Mawar Sharon megachurch in Surabaya, Indonesia lost 46 members in the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash late last year. The church's pastor, Pastor Philip Mantofa, recently opened up about how his church, and his faith in God, have strengthened through the tragedy.
"Our church has always been like a big family," the pastor explained in an interview with Charisma News.
"Even though not everyone necessarily knows everyone, our sense of belonging as one body of Christ is strong since most of our members belong in small groups and ministries."
In late December, Flight QZ8501 disappeared about one hour into its journey to Singapore from Surabaya while flying over the Java Sea. Officials lost contact as the plane travelled between Belitung and Kalimantan, Indonesia with 162 people on board. Days later, wreckage and bodies--one fourth of which were members of Mawar Sharon-- were recovered.
"No words can describe the feeling of loss we have all experienced here, especially the passengers' families," the pastor recalled. "Unnecessary comments haven't help a bit, and we don't attempt to answer the big "WHY" question. However, the Holy Spirit has been real in our church as the Comforter. As their pastor, I must say that I couldn't be prouder of my members as they carried each other's burden without second thoughts. The most glorious moment was when I witnessed how one bereaved family encouraged and prayed for another out of their own initiative. I could say that I almost saw heaven in that situation. Yes, we are moving forward!"
Although devastated, Pastor Mantofa says his Christian faith has grown stronger through the tragedy, as it has forced him to completely rely on God.
"Christ is my Lord in all the seasons of my life, whether joyous or sad. When my faith hits rock-bottom, then my bottom is the Rock. Then, my faith gets even stronger than ever!
"Faith is the only thing I got," he added. "Though I can't quite make sense of it all, my faith in God has not been shaken. God is not evil, and surely this accident is not His fault. Could He not have prevented this? Of course, He can! But if He has not, He is greater than my thoughts. God has not promised us a smooth life in this imperfect world; but He has promised to be with us through it all."
Mantofa says that as the congregation continues to work through difficult emotions, he encourages them to find comfort and solace in their faith.
"Here in Indonesia, Jesus isn't only to live for; He is to die for! I will follow Him no matter what, and others will follow me as I follow Christ. Finally, as His love is unconditional to us, so our faith should be unconditional to Him. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!"
Following the tragedy, Pastor Mantofa experienced a beautiful glimpse of heaven, which he believes was a gift of encouragement from God . In the vision, the pastor saw his church members, who had died in the crash, ascending into heaven to meet their Lord and Savior.
"From the deep ocean, the souls of men and women dear to many and beloved by God ascended to heaven by the way of the cross. They marched into glory in white arrays," the pastor recalled.
"Though all human lives are but like smoke which evaporates too quickly, blessed are those whose names have been written in the Book of Life. The Lamb of God will wipe every remaining tear from their eyes, and they shall live as stars and diamonds in the sky, as angels on high, and as sons and daughters of the King of heaven. So, let go and let God!"