My twelve days of Advent and Christmas ……. in the floods

When the flood waters surrounded the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Mentakab, parish priest Fr Jestus Pereira was unexpectedly ‘trapped’ in the parish house for several days without electricity, water, internet access and limited usage of his phone. He shares his experience with us.

Dec 31, 2021

Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mentakab in circle surrounded by the flood

It seems that 2021 was determined to leave us with challenges before ending. We were quietly observing Advent, waiting for our usual Christmas night service with tree decorations, crib and lights all around. This little town right in the centre of Pahang, known as Titik Perpuluhan Semenanjung Malaysia (Centre of Peninsular Malaysia), had suddenly become the centre of attention of our Catholic population. From an unknown town, like Bethlehem, it had now, as we were preparing for Christmas, become a miracle town, untouched by the floods. Floods are nothing new. We have seen it in the Bible (see Genesis Chapter 6 and following).

1st Day – Sun, Dec 19
After the morning Mass in Mentakab, I was supposed to go to Jerantut, 65km away. However, I was told that Kuala Krau, a point I had to pass to get to Jerantut, was already flooded and impassable. So Mass had to be cancelled and I took the opportunity to go out for that rare breakfast with some parishioners. Then I went to the wet market to get some things to last me for the next few days … but it turned out to be a wasted effort as the power supply would eventually be cut. Our ADUN (assemblyman) was already there, asking us to go home. It had already begun to flood behind the market, an indication of what was coming. In the evening, I went out for an early dinner. Our town’s doublestory supermarket was already beginning to flood. The supermarket staff carried all the goods upstairs, as they did during the previous flood. This time, the waters hit the top floor too. As I was returning after dinner, some of the roads were already flooded. I quickly rushed home – how swiftly the waters had come in, even though there was no rain, except the two previous days.

2nd Day – Mon, Dec 20
In the early morning, when I rose, I saw cars within the compound. There was no rain. Yet the water was swiftly coming in. Strange, I thought. Some people had already taken refuge in the church and compound — less than a dozen of them. They had used our facilities in the canteen and invited me for a meal too. There were some Indonesians around. I opened up a tadika classroom for them, but they were so comfortable and said they would sleep in the compound as there was a full moon!! Oh my, how they are so appreciative of nature, even under such circumstances.

Today I was not able to go out to visit the sick and elderly to give them Holy Communion. Some of the roads to their homes were not accessible. Anyway, I too could not go out due to the waters outside.

3rd Day – Tues, Dec 21
No rain again. But the water was still rising swiftly. The waters were indeed violent. Fear and anxiety all around. At about 3.45am. I got up and dialed 999 out of desperation and fear. The operator asked me: ‘What is the cause of the flood?” How could I answer? Actually, she should have been telling me. She then passed the line to her colleague. He asked for my particulars, location, etc. He then told me that my location was too dangerous to send a boat. Here I was, sending out an SOS to rescue me from the dreaded waters and that was all the rescue team could tell me. I immediately thought of Moses who had a rod with him. He did amazing things with it. If only I could find it and do something with it, even splitting the flood waters.

After that desperate call, I sat on my mattress, and did the next best thing I knew: pray the Rosary at 4.00am. Never in my 66 years of life had I done this - praying the Rosary at this ungodly hour! What else could I do? I could not read the Bible or anything else in the dark. The one thing a Catholic can do in the stillness of the night, surrounded by swift waters and three days without electricity is recite the Rosary. My phone could only be charged in the car. In the daytime, you could see the waters rising and you continue to pray.

By 7.30pm, the first boat came along. We let the small group of Indonesians go into the small boat as they had a two-year old child with them. The boatmen promised they would return. The waters were still rising and more swiftly. The others at our tadika refuge were still confident the boat would return. At about 11.30pm, I told them that I was going to bed. This is Malaysia, this is Bolehland, they won’t come again.

I went back to my house and made a call to the Centre and the lady said: “Coming, coming on the way, on the way.” As Jesus said: ‘Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one’ (Mt 5:37). No, I could not wait anymore. I decided to go to bed. Indeed, I was right, the boat never came.

4th Day – Wed, Dec 22
Yes, the waters were no longer rising, but still swift. No rain again but the water was still at same level – not receding. The refugees at our tadika were still hoping for a boat. And finally, in the evening at 6.30pm, a boat came along. I decided not to go, though my bags were packed to go to a Relief Centre. I decided not to go to any of my parishioners’ houses. I did not need any special privileges. I was already warned: be careful, the waters are going to rise. Later, a boat came along to distribute food. An elderly man who decided to sleep at our church corridors, took a warm food packet for himself and me: That was my first hot meal in four days! Thank you Lord for this full boiled egg, gravy and cabbage.

