SURABAYA, Indonesia (Christian Examiner) – One week after AirAsia 8501 crashed into the Java Sea, many families of the victims met for a worship service in Surabaya.
Scores of relatives were among the 2,500 or more people who attended a Sunday service at Mawar Sharon Church which included prayer for passengers, crew and their families. Others celebrated mass in a tiny chapel at the police station where bodies are being identified.
Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world and is the most heavily populated Muslim country in the world—only seven percent profess Christianity—but more than a quarter of the 155 passengers were evangelicals.
Mawar Sharon Church, a network of 70 local bodies with 30,000 combined congregants, reported 41 members and 11 of their relatives were among those killed. Bethany Church, also in Surabaya, had five members of the same family die, and a Korean missionary couple and their child perished.
Mawar Sharon Pastor Caleb Natanielliem spoke to the congregation from Psalm 139 during his message. He told the Wall Street Journal after the service that he used the passage to comfort families that their missing loved ones were not missing from God.
"It talks about how we can never escape from God's love,'' he said. "It talks about flying. If I can fly with my wings to the ends of the Earth, your love is still there. If I go to the bottom of the sea, to the darkest pit, your love is still there. I believe this is the message for the families."
Philip Mantofa, another pastor to the congregation, offered hope that relatives would see their loved ones again.
"If God has called your child, allow me to say this: Your child is not to be pitied," Mantofa said, according to The Associated Press. "Your child is already in God's arms. One day, your family will be reunited in heaven."
Indonesian officials have updated previous reports to state 37 bodies have been recovered so far. High seas and strong winds have hampered divers, but search teams have employed remotely piloted undersea drones to use sonar in mapping out the crash area. So far five large sections of the the sunken aircraft have been located.