From the Ground: Churches Respond to Turkey-Syria Earthquake

By Abraham Shepherd

As survivors struggle to find shelter in southern Turkey and Syria after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated both nations, local bodies of believers are stepping up to be the hands and feet of Jesus amid the overwhelming loss.

The following is a field report about updated conditions from Send Relief Area Director Abraham Shepherd.

I’m writing to you from an airport in Turkey.

We just spoke to some brothers in the city and, while they are okay, their city is more or less leveled and uninhabitable until further assessment.

A before and after of one church devastated by the earthquake.

Our brothers have gotten permission for us to get into ground zero, as the lifeline, for now, will be an adjacent city. They’re already putting in orders for food and water, sleeping bags and blankets as the most urgent needs right now. One brother will designate a driver and a vehicle to take us back and forth from the city as needed with deliveries of supplies and goods.

Pray that we will be a blessing to many and that the church and believers will be beacons of hope to the suffering.

A nearby province was historically considered an extension of Syria, so the population mostly speaks Arabic or is of Syrian descent or connection, with the region hosting up to 1.7 million Syrian refugees at any given time. It’s the cradle of Christianity here, where the first disciples were called Christians, and it’s within approximately 60 kilometers from Syria’s second-largest city, Aleppo, which was hit extremely hard by this earthquake.

In Syria, people are literally digging with their bare hands and shovels.

They lack heavy equipment, which is making excavation difficult, as many buildings collapsed because they were already semi-damaged by the last twelve years of war. Already, local partners whom we have a long history of relief work with have been activated inside Syria, and we will continue to do more in the coming weeks. But we cannot continue without your help of prayers and generous giving to our brothers and sisters in Christ—not only so they can survive, but also thrive and be a blessing to others.

Shepherd continued his report several days later:

As I’m walking what used to be the streets of Antioch, it does not resemble the city that I know nor the places that we visited.

It’s one of the hardest-hit areas. The whole city has been declared uninhabitable.

It’s day six after the Turkey-Syria earthquake hit.

You can see people sitting and watching in places where rescue efforts are taking place, holding to that hope that “maybe my loved one will be unearthed alive.”

They don’t care about the objects in their memory or their household belongings that you can see crushed under the rubble, whether it be their favorite couch or toy, a special cooking pan or a laptop, etc. They’re clinging to the hope that their loved one is alive.

And it happened that we passed by one of those groups. You can hear crying that compels you to cry with them. And all it takes is a second look at what seems to be a pile of plastic garbage bags to notice that it’s actually a pile of bodies that have been recovered in plastic body bags.

Some people lost their entire families. And their flickering hope has been extinguished.

You see Send Relief on those streets, not only to comfort and provide tangible assistance, but also to focus on the main task of that lasting Hope—“if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

God help us to make that Hope known to the victims of the Turkey-Syria earthquake in a practical way.

Published February 15, 2023

Abraham Shepherd