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Six months on from the Turkey-Syria earthquakes

Six months on from the Turkey-Syria earthquakes on 6 Feb, we look at the role of the local church responding in Syria.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 03 Aug 2023

A picture Mary and baby Jesus hangs on a damaged wall in a church in Syria. The local church has been a part of the response in the aftermath of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes on 6 February 2023.

Aleppo. In the midst of destruction caused by conflict and earthquakes, the local church in Syria has often been amongst the first to respond. Credit: Tearfund partner

The church has been part of society in Syria for around 2,000 years – about as long as the church has existed. Today, Christians are a minority group in the country, but with its deep roots in communities, the church in Syria is still amongst the first to respond in times of crisis.

The complex civil war context

A complex civil war has raged in the country for more than a decade, costing the lives of more than half a million people and the local church has faced many challenges – as have Syrians of all faiths.

As people have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety from the conflict, levels of poverty have increased significantly. Many of the most vulnerable families have ended up living in overcrowded areas of cities. Providing for their basic needs – such as safe shelter, warmth, food and education for children – can be an enormous challenge. The healthcare system has taken extreme strain, made worse by the pandemic. 

It is estimated that around half the population of Syria is currently food insecure. Coupled with a lack of access to safe water and sanitation this has resulted in the spread of waterborne diseases, leading to a dramatic increase in child malnutrition.

The earthquakes on 6 February

For a country already facing such significant levels of need, the terrible earthquakes in February this year left even more people without access to essential services, including safe water, education and medical care.

An estimated 6,000 people died and more than 12,000 were injured across the country when the earthquakes struck. Millions of people were affected and thousands of homes destroyed. With nowhere else to go, six months on from the disaster many people continue to live in temporary shelters.

Even before the earthquakes, around two-thirds of the population required some form of humanitarian assistance and the ongoing economic crisis has also contributed to an increase in gender-based violence and child exploitation.

A church building in Syria. The Church has been part of society in Syria for around 2,000 years. When the earthquakes struck on 6 February 2023, many church buildings became safe shelters for those whose homes had been damaged or destroyed.

A church building in Syria. The Church has been part of society in Syria for around 2,000 years. When the earthquakes struck on 6 February 2023, many church buildings became safe shelters for those whose homes had been damaged or destroyed. Credit: Tearfund

The church as first responders in Syria

Local churches exist right at the heart of communities. They know what the needs are and understand deeply what people are facing – not least in terms of the psychological impact of such sustained hardship and trauma. As such, these churches are well placed to respond when disasters hit.

Tearfund’s local church partners in Syria were already working within their communities to help meet the needs of as many people of all faiths as they possibly could before the earthquakes. When the quakes struck, they were amongst the first to respond.

Opening their doors to provide shelter, they have been a place of safety and provision for many in the hours, days and months since that devastating day.

Lana: an earthquake survivor story

Lana* is 45 years old. At the time of the earthquakes, she was caring for her mother who was unable to walk after recently having an operation. Lana describes feeling paralysed with fear and unable to move to leave their home when the first quake hit.

Thankfully, their neighbours came to their aid, helping them to escape to safety. They made their way to the Syriac Orthodox church, where they found refuge for the next ten days. The church provided them with clothes, food, and caring support during this difficult time.

They were grateful for the kindness shown to them, but felt very afraid to return home in case another earthquake struck, and the daughter asked for prayers to protect them from harm.

Unfortunately, their fears were realised when a second earthquake hit, forcing them to return to the church.

Thanks to the support of our local church partner and its community and the generosity of Tearfund supporters, Lana and her mother found hope, comfort and provision in the midst of the chaos.

The power of the local church around the world

In the aftermath of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes, Tearfund’s supporters and local church partners have helped provide people in Syria with food, shelter, clean water, counselling and hygiene items.

As in Syria, in many places where Tearfund works around the world, when people face terrible circumstances like disaster, extreme poverty or conflict, the local church can provide a powerful and efficient vehicle for responding. They are able to meet their community’s needs in ways that are empowering and help restore and maintain people’s dignity and resilience.

Please will you pray with us and consider giving to help make a difference where the need is greatest.

*Name has been changed for protection

Pray for Syria

    • Pray for the church and for Tearfund’s partners who are responding to the ongoing needs of people affected by the earthquakes. Ask God for strength and protection and for sufficient resources.
    • Lift up all those who lost their homes in the earthquakes. Pray for provision and also for emotional and psychological healing.
    • Pray for peace in Syria. Ask God, especially for children, that they would have opportunities to thrive and to fulfil their God-given potential and that the future will be full of hope.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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