When the earthquakes struck southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria
early on February 6, Samer Tohme was with his family in his home in Latakia, Syria. The family quickly ran out of the house, racing down eight flights of stairs, heading toward the place they knew would be the safest option: their church.
Samer is a lay leader at a church in Latakia, a city on Syria’s northwestern coast. The region was devastated by the February earthquakes
—which only made the existing problems
they face even worse.
Samer’s church has long been a local Open Doors partner church and a Center of Hope that has helped support the Christian community in Latakia as they rebuild after years of war and violence from Islamic extremism. This Center of Hope already serves more than 200 children with educational support, thanks to Open Doors supporters like you. Samer’s church’s long-term presence in Latakia meant that the church was ready to spring into action as soon as the earthquakes happened—and that Open Doors’ support was able to be channeled to people in need, right away.
Watch how your gifts and prayers impacted the church in Syria
Samer opened the church for anyone who needed shelter, and quickly, the small church was full.
“The church welcomed everyone,” he remembers. “And it is a small church—[it can hold] almost 120 people, [but] many more who would stop by.” Samer slept on the church floor until even that filled up, so then he slept in his car outside the church’s gate.
Each day, he would wake up and help the church provide breakfast and dinner for the people who needed it.
“I would like to thank [Open Doors] very much, because it has truly been the helping hand for people who were damaged by the earthquake,” Samer says. “We were able to reach out to more than 1,000 families [in Latakia]. We helped them in all possible ways: food, healthcare, rent and home restorations.”
He also visited other shelters for people impacted by the quakes and was able to deliver 500 meals and more than 500 blankets, pillows and mattresses.
Samer says he saw how the help from Open Doors’ supporters opened doors for the gospel: “It is obvious that the hand of the Lord is moving in our city, Latakia, in general, and in our church in particular,” he says. “The aid that you gave got the attention of the people. [They thought:] ‘A church this size is giving aid to people from different denominations and backgrounds, without [asking for] anything in return?’ And this caused them to wonder: ‘Why are these people different from the others?’ People are coming to the church and they are listening to the Word of God. They are hearing something new. There are a lot of people who are changing spiritually, and there are people who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior, and they now know what salvation is.”
Despite the positive Kingdom impact Samer and his church have made, he warns that the situation is still very difficult for many Syrian Christians.
“The ongoing needs are food, healthcare and rent, because rents are skyrocketing; they are unimaginable,” he says. He also points out that more people than usual are renting homes, simply because their houses or apartments are unsafe to go back to after being damaged in the earthquake.
Samer also says the disaster made the economic crisis in Syria that was happening before the earthquakes even worse. “Here in Syria, we are living through a very big economic crisis,” he shares. “It is very big. The prices are unimaginable; they exceed what people can afford.
“The situation was very difficult during the earthquakes and after the earthquakes … and remains difficult.”
Samer says the best way to pray for him and his church is to pray that they would be able to continue to serve people well: “Pray for us, so that the Lord would use this church more and more as a beacon in the city, to spread His Word,” he says. He also asks that we pray for the leadership and people volunteering in the church, as they try to help Syrian Christians grow in their relationships with Jesus.
Finally, Samer asked us to pass on his thanks to Open Doors supporters. “If you hadn’t presented this aid for [people], what would have happened to them—to the 1,000 families that we helped?” he says with gratitude. “The families that we were able to help, thanks to you, we were really able to lift up their morale a little bit.”
Because of your gifts and prayers, Open Doors has been able to work through partners on the ground in Syria, delivering financial aid to more than 4,000 Christian families, and working to examine nearly 3,000 homes for earthquake damage and repair. Partner churches like Samer’s have also helped with trauma counseling and plan on hosting spiritual retreats for Christians this summer. The goal of our partner churches is to help at least 50,000 Christians with earthquake relief in the near future.