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The 400 Christians of Meulaboh
Netlore Archive:  According to this email tale, 400 Christians living in the predominantly Muslim city of Meulaboh, Indonesia were miraculously saved from death in the December 26, 2004 tsunami because they had left to celebrate Christmas in the hills after being told they could not do so in town

Description:  Urban legend
Circulating since:  Jan. 2005
Status:  Dubious
Analysis:  See below

Variant #1:
Email example contributed by F. Elliot, 22 January 2005:

Meulaboh is a town of about 40000 people on the west coast of Aceh. Aceh is the northern most province/state on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The west coast of Aceh is the worst hit area by the recent tsunami. One of the statements about the condition of Meulaboh after the tsunami; ---Teungku Zulkarnaini, administrative head of the West Aceh district, speaking to local radio from a location outside Meulaboh where he was stranded by destroyed bridges, said he believes ``tens of thousands'' are dead in the area.--- The population of Aceh are mostly Moslem and are very fanatic at that. Indonesia is a country with the largest Moslem population in the world. But the people of Aceh considers the rest of the country not strict enough in their Islamic practice. This is one of the reasons, Aceh wants to secede and is in a state of rebellion with central government.

We have received this testimony via the internet. We don’t know the source and authenticity of it. But it has been circulated among the Indonesian Christian community.

The following is a translation of this testimony.

A testimony from Meulaboh :

We know how the tremendous power tsunami has completely destroyed the town of Meulaboh, in the Aceh province. But there is an amazing testimony/story from Meulaboh. In Meulaboh there is only a small community of about 400 Christians. On the 25th of December they like/want to celebrate Christmas. But the citizens of Meulaboh rejects the notion of a Christian celebration in their town. The desire of the Christian community to celebrate Christmas was rejected and they were told that if they want to celebrate it they can do it outside the town, on a hill (I assume some high ground some distance out side the town). So on the 25th this Christian community of 400 did their Christmas celebration on a hill outside the town. After the celebration they camp out for the night on that hill. And what happens, as we know the next day (26th) morning, the tsunami hits the entire west coast of Aceh and other regions as well. Meulaboh was completely destroyed, many thousands were killed. But the Christian community that celebrated Christmas on that hill was spared, no one was killed.

Many Moslem citizen of Meulaboh who survived the calamity, are saying that the Christian God is punishing them. They are wondering why so many of their community died/perished, while none of the Christian’s. If the Christian community had been hard headed and insist on celebrating their Christmas (in defiance of the majority) in town, they would have perished too. But because of their humility, and willingness to give up their rights they end up being saved and experienced God’s wondrous care.

Let us then as God’s children meet the challenges of the year 2005 with humility and love towards all. Don’t pay evil with evil, because retribution is the Lord’s. Let’s help our brothers and sisters in Aceh and continue to pray for them, because God’s hand is working among them.

God bless us.

end of testimony.

Variant #2:
Email example contributed by S. Waltrip, 5 February 2005:

Dear friends, here is a remarkable news which I just received from a friend from Indonesia: On the 25th of December 2004 the Christians in the town of Meulaboh in Aceh wanted to celebrate Christmas in a combined service, but the Moslems in that town objected and told them that if they wanted to celebrate Christmas they have to do it outside the town area because it is a Moslem town.

The 400 Christians decided to comply with their request and went to a hill outside the city perimeter to camp out and held their Christmas program there. As we know the following morning there was an earthquake and the Tsunami that followed destroyed the whole town of Meulaboh and almost everybody who were down there. The whole population of Meulaboh were practically wiped out except the 400 or so Christians who celebrated Christmas on the hill outside the town.

The few survivors of Meulaboh remarked: "The God of the Christians has punished us. Some of them asked: "Why are there so many of us who died in this disaster, and none of the Christians are destroyed?" If the 400 Christians insisted on celebrating Christmas in that town according to their original plan, they would have perished too. They can see that this is the direct intervention of God who saved His children in Meulaboh.

Praise be the Lord.

Variant #3:
Email example contributed by R. Patterson, 4 February 2005:

God Protects His own! We know that 80% of the town of Meulaboh in Aceh was destroyed by the Tsunami waves and 80% of the people also died. This is one of the towns that was hit the hardest. But there is a fantastic testimony from Meulaboh.

In that town are about 400 Christians. They wanted to celebrate Christmas on December 25th but were not allowed to do so by the Muslims of Meulaboh. They were told if they wanted to celebrate Christmas they needed to go outside the city of Meulaboh on a high hill and there celebrate Christmas. Because the Christians desired to celebrate Christmas the 400 believers left the city on December 25th and after they celebrated Christmas they stayed overnight on the hill.

