Update Syria | 07 February 2024

Why one Syrian family calls the 2023 earthquake a ‘blessing’


Show: true / Country: Syria / Syria
At 4:30 am on February 6, 2023, a massive earthquake hit southeastern Turkey and northwestern Turkey. Buildings collapsed, more than 55,00 people died, and millions were displaced from their homes.

Two of these displaced people were Samih and Maria. The couple lives in Aleppo, Syria, where at least 3,500 buildings were damaged and deemed to need structural repair. 

When the earthquake struck, the couple was in their apartment building. They ran down the stairs—or tried to, as Maria was still recovering after a C-section delivery of Ralph, their second child. The family made their way from their home, shocked at the horror of the moment. “It was an awful night. In 13 years of war, we never had anything resembling the horror we felt, condensed into that minute and a half,” Maria says.

As they struggled down the stairs, they realized that their two-year-old son, Elias, didn’t even have a coat. “In the frenzy of that awful moment, we were looking at Ralph, our newborn, and we didn't see that Elias was without a coat,” Maria remembers. They frantically began knocking on neighbors doors, looking for a way to protect their little boy from the frigid temperatures. But no one answered.

When they reached the street, they found out why: Everyone was already on the street, with fear in their eyes and on the lookout for any aftershocks!

Maria’s description of the “awful night’ is shared by almost everyone in Aleppo. They lived through 13 years of shelling, mortars, explosions, sanctions, threats from Islamic extremists and financial difficulties—but nothing comes near to the horrifying feeling they experienced that night. 

Now, a year later, the couple looks back at that night—and all that’s happened since then. The family of four shares a one-bedroom apartment; Samih usually sleeps on a couch because the small bed they have can’t accommodate four people, even if two of them are toddlers. 

Maria wipes away tears as she remembers that night. She looks at Ralph with his big, beautiful eyes—still full of wonder—and says: “In a way, that earthquake was a blessing; yes it was a blessing for us and many Syrians like us. [Before], we were troubled with worry: ‘How are we going to pay hospital expenses, how can we afford diapers, how we can make ends meet?’ Then the earthquake came, and it was the answer.” 

God works in mysterious ways. Yes, the earthquake was a disaster. People lost their lives, lost loved ones, lost their homes and their businesses. But for many Christians who survived, it was a blessing in disguise, as Maria says. 

Not to say it’s been easy: “In the first moments after the earthquake, I felt that Jesus was with me, that He gave me strength,” she says. “But, after the second earthquake that day, I started doubting: Why didn’t God stop this?

“It’s terrifying and sad to remember the night of February 6, 2023,” says Kamal, a Syrian Christian who lives in Latakia, a coastal city about two-and-a-half hours from Aleppo. “I woke up in the morning with the whole house shaking. I can’t describe how terrifying it was. The thing I could do was pray to God.” Kamal’s home was still standing after the earthquake but was left damaged and in need of repair before it was safe to return. 

After a few days, Maria started seeing how God can turn bad things into good which was living proof of her favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

“For the next six months, we didn’t have to pay for any more diapers for Ralph, our street baby,” she says, using the nickname Ralph’s grandparents have jokingly given him. He’s called this because he was roaming the streets at the age of four days, which in Syria is very strange. Usually, a Syrian mother and newborn don’t leave the house for at least a month after childbirth, and their first time out would be to visit church. 

But for Maria and Samih, their flight meant that everything was taken care of financially, especially in their situation. Samih was unemployed, and Maria was on unpaid maternity leave. 

Your support at work!

Thanks to your gifts and prayers, the couple’s local church was able to help them—and many families who were struggling. Even before the earthquake, many Christian families like Maria’s were struggling under the poverty line, working two or three jobs just to survive. 

Open Doors’ local partner in Syria used your donations to help restore the houses of people impacted by the earthquake. More than 7,000 people in Aleppo alone left their homes that night and went to stay in churches and monasteries. As the year unfolded, our partner helped these families return to their homes after restoring them and making them safe again. In Aleppo, 1,540 houses were repaired over the last year, and many grateful families have returned. In Latakia, where Kamal lives, another 464 houses were restored. 

Kamal was one of those who was helped with home repairs. “We received help and we could renovate and repair the damage that was caused by the earthquake,” he says. “We’re very thankful, very grateful, to all people who shared our suffering and helped us continue and stand. Thank you, thank you, we’re very grateful.”
Listen to Kamal’s message to you!
Maria and Samih were fortunate their house wasn’t damaged. But, of course, they were still left devastated by the earthquake. Your gifts were also put to work for families like them—they, along with 5,038 other families, were supported with one-time cash vouchers, , all distributed by Open Doors’ local partner. 

Additionally, your support helped provide food parcels, rent support and winter aid that families have received on a regular basis in the year since the disaster.

In a way, the earthquake changed the equation for many Syrians. In 90 seconds of tremors, many people emerged with the solution for some of their problems. All over the world, people felt their pain and started to donate and pray—Syrian Christians knew they weren’t alone or forgotten!

But they still need your prayers. Syria continues to have massive problems, and Christians continue to live under risk. Many Syrian Christians have already fled the country—and many more want to leave. The future of the Syrian church is at risk, But Open Doors and our partners remain committed to strengthening God’s people to serve as salt and light in Syria. Please pray that God may help Syrian believers see His hand at work, that they will feel the love pouring from their brothers and sisters around the world.

Pray for Kamal and his family as they continue to serve Jesus in Syria. And pray for Samih’s and Maria's family, as they struggle to see a future in Syria. Pray that God will give them wisdom and strength to continue trusting Him as they seek to live for Jesus.

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