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Indonesia: The long journey to healing for children attacked in church

04 July 2017

Three children in Indonesia who were badly burned when a petrol bomb was thrown at them during a church service are receiving financial support, toys and care, thanks to supporters who give and pray regularly for children.

In the picture below sits Alvaro Sinaga, aged four-and-a-half. And to the right of him, the smiling Trinity Hutahaean (four) joins him.


It was last year, on 13 November 2016, that they were playing with two of their friends, Anita Sihotang and Intan Banjarnahor, in Samarinda, east Borneo. Sunday school had finished and they had some free time before the main church service ended, when an explosion ripped through the playgroup.

A terrorist had thrown a bomb at the youngsters - all of them suffered devastating burns. But none more so than two-year-old Intan.

One day later, Intan died.

"It was just a week after we returned from North Sumatra to attend my mother-in-law's funeral," says her mother, Diana Sinaga. "So we were already in deep sorrow... Intan brightened up the house with her singing and never ending questions, and now she's gone. It feels so quiet."

Intan's father holds her photo in the picture below.


"I believe that he will be alright"

Alvaro suffered from severe burn injuries on half of his head, neck and hand. He has since had 26 operations, and was finally able to go back home in late April.

"There were moments when I was broken-hearted and lost hope," said Alvaro's father, Hotdiman Sinaga. "He is my precious joy and pride, he is smart and handsome. I believe he will be alright. God's Word says that He will never let me be tempted beyond my strength. His promise has become my strength. Alvaro is my only child and I have to be strong."

"I saw her head covered with smoke"

Trinity's mother, Sarinah, was on duty as church elder when she heard the blast. "I saw her head covered with smoke and her face black. Her body was so hot that I had to rip away her clothes."

Trinity, the most severely burned of the three, is undergoing steroid injections to remove keloid (scarring) - a painful process.

Despite the hurt, Sarinah knew that she must forgive the perpetrator. Sarinah said, "I don't have any hatred towards the bomber. I forgave him already. The most important thing is for my daughter to recover well."

"We feel powerless to change the situation"

Two-year-old Anita, pictured below with her father, was the youngest of the bomb victims. She spent one month in hospital and still has to go back for check-ups. Anita has not yet forgotten the sound of the explosion. Whenever her father starts the motorcycle engine, she runs away.

Her father, Jackson Sihotang, recalls seeing the children afraid by fireworks on New Year's Eve: "It's so heart-breaking to see them that dreadful night. And we felt so powerless to change the situation."


The journey to hope

Since the attack, the children's families have been struggling to get their lives back together. They battle physical pain, trauma, anger, guilt, a sense of powerlessness... But positive progress is being made.

The children are also beginning to regain some self-esteem. Alvaro often uses his hands to display the 'peace' symbol. And Trinity has a contagious spirit that keeps her smiling.

For Intan's family, a new arrival is bringing hope and life back into the home. "This baby," says Diana of her new baby girl, "she cures our longing to see my late daughter."

Alongside local churches and mission agencies, Open Doors workers have visited the children and their families multiple times since the tragic attack. As well as practical support, Open Doors has spent time praying with the families and produced a video of prayers and greetings from staff members' children to encourage them.

"That prayer, it goes straight to my heart," said Trinity's mother. "Your gifts and support, and that from other churches and believers, have helped to remind us that there are many good people out there. Thank you for keeping us in your prayers."

Indonesia ranks as number 46 on Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List. Christians here are facing increasing dangers from radical Islamist groups, who are gaining in popularity throughout Indonesia - the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

Thank you for your prayers for Alvaro, Trinity and Anita. Please continue to pray for them and for other secret children of the church around the world - their stories are regularly featured in the Open Doors Prayer Diary.

Please pray:

  • That Alvaro, Trinity and Anita would be healed and grow in their love for the Lord
  • For strength for their parents and grace to forgive their children's attackers
  • For Open Doors staff providing protection, provision and education to persecuted children around the world.

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Find out more about persecution in Indonesia.