The group of refugees had left. There were only two of us left here. All around was water. I had texted to some: Welcome to OLPH Lake Resort for a Christmas Nite Candlelight Mass on Dec 24 at 9.30pm.

5th Day – Thurs, Dec 23
I got up in the morning and discovered the waters had receded quite fast and was still receding. Wat-er relief! By late afternoon, only a little water was puddled near the last stretch of road near the church. In the evening, for the first time, I could go out to town by car, at least to one part of the town. I then texted my parishioners to say that we could have our Christmas Mass at night….. with minimum water supply, without lights,no crib lights, no Christmas tree lights, etc. Bring your own candle to look at your books as there would be no projections. It is Jesus who is our Light. It was the fifth day without power supply. I had to be careful. I had to charge my battery in my car, yet ensure my car had enough fuel and car battery was still alive. The shops out there were all badly damaged by floods. The late Cardinal Soter Fernandez would say: Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle. I would retort: Give me the matches!

In the neighbouring taman, the waters had reached up to the gate top and also reached to the top steps to the top floor.

6th Day – Thurs, Dec 24
And so we had our Christmas night Mass without lights and fans. No projection, no organist. Anyway, the absence of an organist did not make a difference for us as our last organist had left to further his studies in Kedah and since then, the parish did not have an organist. This is quite common in small places. Yet I would say, this was the first time after a long while that I had witnessed singing and reading with so much gusto. Emmanuel — God is with us — in all circumstances and situations. Do not fear. I had to cancel the Mass in Triang as the waters half way at the kampungs were not passable.

7th Day – Sat, Dec 25
Just a simple Mass — no music, projections. It reminded me that Jesus too was born in the stable, without any fans. Though there was no rain, it was still cool enough.

At about 11.30pm, just as I was going to bed, I received a call from an unknown number. I answered and it was a Dr Mathen from KL. He was unloading items like blankets, sanitisers, etc. and wanted me to distribute them. I obliged. They were from the MUDA party comprising people from all races and religions. The group was passing through and wanted to drop off some things here and still continue on their journey. After unloading the items, the group of more than 10 persons left around 2.00am and I had just a few hours of sleep before having to get up for Mass on Sunday.

8th Day – Sun, Dec 26
We continued with the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. We are born into our nucleus family. Then, by Baptism, we are born into a bigger family, the Church. But like Jesus, we are meant for a bigger family of humanity. In this flood situation, God invites us to reach out to all peoples….. whether it be cleaning their homes or reaching out to them and offering aid in any form.

I managed to go to Triang. No more flood. At last we could have the four baptisms which had been previously postponed due to Covid and floods. It did not matter whether it was in Mandarin or English. A lady was jumping for joy as she had been waiting for 23 years to be baptised. In small places, we just cannot get facilitators. At last we could do the sessions online and we do not have to overload everything within a few months. Baptisms need not be done only at the Easter Vigil – we can welcome them to the family of God anytime.

9th Day – Mon, Dec 27
Silent Night, Holy Night: I just wanted to rest after the three days of outstation trips and the hectic time prior to that, but the cleaning up was still to be done.

10th Day – Tues, Dec 28
I went out to explore the whole town and affected areas and see what relief and aid could be given. Many from different areas had come in to give dry food in abundance. There were also stoves, cookers, mattresses donated in abundance.

11th Day – Wed, Dec 29
Just before noon, a group from KL, Anak Muda Bukit Damansara, came to the church. They came with a big lorry and a few small trucks. As the lorry had to return to KL, they just wanted to unload all the items temporarily at our premises and then distribute them to the kampungs nearby. The 15 young people then went to the kampungs to distribute the goods and clean up homes. They returned at about 5.00pm. I asked them how many homes they managed to clean up: Only two for that half day. That was how much the floods had damaged the homes. They invited me for lunch and I joined them, that was my dinner.

A couple, Jega and Shireen, and I then went to a family who had requested for some mattresses. We managed to bring along some food packets too. We three kings of orient are. Bearing mattresses from afar. Food packets also boleh lah, oh, oh and some blankets too. Joy to the world.

A niece of mine from KL had come to visit me with her husband and three children. I took the opportunity to take them to visit some of the affected areas, especially the flats where two floors were affected. I always felt that small and young children should not be insulated from people who go through difficulties. Parents should expose their children to such dire situations.

12th Day – Thurs, Dec 30
I went to withdraw some cash from the bank to distribute to affected families. They had received enough of material goods, and had more than enough. Some cash would help them to buy vegetables, fish and whatever else they needed for the next few days. In fact, if there was some agency to coordinate the whole aid, it would be wonderful.

