Christian charities on frontlines providing earthquake relief in Turkey, Syria: 'Families are afraid'
Updated Feb. 9 at 12:15 p.m. ET
Christian charities are on the frontlines in Syria and Turkey helping those impacted by the devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake that has left more than 20,000 dead and tens of thousands injured.
The U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, confirmed Thursday that at least three Americans were among the dead in that country.
Relief efforts are underway in the two countries after the earthquake, one of the strongest to hit the region in more than 100 years, struck on Monday, leveling buildings and leaving thousands dead or injured. The earthquake was followed by a 7.5-magnitude temblor only hours later.
The two quakes, along with at least 120 aftershocks, have caused tremendous destruction in Turkey and Syria.
Authorities have warned that the death toll figures could continue to rise and the chances of finding survivors under the rubble are rapidly diminishing amid freezing temperatures.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse announced it's deploying a 52-bed Emergency Field Hospital and at least 75 staff to Turkey later this week to address the immediate medical needs of families impacted by the devastation. The hospital will include two emergency operating rooms.
The organization is also airlifting critically needed items into Turkey, it said in an announcement Wednesday morning.
"As our response continues to develop, we will be deploying additional disaster assistance specialists and supplies to the region,” Samaritan's Purse said. “Please also join us in praying for so many suffering families and for our teams and partners serving them in Jesus’ Name.”
Amid the devastation, many families have taken to sleeping in churches, convents or even hospitals, according to Aid to the Church in Need.
Anne Marie Gagnon, the director of the main Catholic hospital of St. Louis, in Aleppo, told ACN that the hospital is working exhaustively to attend to those injured. She said that though the hospital itself survived the earthquake, she fears structural damage has made it unsafe.
“We have operated just now on two people with injuries. We have a Christian family in the hospital whose family members have died in the earthquake. We are now awaiting the arrival of the body of the priest who died, Father Daher,” she said.
“At our hospital, there is a part that looks as though it may fall, the stones have moved, and we are afraid they will give out, but mostly we are focused on providing free care for the people who are injured right now,” said Sister Anne Marie.
“People are now asking the churches and convents, and with us at the hospital, if they can stay there until the crisis passes. Many buildings have fissures in them, and the people who are on the fourth or the fifth floor, are afraid to stay there. We have put some mattresses on the ground for our personnel so they can stay here,” she said.
Sister Arlene, a Carmelite sister, also from Aleppo, said that many nuns there have opened their doors to those suffering: “The families are afraid, and they do not want to return to their houses, they are looking for a place to spend the night. We have had five families come to us, and we are sheltering them. Other families are going to the schools or churches,” she said.
“Perhaps if the night is OK, they will return home, but there is damage in their homes. Tonight, as a congregation we are praying for peace. The people here they are shocked, they are not talking very much. So many were injured or died,” she said.
Other international Christian relief organizations responding to the crisis include First Hope Association, World Vision and Send Relief.
“Rest assured, World Vision is already responding — providing aid to the most vulnerable children and families,” World Vision said in a statement. “We’re helping people get access to temporary shelters, heaters, clean water, and critically needed healthcare. We’re also providing care for children whose families aren’t able to in the midst of this crisis.”
Child Protection Senior Technical Advisor at World Vision, Matthew Stephens, told The Christian Post that currently, the organization is prioritizing providing access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene and restoring electricity to medical facilities and temporary shelters.
"The season right now is really difficult. It's very cold. There's been snow and rain that has hampered search efforts, but also it's hampering efforts of helping survivors stay alive. It's harder for workers to work in these kinds of weather conditions. So fuel and heat right now is critical for emergency shelters and care for workers," he said.
The organization is also working to ensure that children and families separated due to the earthquakes are unified and have temporary shelter, along with resources to support them in future months.
"One of the challenges anytime you lose everything in a catastrophe or crisis is that vulnerable families are forced into impossible spaces to help their children and their family survive," he said. "The choices are detrimental to children, so we don't want to put them in a position where they have to do that. We want to equip them with the resources and support that they need so that they stay together."
Meanwhile, the Middle East Council of Churches is calling on the U.S. government to lift its sanctions on Syria, arguing that due to the sanctions, the U.S. occupation of Syrian land and “the looting of billions of dollars of its resources,” Syria “is unable to fully respond to the tragic catastrophe.”
"We urge the immediate lifting of sanctions on Syria and allowing access to all materials, so sanctions may not turn into a crime against humanity," said the attendees of the Council in a statement.
They added that "despite their [churches] limited resources as a result of the blockade," however, "all the churches in the Middle East have put their resources at the disposal of the affected and displaced people due to the earthquake, since the first moments of the disaster."
In a statement, J. Herbert Nelson, the stated clerk of the General Assembly, said that the sanctions, which have been in place for decades, “only add misery to an already traumatized and impoverished population, particularly following the devastating civil war that began in 2011.”
“This earthquake adds yet more misery to the people of Syria who in recent years have been slowly trying to rebuild their homes and their lives,” Nelson said.
“Lifting the sanctions will enable the aid that is required for the immediate emergency to flow smoothly and equip people to rebuild their homes and lives in the coming weeks and months.”
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com