Send Relief’s Associate Area Director for Central Asia, Scott, traveled with a disaster relief team to a remote cluster of villages impacted by February’s series of deadly earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. He documented the following thoughts after crisis efforts began:
Early one morning, we drove to a city on the fault line.
We had made reservations online for a hotel three weeks ago, but they didn’t have a room for us when we arrived. They had given priority to guests who had arrived earlier.
In that instance, we became homeless in one of the hardest-hit areas of the earthquake.
After we sat in the parking lot quietly praying, we called multiple hotels in the region. Every hotel either didn’t pick up or said they had too much damage to operate. Nothing was available, so we decided to go ahead and visit a few areas in the town and then drive several hours to a place where we might find a room (with no guarantee). We knew we could just sleep in the van as a last resort.
We drove to a small tent city nearby and asked residents about the water.
They said a lot of people had diarrhea, a sign of contamination. Many educated people lost their homes— teachers, attorneys and public servants—one lady everyone jokingly called “the mayor” organized and got things done.
We immediately hit it off, and she made us tea and got us whatever we needed. I told her we had a hotel reservation, but the hotel didn’t honor it. She immediately insisted, “You must stay with us! Please, we’d love to host you. You can stay in my tent, and the others can stay in one of our extra tents. Please stay with us—I’d love for you to stay!”
After talking with the team, we decided this was a good option. It brought the people in this tent city great joy and purpose to know that they, who had very little to offer at the moment, could offer immense hospitality.
They told me, “We are the homeless helping the homeless.” The children followed us everywhere, wanting to practice English and play games. My teammate and I entered the mayor’s tent at sundown, and her three daughters told us their stories.
One had big wedding plans, but the earthquake happened before the ceremony, so they had to cancel. Instead, the young couple took their vows at the courthouse and now live with the groom’s family. The other daughter, in her first year of university, had to leave school because they canceled classes. And the last daughter, who attended high school, now doesn’t have a school because it doesn’t exist. All of her friends have scattered. Some went to Germany and some to other cities in Turkey—none live near her tent city. They still don’t have Wi-Fi to keep in touch.
My brain felt full. I’d spoken Turkish for three straight days after 20 months of none at all, but the women kept coming into the tent to tell their stories.
I met Ebru, who shared about all her losses, her confusion about where to go and the dread she felt every morning when she woke up and sadly questioned, “Am I really waking up in a tent?”
Many of the women showed us pictures of lovely homes with nice furniture and beautiful clothes. They counted the losses with our listening ears. They shared their stories and their tears. We offered whatever condolences we could give. As it grew later and later, we began to talk about spiritual things. They were all of the Muslim traditions. I offered to pray for them and we all held hands, prayed… cried…and hugged.
The mayor of tent city tucked my roommate and me in under three of the thickest blankets you’ve ever felt. When my teammate’s shoulder peeked out from under the covers, the mayor warned us not to let any part of our bodies out from under the blankets or else we’d get sick. We responded with an obedient “Yes, ma’am,” but selfishly, all I could think about were my nightly hot flashes and how they would feel under these conditions. God was merciful, however, because I had one of the best nights of sleep on our trip that night in the tent.
There are no known believers in that town. Still, my most memorable night of this trip was from a hotel cancellation that led to meeting those who behaved like believers—who had very little but gave whatever they could: hospitality.
Later as we traveled 9,000 kilometers to visit the epicenter of the quakes. Our guide had heard of a soup kitchen that did not have clean water. We went there and met the owner of a small snack and tea shop that he had turned into a community kitchen. The owner knew he needed clean water to make all the food, so our men checked out the system and planned an installation.
While our men looked at the water source, the shop owner quietly asked our guide, “Are those people Christians?”
Once he heard the answer, the owner was surprised that we would willingly help a Muslim country. Our guide explained that we left our families and came to help people like him because God did so much for us that we wanted to do the same for others. They had a meaningful conversation about faith, and the owner thanked us for our presence.
Our visit was his first encounter with followers of Jesus. Our willingness to help broke down his misconceptions and brought a safe water source to feed many more people. This man commented to our guide, “My government is 5 kilometers away, but those who came from 9000 kilometers away are the ones who helped me.”
Published July 26, 2023