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How churches became a refuge in Syria after the earthquakes

Churches have been at the forefront of the emergency response in Aleppo. Find out how they’ve helped people in need.

Written by Rachael Adams | 24 Feb 2023

A digger parked in front of a large pile of rubble

In Syria, many buildings have been destroyed or damaged by the powerful earthquakes. It is a race to respond and to help people recover and rebuild | Image Credit: Karam Al-Masri/DEC

Churches in Aleppo, Syria, have spent years supporting people devastated by more than a decade of conflict. Now, they have become a lifeline to people of all faiths after a series of powerful earthquakes hit the region. Hear from Syrians as they describe in their own words how the church has been a refuge in their time of need.

Children playing amongst the rubble of buildings

Children play among the rubble of buildings destroyed by the earthquake in Aleppo, Syria | Image credit: Syrian Partner

‘Christ will protect us’

‘I was sleeping when I fell off the bed, and my mum told us that it was an earthquake,’ shares eleven-year-old Tala*.

‘I started saying Christ, Christ be with us.’

Tala lives with her younger brother, and her mother, Siham*. Her father is away in the army. The family rents a small home on the fifth floor of an apartment block.

When the earthquake struck, Siham ran with the children to the school in their area and stayed for three days in the school yard, but it was very cold. It didn’t stop raining and both children got sick. The family were able to then spend a night in their relatives car, before finding refuge in the church building of our local partner. Their home is still unsafe to return to.

‘Before the earthquake, our life was so difficult and now after the earthquake our life has become miserable,’ says Siham. ‘One of the harshest feelings a mother can feel is when your children ask for something you can't provide. Now, even basic needs I can't provide.’

‘I am happy here in the church and I do not want to go back to my home,’ shares Tala. ‘Here, Christ will protect us.’

A woman and her two children standing in a church room

Siham and her two children take refuge in Tearfund’s local church partners building, while it is still unsafe to return home | Image credit: Syrian Partner

‘In the darkness’

‘We were asleep when the first earthquake happened, then I started hearing sounds – everything around me was moving,’ says Essam*.

‘I picked my daughter up and ran out of the house. My wife, Sahdia*, picked up the boys and ran. We were out on the street for four hours, hoping we would be able to get home again.

‘These four hours were [like] four years for us, in the street, in darkness, in pouring rain, with no shelter, and we do not even know what happened in our home. We were in pyjamas and slippers. ‘Now, my home is without a kitchen. All the things that I remember are the sound of breaking glass materials in my home and the crying of my children.

‘Since 7 February, we are [staying] in the church. The church provides us with food and a place to sleep.

‘My little son totally refuses to sit inside – he spends all his time outside in the churchyard and his mother brings him inside after he sleeps. He is afraid that if he gets to a closed area, this area will be falling over him.

Essam and his Sahdia, now volunteer alongside the church staff to prepare and distribute food to people in need.

Two people sat on chairs in a church building

Essam and Sahdia are living at the church at the moment with their children, who have been traumatised by the earthquake. They’re now also volunteering at the church to help others | Image credit: Syrian Partner

‘It was raining water, stones, and glass’

Before the earthquake hit, Shadi’s* family had already lost so much due to the conflict.

Shadi used to own a clothes factory. He would travel to international exhibitions to display his clothes. But in 2013, everything changed.

The conflict meant he had to shut down his factory and move house. He was kidnapped twice by the armed group, ISIS. After continued threats from the group, the family were forced to keep moving around. They’d only been living in their house for six months when the earthquakes struck.

‘I woke up when the wardrobe fell on top of me,’ shares Shadi. ‘I pushed it with all my strength to move it away from me, then I went to the children’s room.

‘They were scared and crying. My son’s foot was stuck in the bed’s ladder. I was trying to carry him and the items fell above us from the cabinets and dust filled the house.

‘At that moment, I felt that my memories, my days, my past and my future were also collapsing.

‘We went to the bathroom, the water tank was very hot, so I had to hold it so that it would not explode, and so the hot water wouldn’t reach the children. My hands burned.

‘After the earthquake ended, we fled to the street, and it was raining water, stones, and glass from the surrounding buildings. We started running until we reached a large square, in which many people gathered. We stayed there for three hours, then we contacted the church, and we came and stayed here [at the church].’

A family stood together in a room

Shadi and his family have already had to flee conflict. Now, they’ve been forced out of their home by the earthquakes. They’re currently being supported by Tearfund’s local church partner | Image credit: Syrian Partner

‘We wish to get through these difficult days’

‘During the war, my family's house, in which I live with my children, was damaged because of the hostilities but we were still living in it,’ shares Mrs Hiba*, a mother-of-two. ‘It is on the fifth floor.

‘Since the moment of the earthquake, we all woke up in a panic and started hearing the sound of stones falling, and everything around us shook violently.

‘My mother, my children and I miraculously managed to escape before the building collapsed completely.

‘I found myself in the street in the middle of the rubble, and people's voices were loud all around me. I will not forget the sounds of screaming and crying. I took refuge in one of the open and empty shops. We stayed there for a few days, me and other people whom I did not know. The shop was full of rats, mice, and insects, without electricity or water.’

The family finally found refuge in a shelter ran by a local monastery.

‘The brothers welcomed us,’ says Mrs Hiba. ‘Distributing aid was organised. I received rain boots and winter jackets for my children, my mother, and myself from St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee [Tearfund’s local church partner].

‘With love and respect, we wish to get through these difficult days, and I wish safety to all.’

Building ruins exposing a room where some people are sat around a table

Across Aleppo, buildings have been damaged or destroyed. It will take years to rebuild what’s been lost | Image credit: Syrian Partner

The church will always be a refuge

Tearfund’s local church partners have been at the forefront of providing emergency help in Aleppo. They know the needs of the community, as they’ve been faithfully serving people here for years, and so were able to respond right away.

As well as opening their doors for people to take shelter in their buildings, they’re also distributing food and hygiene kits and providing people with emotional support and first aid.

‘The fact that the church has opened its doors to all people is a wonderful testimony to their faith and to the way that God has worked through the Christian people in Aleppo,’ says Martin Leach, who oversees Tearfund’s work in the Middle East.

‘They’ve opened their church to people of faith or no faith or different faiths, welcoming them in, feeding them, giving them comfort without any restriction. And that has been a huge testimony to the lives of a church that has been challenged for many years in Syria. It’s also a testimony to the fact that the church has been in Syria for 2,000 years – one of the original places of Christianity.’

And the church isn’t going anywhere. Long after headlines and media attention disappears, the church will still be there in Aleppo, caring for people and helping them to recover and to rebuild.

Let us continue to pray for everyone affected by the earthquake and for the church as they respond.

Pray with us

Read through people’s accounts of the Syria earthquake again. Ask God to highlight something in each person’s account that you can pray for them for. Let the Holy Spirit continue to guide you in your prayers for them and their families as they begin their journeys of healing and recovery.

Next, thank God for how the church has been a refuge and a help for everyone in need. Pray for continued wisdom, energy and resources for the church as it responds and serves the local community.

*Names changed to protect identities

Written by

Written by  Rachael Adams

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