As we all know the morning of December 26 there was the earthquake followed by the Tsunami waves destroying most of the city of Meulaboh and thousands were killed. The 400 believers were on the mountain and were all saved from destruction.

Now the Muslims of Meulaboh are saying that the God of the Christians punished us for forbidding the Christians from celebrating Christmas in the city. Others are questioning why so many Muslims died while not even one of the Christians died there.

Had the Christians insisted on their rights to celebrate Christmas in the city, they would have all died. But because they humbled themselves and followed the advice of the Muslims they all were spared destruction and can now testify of God's marvelous protection.

This is a testimony of the grace of God and the fact that as believers we have no rights in the world. Our right is come before God and commit our lives to Him. Our right is kneeling down before the Lord almighty and commit our ways to Him. He is our Father and is very capable to care for His children. Praise the Name of the Lord.

Comments:  Among the reasons to doubt the veracity of this miracle tale are:

  1. It is a secondhand report. Though one version has been attributed to Pastor Bill Hekman of the Calvary Life Fellowship church of Tangerang, Indonesia, it is not an eyewitness account.
  2. No press accounts mention the survival of 400 Christians who left Meulaboh to celebrate Christmas in the hills on the eve of the December 26, 2004 tsunami.
  3. There is evidence to suggest that at least some Christians did, in fact, openly celebrate Christmas in the town of Meulaboh last year.
  4. There are news and eyewitness reports to the effect that Christians were not only present in Meulaboh when the tsunami struck, but listed among the dead and missing in its aftermath.

Another version of events

Consider the harrowing account, published January 19 by the Union of Catholic Asian News, of Friar Ferdinando Severi, a Catholic missionary stationed in Aceh who was reported missing immediately after the tsunami but turned up safe and sound in Meulaboh several days later. As it happens, Severi had gone to Meulaboh for the express purpose of celebrating Christmas in the town chapel with local parishioners. According to Father Antonio Murru, head of the Conventual Franciscans' Indonesian Provincial Custody, Severi was still there the next day when disaster struck:

When giant waves swept the town, Father Murru explained, Father Severi was preparing for Sunday Mass in the chapel. He ran to the nearest high building, and together with a number of people took shelter on the second floor. There they waited until the floodwaters receded, when he and other survivors took shelter in another place.
This report was confirmed by Agenzia Giornalistica Italia:
Fathr Ferdinando Severi, the Franciscan missionary reported to be missing after the seaquake in south east Asia, has been found alive, and is sound. The Franciscan monks confirmed so.... On the day of the seaquake, Father Severi was more to the north, in Meulaboh, to celebrate the Christmas Mass, and was swept away by the tsunami. He was thought to be missing, then some brothers recognised him on TV during the rescue operations.

Muslim beneficence

As a matter of fact, certain details of Father Severi's account put an entirely different spin on the events at Meulaboh, recasting it from a tale of Muslim persecution to one of Muslim beneficence. Ironically, the "high building" in which Severi took refuge from the flood was a mosque, he said in a subsequent interview. The Catholic chapel was obliterated. "Fortunately," Severi noted, "the Muslims provided us with food."

All told, nine of Meuloboh's 50 Catholics were killed by the tsunami, Severi reported. As to the fate of non-Catholic Christians, I have not been able to find a full accounting, but the Website of the Barnabas Fund, a Christian advocacy group, describes what befell one unspecified congregation as follows:

According to information from Mr. Fajar Tobing in Meulaboh: 43 members of the congregation died, 12 were injured and three are in critical condition. 62 have been rescued and are together with a total number of 125 refugees. At the time of writing, there are still many people missing.
None of which utterly disproves the tale of the miraculous survival of the 400 Christians of Meulaboh, but it does nudge one toward the conclusion that if it isn't a highly exaggerated account of some real though far less remarkable event, it is almost certainly a figment of someone's imagination.

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Sources and further reading:

Previously Feared Dead, Missing Parish Priest Surfaces to Minister to Victims in Banda Aceh
Union of Catholic Asian News, 19 January 2005

Interview with Fr. Ferdinando Severi
Union of Catholic Asian News (undated)

News on Tsunami Relief
Barnabas Fund appeal, updated 18 January 2005

Survivors 'Terrified to Come Down'
Associated Press (Jakarta and Meulaboh, Indonesia), 17 January 2005

Calvary Life Fellowship: Saving of Meulobah Christians
Calvary Life Fellowship home page

Last updated: 02/18/05

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