What had been the regular struggle to keep refugee tents upright during winter weather suddenly became a huge effort to reset and rebuild tents that had been shaken and knocked down, and even torn by two major earthquakes that hit just north of the southern border of Turkey with Syria on February 5. The first quake was said to have been 7.8 on the Richter scale by the United States Geological Society (USGS) and the second large quake a few hours later, at 7.5 or so. The earthquakes had an effect all across the Middle East.
The two largest quakes, along with all the continuing aftershocks, have mainly been within the borders of Turkey but since the epicenter of the first quake was not far over the border from northwestern Syria, damages were not only heavy in Turkey but also in Syrian cities, such as Aleppo, Homs, Idlib, and many others. As of this writing, the death toll stands at about 8,000, with approximately 2,000 of them in Syria. At least 8,000 buildings have collapsed or are in very unstable condition and will have to be demolished if they don’t fall down first from all of the aftershocks—as many of the aftershocks are quite powerful. More and more buildings are collapsing as time passes. The death toll will also increase hourly. As of earlier today, Tuesday the 7th, experts estimate about 45,000 people are still unaccounted for. So far, over 8,000 have been rescued, including two babies born while their mothers were trapped underneath the rubble. There are more and more stories of miraculous survivals but the fears are that the death toll will exceed 20,000 by the time all the figures have come in.
I have received two phone calls from Pastor R and thankfully, although he was very sick for four days, he is now feeling a bit better. The small clinic he is in did not collapse in the quakes. He has, however, not been able to get much information from most of the House of Blessing community across the Middle East yet. He was able to tell me, however, that the refugee tent cities, themselves, were much better off than the cities. The violent shaking of the quakes collapsed tents all across the tent cities, and in spite of the fact that large cracks appeared in the ground in many places, Pastor R had not heard of any deaths being reported yet. He did say that many of the tents were damaged beyond repair and people were having to sleep out in the open. Because of the temperatures this time of year and the rain and snow, exposure to the elements will be a worse problem than it already was.
Although most of the attention is on the recovery efforts from the earthquakes, the usual challenges the missionaries face are still there. This includes trying to help the many people who have come down a variety of winter sicknesses and diseases, and this year, cholera. Omar, Sami, and Mussa, who came down with cholera earlier, have not recovered yet and are still quite weak. There are many others still afflicted as well.
HOB missionaries who are not located directly in the worst of the quake affected areas continue doing everything, as usual, to help the refugees with their collapsed or damaged tents and other winter-type needs. A big problem is dealing with wet mattresses, blankets, clothing, and other items. While they are doing the best they can to help them survive, they continue to share the Good News of Jesus the Messiah with anyone that will listen. And so, praise God, the harvest of souls continues…
As Pastor R was telling me that he had not heard of any deaths among the 14 refugee camps in northern Syria—at least those in which HOB has the most involvement with, he did say that this was not the case with about 160 HOB missionaries who had left the tent camps about three weeks ago,deciding to take their chances in the homes they had had left behind during the Russian bombing runs just a few years ago. Many of their homes had been damaged then and were unstable, but they had hoped to at least be out of the worst of the exposure to the winter weather. Those that left, including wives and children, numbered about 500-600 in all. Although Pastor R didn’t have the number of casualties, he said there was a considerable number among them who were killed.
Because of the great number of collapsed buildings and devastation, all available power equipment was in use for the search and rescue efforts. The HOB missionaries who went to the aid of those who had left the tent cities, found great tragedy, much death, and consequently, a need for many graves. Because there were so many dead, they could not provide proper burials and had to instead bury the dead in large graves which could hold 10-15 bodies each. Pastor R said that the work was very hard. This time of year, the soil is very heavy due to the moisture content. The missionaries and volunteers would work until they were too exhausted to continue. They would then sleep in two hour shifts and get right back up and go back to digging..
There are too many tragedies from these massive quakes to count. Pastor R mentioned just one family for example, in which the father, mother, four boys, one girl, and a nephew all died together. There will be many similar stories..
The situation is obviously very difficult. Many of the people have no shelter, no food, no clean water, and are having to somehow survive in rainy, snowy weather. They need our prayers! The HOB missionaries have gone through many things in past years but this is particularly hard on the new believers. We need to intercede for them. As far as the needs go, as you can imagine, they are enormous. Only God is big enough, but it is Him we trust and serve!
Thank you all for your caring support and prayers for the House of Blessing missionaries and their community of believers. God put them in place for their task, but He also put all of us in place for ours. They have been called to where they are, and we, although scattered all around the world, are called to carry them in our hearts and intercede for them. We were all called for such a time as this! The Scriptures instruct us to recognize the special days we are living in. The birth pangs are happening and they are becoming frequent! Jesus referred specifically to our day when He said,, “When you see these things come to pass, look up for your redemption draws near.” So…look up!
Forever in His Service,