChurch.

The sudden Indian Ocean tsunami that hit South East Asia on December 26, 2004 caused over 150,000 deaths in more than nine countries. When the local inhabitants and foreign visitors headed out to enjoy the beaches that day, they would never have thought that, within seconds, they would also perish there. Life is fragile indeed. Every moment of our lives lie in His hand.

In Malaysia, the city of Penang received the brunt of this tsunami and the earthquake aftershocks.  It suffered the largest number of casualties, deaths, and missing persons. Even though it has been several months since the tragedy, I can still vividly remember how my family and I witnessed the astounding disaster at the Batu Feringgi beach in Penang that day. Thank God that He kept everyone in my family in His merciful embrace.


As it was the year-end vacation, I happily went for a visit to Penang. An outing to the beach was planned for December 26 as my sister-in-law and her three sisters wanted to give the children a treat. I was also eagerly looking forward to it as I had not been to this beach in twelve years—ever since I left for Singapore in 1992.

Around nine o’clock in the morning on December 26, my older brother, who was still in bed, felt some earthquake tremors. He immediately went to the living room to tell my mother and my sister-in-law, but because they had been walking around the house doing chores they did not feel the light earthquake that had indeed struck the city. I was fast asleep, so I had no idea what was happening.

We set off at for an afternoon picnic by the seashore. There were altogether eighteen of us—my brother with his wife and two children; my mother and I; and the three sisters of my sister-in-law with their husbands and children.

When we arrived at the beach, the children immediately went off to play while I strolled slowly with my aged mother. The sand was more moist than usual, which made it hard for us to walk. Mom could not stand for too long, so we went to one of the coffee stalls along the beach where we had tea and chatted. Not long after, my brother and one of his brothers-in-law also joined us.

Around noontime, I received a text message (SMS) from an old friend in Alor Setar telling me that they had experienced some tremors around 9 a.m. in the morning. She asked whether we had felt it in Penang. I was stunned because Alor Setar was only 100 km north of Penang, and this was the first time in my life that I had heard about an earthquake in that area. I immediately related this to my brother. Overhearing our conversation, the coffee shop owner confirmed that they, too, had felt some tremors that morning. We concluded that this was probably the result of a severe earthquake in Sumatera. (Sumatera is an Indonesian island located to the west of, and runs almost parallel to the peninsula of West Malaysia)


Despite all these, we sat there and enjoyed the delicious Penang Laksa. I was seated facing the ocean and the expansive horizon uplifted my spirits. No one could possibly have predicted that, within minutes, the calm and gaiety around and in front of us would be shattered.


Around in the afternoon, there was a distinct change in the serene ocean. I was the first in the family to notice it. Suddenly, scores of white bubbly waves appeared on the horizon—clearly truncating the continuous expanse of blue that had been sky and ocean.

From afar, these elaborate rippling waves looked magnificent—forming over ten different series of patterns as they rolled shoreward. As the winds were calm the whole time, none of us expected these to be the precursors of a tsunami, so all of us took out our digital cameras to capture the unusual phenomenon before our eyes.

At that time, I overheard my sister-in-law telling her sisters and the children to come out of the water and to get changed in the public restrooms a little farther up the beach. They did so. However, the six of us—all the men folk, my mother, and I continued to stand along the shore to watch the magnificent waves.

The first waves looked ordinary and without much force, and a few beachgoers praised their loveliness. People continued to linger on the beach, and a group of five youngsters even sat on the sand awaiting the waves. Possibly, these were frequent visitors to the beach who weren’t intimidated by the size of the waves. More onlookers gathered to watch.

After this first hit of waves, my family continued to stand around to wait for the next break. Even though my mother’s cautious nature prompted her to remind us to be careful as we took photographs, she was also attracted by this scene.

As the second series of waves approached the shore, these appeared much stronger than before—churning not only seawater but mud. Sensing something was amiss, some people immediately went up to the grounds, but those five youngsters remained seated on the sand.

Suddenly, the white waves increased tremendously in amplitude and force; roaring like the sound of thunder and undulating with water and sludge toward us at the height of a two-storey building. We immediately ran for our lives.


