ICC Explores Ways to Serve Christians and Devastated Communities
02/06/2023 Turkey/Syria (International Christian Concern) – A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday morning, killing and injuring thousands of people, and leaving a path of aftershocks and destruction.
Officials estimated that more than 2,500 people on both sides of the border were killed, with the number expected to climb in the coming days as search and relief efforts are underway.
International Christian Concern’s (ICC) field representative reported the reality for residents in northern Syria as buildings collapsed: “Since 4:20 a.m. when the earthquake started, all of us residents are out [in the street] in their pajamas. After a few hours, people started going back to their homes, but there were still small tremors. At 1:15 p.m., another strong earthquake happened, and now they are saying that there is another one, too. So many people died, and some have lost their homes.”
As widespread relief efforts get underway, ICC is monitoring and exploring ways to serve Christians affected by the disaster through its staff and partners on the ground. An added layer of hardship for survivors is the frigid winter weather that has left many in the freezing cold, snow, and rain, and without proper shelter.
“The earthquake has brought a heightened sense of fear among a population that has already suffered so much displacement and destruction from conflict,” said ICC Middle East Regional Manager Joseph Daniel. “And now, to experience such a devastating natural disaster, it results in a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness for many.”
Daniel added that in tragedies like this, Christians can be a witness for Christ as they serve their communities. “Crises like this present an opportunity for persecuted Christians in Syria and Turkey to demonstrate the example of Christ’s love with their neighbors, even with their persecutors, who are all suffering through this shared catastrophe,” he said.
ICC President Jeff King noted that Christians in persecuted areas often must scramble to receive services during disasters and recovery, saying, “Christians are often in the back of the receiving line or are disqualified for services, or are denied aid and other resources, simply because of their status.”
Hatay Province in Turkey, one of the hardest hit areas, is home to the city of Antakya, which is the site of the 1st-century church of Antioch. It remains one of Turkey’s most religiously diverse provinces and is home to a variety of ancient Christian churches today. In southern Turkey and northern Syria, only a small minority of persecuted Christians remain after years of genocide, conflict, and persecution.
While earthquakes are common in the eastern Mediterranean region, this earthquake was the most powerful and most deadly in Turkey since the 1999 Istanbul earthquake that killed 17,500, prompting the Turkish government to declare a state of emergency in its southern provinces and appeal for international response assistance.
The impacts of the earthquake were felt across southern Turkey earthquake’s epicenter being in the city of Gaziantep. Hundreds of buildings also collapsed in the Syrian regions of Idlib and Aleppo, with more than 500 deaths reported by morning.