But before I go … A photo of OLPH has gone viral via WhatsApp. It shows the church surrounded by the flood waters but not the inside. A miracle everyone exclaimed – the church has not been touched by the waters. A very simple explanation: The church and house are on slightly elevated ground. That is why it was not touched by the waters. A vary natural occurrence.

The Director General of the Drainage and Irrigation Department is now warning us that from today, to be ready to be rescued. I am also ready. There is intermittent rain today, I can sing: All my bags are packed, I am ready to go, I am standing here outside the door … I shall wait for the boat … or I could drive to the Relief Centre (Not to Port Dickson yet, on my transfer, So Archbishop hold on!).

Oh, no. I hear Cardinal Soter shouting from the grave: “Jestus, Be, Beget, Begone!”

Total Comments:20

Patrick @ Patch
Hi Rev. Justus, Don’t know if you still remember me but I think my eldest brother Charles Ong and you were school or even classmates in SJI ???????????? Anyway, I really liked your real life sharing about what happened and also to let you know that I actually passed your church on Christmas Day itself on my way to distribute aids from to a Malay area further away with another vehicle... I still remember visiting OLPH with my mother many years ago when Rev. George Harrison was there... Hope to meet you again in PD one day soon..GB ????????
Irine Jess
Father, so disheartening to hear you mention, praying the rosary at an ungodly hour.There is no such thing as an ungodly hour for any kind of prayer. Unbelievable for a priest of 66 yrs you chose to inform us how little you think of praying the rosary anytime. Moreover the church not being flooded was your opportunity to bear witness and evangelize the church as caring and inclusive of all human beings, by opening the church doors as a refuge of safety for those in need. Nevertheless, of your sharing, I am keeping you in prayer for a speedy recovery. ????
While not agreeing with some of the points shared by FatherJestus, I hope all Catholics would keep him in prayers for him to recover as soon as possible. We pray Jesus will heal him and give him renewed grace of priesthood and guide to serve Him and his people loyally and faithfully !
Dr. V.
Fr Jestus has written that a simple answer to why the Church was not flooded was because it was built on higher ground. NO,. It is not so. Where the Church stands has been Rc piled and filled higher having steps at all entrances. It was designed for flood relieve on the advice of MOTHER MARY in answer to our prayer and agreed also by the late Archbishop (Cardinal) Sorter. This writing is purely to say Mother MOTHER had a say in all things concerning this.
Praise to the Lord. He is the light and always show and guild is. All fellowist ,have Faith with Him always. Amen
Mary Agatha Foo Soon
Praise the Lord that you are okay, full of humor. I like your character, very positive and full of energy eventhough facing this type of situation. Thank you Rev Fr Jestus for sharing your experience and ordeals.
Praise the Lord and THANK YOU for sharing your experience Fr. Jestus. Pray you’ll be well. God Bless.
God spoke.. to US to U And THRU U EMMAANUEL .....GOD IS WITH US.. T.CARE FR.????
Praise and Thank God ???????? You are save Fr. Jestus all by the Grace of God. Thank you for sharing the experience you faced during this turbulent time at the recent flood in Mentakab. Certainly OLPH is a miracle church.Despite your fears, you kept your spirit and faith going. God Bless you Fr, we are praying here for your speedy recovery. GWS ????????????
Paul Rajendran,
Fr. Thank God, you are safe. Praise the Lord. I am in Singapore with my son and fly. Will return to Haven, Ipoh on 5th Jan. Pl give me your phpne number again.
Pauline de
God bless you Father. Amid all the destruction & misery, you can still joke & give advice, joy & cheer to all & sundry. What a great sense of humour ! God has indeed blessed you. Its a great & rare gift to have such a positive attitude. All the best to you & your parishioners. ! They are indeed lucky to have you as their parish priest.
Mee Yok
Dear Fr Jestus, A Christmas never to be forgotten by those who experienced it personally and those who followed your story. This story of great tribulation and untold sufferings in these times of Covid. A message of hope still remained in the name of Jesus Christ and those who believe in Him. Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill. May we the human race on earth bears goodwill to one another. A better tomorrow for all of us in 2022. God bless. TMY
Catherine Chin
Praise the Lord
Praise and Thank you Lord Jesus.
What a insightful journey.. And I only took abt 10 min to actually go through a whole lot of experience and trauma... And indeed I am sure it is a miracle too that you have survived the ordeal.
Your last line joking about the Cardinal is not funny . I wish You had more decency .
Wonderful and so well worded sharing of your experience Fr. Jestus. Pray you’ll be well. God Bless.
God bless you FrJestus. Thank you for a glimpse into this personal view of the flood in Mentakab. I can feel your fear, faith, frustration, humor in this harrowing experience. Praying for your speedy recovery.
I find your story very touching, God Bless you and keep you safe