About 230,000 buildings have been damaged since the earthquakes in southeast Turkey in February 2023. Thousands have been displaced and have been in temporary and semi-temporary shelters since. Reconstruction will take years. Photo by Ellyn Schellenberg.

Hopelessness loses its power

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 6 February 2023 surprised people across Turkey and surrounding countries, but God is still at work in painful times.

It is 04:17 in February, and the world is asleep. In the comfort and warmth of his home, a man lays in bed, breathing rhythmically and serenely. Like the flip of a light switch, he is jolted from his sleep by a violent shaking. Not only is his bedroom rumbling, but the very air and earth beneath him seem to be yelling with movement. Running outside, he watches as his and his neighbours’ houses crumble to the ground; sturdy safe havens reduced to rubble. The man stands there, surrounded by the brutal winter cold and the screams of people he knows and loves, wondering how, just a few minutes ago, he was in bed, safe and relaxed.

This was the reality for more than 14 million people across Turkey in the early morning hours of 6 February 2023 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake took the lives of more than 44,000 people and drastically impacted even more. It can be easy to wonder where God is in the midst of such devastation, but according to Rai*, a partner of OM working in southeast Turkey, now more than ever, He is working in mighty ways.

Though the team Rai works with was based in a single town and invested in the local church there, Rai describes their work as being, at times, more nomadic. All along the Black Sea, she and her team travelled from city to city, telling others of Jesus. “Wherever we went, we were prayer walking, and if the opportunities came up, we shared the gospel,” she remembered.

When they weren’t travelling, relationships and discipleship were the focus, walking alongside believers as they grew in their faith. Men’s and women’s Bible studies were a standard part of ministry, Rai explained. Refugee work was also given much attention as over 3.6 million Syrian refugees** reside in Turkey.

However, when the earthquake hit, the team had to adapt, and they had to do so fast. The most urgent needs for those affected were food, shelter and other everyday essentials, so that was what the team set out to provide.

All hands on deck

Just a week after the earthquake, two ministries were established: one to distribute everything from cooking oil to diapers to shampoo, and a second ministry to provide home-cooked meals. Rai spends most of her time working in the kitchen, where volunteers cook for over 500 people every day. Situated right next to two major hospitals, the kitchen ministry helps families with loved ones in the hospital as well as healthcare workers who are fighting to save lives. Unsurprisingly, long lines are common. “It’s tiring; we had to wash stacks of eggplants and tomatoes,” Rai said, recalling a specifically busy day in the kitchen. Despite the hard work, the ministry has rejuvenated the community — not just physically but spiritually.

One woman, who had just come from a doctor’s appointment, was still experiencing pain in her feet. Rai and another worker talked to her and, after receiving the women’s permission to pray for her, “I just knelt down on the ground and laid hands on her feet and prayed,” Rai remembered. Like a ripple effect, more and more people asked for prayer. Though the earthquake was horrific, it has also brought many opportunities to pray for those who don’t know Christ. “There are people coming to faith,” Rai said, “more people are opening up because they just do not see hope [for their futures].”

Far from finished

God is evidently working in this time of tragedy, but there is still much to be done. With their houses demolished by the earthquake, countless people still live in tents, and in the heat of the Turkish summer, living conditions are almost unbearable. Container-like housing has been provided by the Turkish government and neighbouring countries, but the distribution of said houses has been a long, slow process. Rai, having spent time among those living in tents, explains just how bad it can get. “The tent got so hot at just 07:45 in the morning; it was burning hot!” she shared. Because clean water is scarce, showers have also become a luxury for most.

With the immense trauma that so many have experienced from the earthquake, many churches and partners feel burnt out. Trauma counselling is another ministry being done in Turkey, but the emotional and psychological weight of the earthquake is still overwhelming for many.

In the future, Rai plans to focus on the current distribution and kitchen ministries, as those are the most vital areas of need at the moment. In addition, Rai would like to form a team of people to go out in August to prayer walk through other provinces, bringing Christ to those who are still struggling.

In general, Rai sees God working in this painful time. “Eleven believers just got baptised in June,” Rai said, “So, before the earthquake and after the earthquake, people are coming to faith.” The work being done in Turkey is a reminder that in the aftermath of such tragedy, there is a sense of hopelessness, but in Christ, this hopelessness loses its power.

Please pray for OM partners in Turkey and locals who are struggling to deal with emotional, mental and spiritual fatigue. Pray that the Lord would provide moments of rest and revitalisation. Prayer is needed for the distribution of container houses — wisdom for those in charge and discernment for the distribution process. Lastly, pray for more labourers to be sent to Turkey as the harvest is ripe and the needs are abundant.

*name changed


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