God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
—Psalm 46:1-3 (NRSV)
As the death toll approaches 5,000 people after a series of earthquakes in southern Turkey, which also severely impacted Syria, member churches and partners of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) are responding with support and calls for prayer.
The WCRC has heard from two of its members with congregations in the region, the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAECNE) and National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL).
“The church in Aleppo (Syria) is already providing food and warmth. The same in Latakia where the church received terrified people to find refuge in the church. It is the same situation in several of our churches in Syria. Eventually, those people will need mattresses, blankets, and diesel oil for electricity and warmth in the cold winter,” said Joseph Kassab, NESSL general secretary.
“On behalf of NESSL, I appeal to you due to the extremely exceptional circumstances that the earthquake has imposed on innocent people who have no other fault than that they live in a politically unstable area and suffer the consequences of the war. But today they are suffering more because of the forces of nature that we cannot control,” said Kassab.
“The UAECNE remains in constant communication with its churches, leaders and communities in the affected region,” said L. Nishan Bakalian UAECNE coordinator of church relations. “Joining with partners, the UAECNE is poised to do its utmost to assist the many Armenians and others in the region affected by this tragedy. It joins its ecumenical partners in calling governments and organizations worldwide to bring their resources and skills to aid those facing an uncertain future in these cold winter days and beyond. Additionally, the UAECNE joins its voice with others to urge the lifting of sanctions on Syria in order to allow humanitarian assistance to be freely rendered without impediment.”
WCRC partner ACT Alliance has members on the ground in the area. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East-Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development is providing food, winterization, and medical aid in affected communities in Aleppo, Hama, Latakia.
Other ACT Alliance members are checking in with their own staff teams, conducting rapid needs assessments, and already working to provide life-saving supplies to impacted people. Plans are underway from other ACT members to supply winterization materials, ambulances, and other necessary supplies as the extent of the need is known.
At the same time, WCRC member churches are responding with immediate aid and appeals for financial support, including:
The United Church of Christ (UCC) has “reached out to partners in the region to determine the needs in the area and ways in which the UCC can be a part of the response through Global Ministries with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and through Global H.O.P.E.,” said Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC associate minister.
Through a coordinated response by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and World Mission, the Presbyterian Mission Agency has contacted multiple long-term partners of the Presbyterian Church (USA) including NESSL; the Middle East Council of Churches; the Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue; and the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.
“PC(USA) is deeply grateful that we have such long-term and strong relationships in the region, so that we can stand in solidarity as they respond to this crisis,” said Laurie Kraus, director of humanitarian and global ecumenical engagement for PMA’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries.
Other members which have launched appeals for financial assistance include World Renew and The United Church of Canada.
Several members have also offered prayers, including those below. The WCRC calls on its members to join in prayer for and support of the victims of these earthquakes.
God of grace and mercy, there are many who are suffering loss today. Around the world and in our communities we are mourning. Today we come holding in our prayers our siblings in Turkey and Syria who are still searching and rescuing survivors and victims of this earthquake. Be present with these families and communities during this time of crisis and need. Be a source of strength and comfort through these days ahead. Help us to be present on behalf of those in need. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Karen Georgia Thompson, United Church of Christ)
We pray to God
with deep concern
for Turkey and Syria
torn apart by earthquake
devastated by the large number of victims
stunned by the enormity of the damage
shocked by the extent of the ruin
with tears and broken hearts
for families who have lost loved ones
give strength and wisdom
for search and rescue teams searching in the rubble
give strength to save those who are still under the ruins
for medics, doctors and nurses
give the ability to care for those who are injured
for volunteers who come from various places
give courage to help the victims together
God the source of strength
give a ray of hope
for Turkey and Syria
in the midst of a disaster
God of Wisdom
give us unity
to feel the suffering and sorrow of Turkey and Syria.
(Apwee Ting, Uniting Church in Australia)
Image: A damaged church in Syria (courtesy of NESSL).