During the early morning hours on February 6, 2023, Merry and her family woke up and found their entire building was shaking. Later, they would discover that devastating earthquakes had struck Turkey and northwestern Syria, killing nearly 60,000 people.
“My mom had a cabinet where she kept her good glasses and plates,” Merry says. “I saw them falling and breaking right before we ran out, screaming and crying. We went down five flights of stairs, but they felt like a hundred.”
As she remembers that night, she seems near tears. “The streets were full of people stranded in their wet pajamas,” she says.
Fearing structural damage to their home, Merry and her family were too scared to stay there, so they took a few of their belongings and went to stay at a nearby church.
And that’s where Merry discovered God wanted to use her to show His hope to His people.
Skills put to use
The earthquake caused more than 7,000 people in Aleppo to leave their homes and stay in churches and monasteries during the first few days. Our local partners were the first to respond to the situation. Not all churches are prepared for such a crisis,
and our Open Doors partners provided several churches with food, water, blankets and mattresses, and heaters, equipping them to reach out to their hurting communities.
Merry had participated in Open Doors training in late 2022. It was a program that helped participants see how they could use sports to help people see the light of Christ and bring people into the church. During the training, she was in charge of organization
and meals, and also taught about first aid.
She couldn’t have known then those skills would be put into action in one of the decade’s largest natural disasters. When Merry and her family arrived at the church center, she immediately began helping people.
“I felt that I was back in the sports training and based on that experience, I was scheduling meals for the people and helping with distribution of food and blankets.,” she says. “I was entrusted with a responsibility in the [sports program], and I was
entrusted with it [then], as well. I couldn’t sit still, I had to do something.”
Along with her brother and three other young people who had all participated in the Open Doors training, Merry created a relief team to help people through the aftermath of the earthquakes. The team received help from relatives and friends who live abroad
and began buying, bagging and distributing packages of food and hygiene products to needy people.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we split the tasks just like a football team,” she says. “For us, ‘winning’ was helping people and showing humanity; we have a message to send, and that’s the message of love. In the 12 days after the
earthquake we were able to show love more [often] than we were able to share during the 12 years of war.”
Merry packs relief kits to help earthquake victims
Strength for today—and bright hope for tomorrow
Merry and her friends were just part of the outpouring of support for Christians in Syria, spurred on by Open Doors partner churches. Since the February earthquake, thanks to the gifts and prayers of Open Doors supporters, we’ve been able to help the
people of God in Syria with both emergency support—like what Merry was able to offer—and long-term aid as recovery begins.
We’ve been able to help 5,038 families with one-time cash vouchers that have been essential relief. The Syrian economy was in shambles even before the earthquakes. Additionally, our partners were able to identify nearly 2,500 families who needed cash
vouchers for six months.
A key part of Open Doors’ partners efforts has been making sure believers’ homes were safe to return to. Because of the years of civil war and occupation by the Islamic State group, the infrastructures of cities like Aleppo and Latakia—each with significant
Christian populations—are already compromised.
Our partners identified 2,600 homes that need to be inspected. Thanks to your support, 1,200 of those homes have been examined by engineers, and more than 780 have been repaired or are in the process. Forty apartment blocks/buildings were identified as
needing reinforcement—our partners have been able to begin or finish work on seven of these blocks. Additionally, 40 families have received rent support when it was determined their homes were unsafe to return to.
There’s still much to do—but Open Doors is committed to long-term support for the Christian community in Syria. Our partners are hosting a series of retreats to address the trauma of Syrian believers, and the students of our counseling school are involved
in helping with biblical counseling and healing.
Our goal is serve all the 50,000 Christians in Aleppo and Latakia, as well as the more hidden groups of believers who have converted from Islam—a decision that can still
"I am holding on to His words more than ever: ‘Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid.’"
be extremely dangerous and difficult in Syria. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the Christian community in Syria and to keep it from dying out. When we help with emergency and long-term needs, the Christian community can continue to be salt and light
Merry sees how the earthquake relief has impacted the church. She felt distant from God before the earthquake. “Sometimes we take God for granted, but when I screamed to God with all my heart, and He saved me and my family, I started feeling Him close
to me again,” she says. “I am hearing worship songs with new ears, understanding sermons with a new mind, and I am holding on to His words more than ever: ‘Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid.’ Those words accompanied me throughout the days after
Merry smiles when she continues: “I have no idea where I got the strength to do what I’m doing, but I know God was with me and still is. My only desire is that God would declare Himself and be shown through us to the people and let everyone in Aleppo
and Syria know that Christ is love, and that we as His children will be a good example of that love.”