Asia

AirAsia QZ8501: 41 people are missing from one church

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Media captionPrayers were offered for 41 people from Surabaya missing on the AirAsia flight

Even in the worst of times, the Mawar Sharon evangelical church in Surabaya puts on a show for its Sunday service.

Six singers swayed on stage as they belted hymns. Cameras stationed around the church caught their every move at every angle.

Behind the choir a massive screen showed close-ups of the singers.

It felt more like a rock concert than a church service. But despite appearances this was a congregation in mourning.

Missing from the pews, 41 people who were on board the AirAsia flight.

Image caption People in the church offered prayers for the victims on Sunday

Most were families with young children travelling to Singapore for a new year's holiday.

They apparently made a block booking on the budget airline, as it made their tickets cheaper.

A week after the crash, the church offered prayers for those who will not sit among them again.

Hard hit

"I actually knew one couple who had two young children," said Caleb Natanielliem, the church's executive pastor.

"I met them before Christmas. But right now I cannot say hello to them again."

Image caption Mr Natanielliem, the church's executive pastor, knew some of the families who were in the crash

Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country. But the Christian community in the city of Surabaya has been particularly hard hit by this accident.

The fact that a single church could have suffered such a loss - a quarter of the passengers on board - is incomprehensible to many here.

"I was very shocked when I first heard the news," said Paulus Angka Wijaya, a member of the congregation.

"Hopefully all the bodies will be found soon so their families can bury them and give them proper funerals.

"We will always support the families so that they can stay strong and know that they are not alone."

Still searching

Hundreds of kilometres away the search operation continues in the Java Sea.

But rescue efforts continue to be hampered by bad weather. Slowly, though, more bodies are being recovered.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Bad weather is making the rescue operation difficult

Back at the church, some relatives are praying for a miracle.

"I sense that many of them are still holding out," said Pastor Natanielliem.

"They are still waiting for news of survivors. Many of them are objecting to the idea that their loved ones have perished."

People here take strength from their faith.

But in a church that sees its congregation as family, the loss is immense.