It only took 90 seconds for life to completely change for everyone in southern Turkey and northwestern Syria.
Mahmood, an Iranian Christian living in Turkey, went from living a fairly normal life in the city of Malatya, to sleeping in a car with his family and surviving on crackers and bottles of water.
Even before the earthquake, Sandra, a Christian in Aleppo, Syria, barely made ends meet. She, her husband and daughter lived in a city destroyed by war, scraping by to make rent and to pay sky-high gas prices. On the day of the earthquake, they were just happy to have electricity for a few hours—even if it was the middle of the night.
Sandra was awake, doing laundry when the first earthquake struck. “All of a sudden, things started shaking. I first I thought it was my own mind buzzing from the lack of sleep,” she remembers. She and her husband carried their crying daughter and raced out of their home, into the rain, wearing their pajamas.
Mahmood was with his older daughter, talking to his relatives who still live in Iran, and then the room began to shake. “It was very sudden and as soon as we felt the quake we ran toward my wife and younger daughter and, in that moment, I was thinking about how fast we should leave the house and what are the most important things I need to take,” he says. He and his family fled their apartment, carrying no more than would fit into a backpack.
Though Sandra and Mahmood don’t live in the same country, they found themselves in remarkably similar circumstances: unable to return home, facing the loss of everything they had.
But that’s not the only thing they share—they also both worship Jesus.
‘You were our family’
When the first earthquake struck, Mahmood remembers his daughter praying loudly as they raced out of their home. “She was saying: ‘Oh God, aren’t you our Father?’” Mahmood remembers. “‘Will you save my family? Didn’t you say that you are our Shepherd? Please help us!’ It was a very short moment, but I think I will never forget it.”
Mahmood’s house was destroyed in an aftershock. He and his family drove to a nearby town and found a small church to sleep in—but there were so many people who needed shelter in the two-room church that the men had to sleep in their cars and the women and children took the rooms indoors.
Sandra and her husband, Vahe, also fled to a church. A local church in Aleppo, an Open Doors partner, was welcoming victims of the earthquake. The church provided shelter and warmth, and then gave food, blankets and mattresses to people who were forced to flee their homes.
“They have seen Jesus Christ working through us.”
Your support of Open Doors has helped us send emergency relief to our long-term partners in Syria and Turkey. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rev. Ibrahim, a pastor in Aleppo, says that even non-Christians are seeing the light of Jesus thanks to the help the churches have provided. “They have seen Jesus Christ working through us,” Rev. Ibrahim says. “Not in terms of not facing challenges, but in terms that He was and is and will be with us in the critical times. In one way or another, the church was carrying the living existence of Jesus Christ among the suffering society, among the community that was feeling that God was far away from them.”
He tells the story of one woman, a non-Christian, who wanted to express her gratitude for the church’s help—but realized she didn’t even know what followers of Jesus called themselves. So, she simply said what she knew. “People of the cross,” she told Rev. Ibrahim, “you were our family, taking care of us.”
‘Church became our shelter’
Vahe and Sandra
It’s not lost on Mahmood or Sandra that they fled to the only place of safety they knew: a church. “We are comfortable here, we are warm, our hearts are filled with warmth, and the food here is better than the food that some people are able to afford in their homes,” Vahe says. Because many people in Aleppo were already facing food shortages before the earthquakes, the food served in the churches is now even more welcome for the thousands that came for a simple meal in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.
Thanks to an Open Doors local partner, Mahmood and his family eventually went to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, where they could stay in a larger church. “We are in a church which has five rooms and one of them is for me and my family to stay in,” he says. “Church became our shelter and after all those terrible, cold, stressful, sleepless nights, finally we could rest and have a peaceful night at the church.
“It was an intolerable and unbearable period for us, but now we feel that God gave us a second chance for knowing Him better and living according to what He really wants.”
Sandra and Vahe were overjoyed to find their home only had cosmetic damage. And they glorify God for the gift of a safe place to flee. “Thank God our house is cleared for us to go back to; it is not in danger of falling down,” Vahe says. “But here [at church] we are enjoying the food, the heat, a safe haven from earthquakes and a [place of] fellowship between Christians.”
“We learned how important it is in the body of Christ to love and be there for one another.”
Mahmood is grateful for your support. “I want to thank all the sisters and brothers in Christ who prayed for us and supported us,” he says. “Through them, we learned how important it is in the body of Christ to love and be there for one another.”
Both Mahmood and Sandra ask for prayer for their families—as officials in both Turkey and Syria try to recover and work on meeting the needs of the populations, many questions remain. “Our future is unclear,” Sandra says. “Due to the fear, stress and horror, our thinking has completely stopped and we can’t think of the future.”
“Please keep praying for us and for all the people who have lost their families and everything they had.”
Please pray for Vahe and Sandra and their daughter and for many more like them, who are still scared to return to their homes. Pray for healing from the psychological effects of the earthquake and for the church to continue to be an effective relief center.
“Please keep praying for us and for all the people who have lost their families and everything they had,” Mahmood says. “There are still numerous people that need a lot of support and help because they don’t have their basic needs. And especially women and kids were affected by the earthquake mentally and emotionally, so please pray for the fast recovery and healing over them.”
You can give now to support Open Doors partners in Syria and Turkey as they support people impacted by the earthquakes, and for the long-term. Your gift can help provide emergency food, shelter and other relief to those affected, as well as long-term support.