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
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.
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.
AN INNOCENT DAY AT THE BEACH
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
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.
ADMIRING THE WAVES
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.
A TOTAL DISASTER
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
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
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
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.
SORROW AND GLADNESS
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
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!