My mother and I stopped under a tree by the road. Worried about the safety of their wives and children, my brother and his brothers-in-law were at a loss about how to proceed. The whole event had taken only about three minutes, and we were worried that women and children had not made it to the public bathrooms on time. With mixed emotions, my mother and I prayed beneath the tree—asking God for courage and peace.

After our prayer, I told my mother to wait there while I returned to the disaster site to help my brother. But she was in shock and worried about my safety. I insisted on going and promised her that I would take extra precautions. I am quite timid by nature, but thank God that He gave me some courage during this chaotic time.

When I returned to the shore, there was utter disarray. The waves had totally deluged the beach, destroying beach front souvenir and coffee stalls along the shore. I saw my brother and the others desperately searching for their wives and children. My brother and one of his brothers-in-law had injured their legs from a fall and they were covered with mud.

A janitor told my brother that there was no one in the public bathrooms, but some bystanders suggested that we should still try to search the bathrooms. As we approached the bathrooms, we saw my sister-in-law and the children file out one-by-one from the back door of the bathroom complex. Our hearts were filled with great thanksgiving to God for His mercy, for while we were rushing about like anxious ants on a searing pot, He had already opened a way for us.

According to my sister-in-law, the moment they walked into the bathroom they heard the sound of huge waves. She wanted to go out with her second sister to see what was happening, but the gigantic waves they saw rolling towards them forced them to stay in the bathroom. A kind stranger told them not to be afraid and advised them to wait until the winds had ceased and the waves had receded. They could then leave the bathroom by the backdoor.

After everyone had been accounted for, they immediately went to the parking lot to retrieve the cars while I ran back to the tree to look for my mother. Although there was utter confusion everywhere, my entire family finally got into our cars. As we slowly inched our way back towards the town, we saw the once-charming TanjongBungahBeach completely flooded. In a matter of a few hours, everything had changed. Who would have expected beautiful waves to turn into beautiful killers? Houses, cars, trees, and flowers along the seashore were all swathed with sludge. Many sat weeping beside motionless bodies.

Danger was not over yet. Traffic had slowed to a crawl on the narrow road. On our left, there was no more beach—just the sea. On our right were the craggy mountains. If the waves had continued to press forward, we literally had nowhere to turn. Suddenly, the eight to ten kilometers of road ahead felt long and arduous to finish. We continued to pray silently; asking the Lord to guide our path.

Ahead, there were major detours because of roads that had been flooded. That afternoon, it took us one and a half hours to complete the normal twenty-minute drive home. The whole family was exhausted and famished, but our hearts were filled with thanksgiving. It was only when we watched the news that evening that we realized that the tsunami was an international disaster, and we were filled with thanksgiving anew at the remarkable protection of God.


Looking back, I can still see and feel the moment when the thundering waves suddenly crashed towards us. This was when I was most taken aback. And then, in just a few short minutes, three of the five unprepared youngsters were swept away by the waves before my very eyes. I was greatly saddened by the fact that I could not help them when they most needed help. This really troubled and grieved me.

But this incident is a good reminder of the need for vigilance in our Christian lives. The waves were very attractive initially, which lulled many of us into putting caution aside. Then they revealed their true selves—gigantic walls of water like roaring lions—persistently looking for people to devour. Only those who were vigilant were saved.

Tragedy is not a respecter of boundaries.  In those tense and chaotic moments, no matter what one’s nationality or background, everyone was fair game. Everyone had to try to flee if they were to save their lives. Indeed, being able to survive and live from day to day is enormous grace from God.

My sister-in-law, in particular, deeply felt God’s protection.  If she had not told the women and children to go back up to shore, one cannot imagine what would have happened to them. My relatives, who are not yet believers in the Lord, also felt the help of God and experienced this unexpected peace during that time.

From experiencing the earthquakes aftershocks in the morning to our safe return home, I saw how God watched over and protected us every step along the way. I can only offer unending thanksgiving, with gladness and praise for His glory. Truly, He gave us peace in the storm. Amen!

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Publisher: True Jesus Church