“I can’t wait to get my feet wet!”

It was a picture-perfect holiday in Thailand, and my family and some friends were traveling to the beach for fun in the sun and waves. With smiles everywhere, I couldn’t have predicted the devastation rapidly headed our way. All I could think about was playing in the ocean.

We were nearly halfway through our 11-hour drive from Bangkok to Krabi, a beautiful Thai beach, when my dad received a phone call. Instantly, I could tell something was wrong.

“What did you say?” he exclaimed. He quickly pulled the van to the side of the road. I listened hard but couldn’t quite hear what the other person was saying.

My dad turned to face us and his words jumbled together. An earthquake. A tsunami. Even then, it rushed along the coast of Southeast Asia, including the beach we planned to enjoy. “They’re strongly recommending that we head back to Bangkok,” he said.

I thought back to my wonderful memories of the past few days in Bangkok: the smell of fresh sweet rolls, granola baking in the oven, and Christmas tree lights twinkling in the corner of my eye as I fell asleep on the couch. Everything had been perfect—for seven-year-old me, at least. Our friends from Brazil had even joined us for the holidays this year.

My first day in Thailand.
Enjoying Christmas at the beach one year before the tsunami.
Me (right) with friends at Bangkok Adventist International School.
This photo was taken the day after the tsunami.
Missing persons poster board after the tsunami.

Interestingly, when my parents had prayerfully considered our holiday plans, they’d felt impressed to spend Christmas at home and then drive to Krabi the following day. The year before, we had enjoyed Christmas Day at the beach. I wondered whether the tsunami was why God had impressed them to change their plans.

Back in the van, the adults discussed what we should do. My dad called the hotel where we would stay to find out more details. “The beach is a mess, but the hotel wasn’t affected by the waves,” she told him.

My mom pleaded that we turn around and head home. My dad, who worked for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Asia regional office, felt it was critical to continue. They discussed our situation for a few tense moments and decided to press on.

We arrived at Krabi late that night. Dad wanted to walk to the shoreline first thing to see for himself what had happened. Everywhere we looked, we saw devastation. Boats were overturned, and the beach was blocked off by yellow barricade tape. I was scared I’d see a dead body on the shore, so I turned my head away. It was unbearable.

The next morning, we continued exploring the beach and still-standing shops. Passing a 7-Eleven store, we saw a poster with “Girl Missing” written on it in large letters. I looked at the poster and wondered what it was like for the family of the missing girl. “Do you think she’s still alive?” I asked my mom. She didn’t have an answer.

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We looked online that night to find out whether her friends who had been on the beach when the tsunami hit had been found alive and well. To our horror, they were reported dead.

As I sat next to my shocked mom, I heard the sound of someone sobbing. A man sat at a computer near us, staring at the screen. In his hand was the same poster I had seen at the 7-Eleven. Was that the missing girl’s father?

I headed to the playroom with my sister, Caroline, for fresh air and some mental relief. This was too much for our little minds to handle.

If we had left Bangkok the day before Christmas as we had done the year before, we would have most likely been on the beach when the waves hit. Those waves had destroyed many lives. I could have been the little girl missing that day.

It’s been more than 10 years since the Christmas tsunami. The experience shook me as a child, but today it encourages me to be grateful for each day. Sometimes terrible things happen—yet through it all, God is sovereign and I have to keep trusting Him. Each day is a journey with its own waves. Big or small, I want God by my side.

Daniele Kuhn
Brazilian-born Daniele Kuhn and her family have served as missionaries in 10 countries. She is currently studying to become a missionary doctor.