Image: REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Donnelly McCleland

The sixth of February marked the first anniversary of the devastating earthquakes that struck southeastern/central Türkiye and parts of Syria. Of the two countries, Türkiye was by far the worst hit, but since earthquake-hit areas within war-ravaged Syria were concentrated in the rebel-held northwest, assistance and support were not as forthcoming as in Türkiye.  The 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude quakes resulted in the deaths of almost 60,000 people (50,783 in Türkiye – including 6,600 Syrian refugees – and 8,476 in Syria itself) and wreaked extensive damage across countless cities, towns and villages. In the aftermath of this catastrophic disaster, tens of thousands of people in the hardest-hit areas remain deeply affected. Many still grieve lost loved ones, while struggling to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, and others grapple with finding closure as so many remain missing. Millions of buildings were destroyed or damaged and hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. Unemployment is rampant and, according to the International Red Cross/Crescent, at least a quarter of those living in the affected region rely on humanitarian aid.


In the southern province of Hatay – one of the provinces where the earthquakes took the highest toll – some 400,000 survivors are still living in temporary housing such as converted shipping containers and tents. Just days after the quake and with a national election looming, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made bold promises, saying that half the disaster zone would be rebuilt within a year – about 319,000 homes. According to Türkiye’s Ministry of Disaster and Emergency Management, approximately 890,000 units were reportedly destroyed/critically damaged, and more than 1,8 million units were considered lightly damaged. On 3 February, the keys of 7,275 newly completed homes were handed over to some of those left homeless by the quakes in Hatay. During the ceremony in Hatay, Mr Erdoğan said a further 40,000 houses throughout the region would be delivered as soon as their construction was completed. He went on to say that a further 75,000 houses would be delivered over the next two months and that the government planned to deliver a total of 200,000 houses this year. Mr Erdogan said 680,000 homes in total would be finished within two years under a government-funded scheme that would see homeowners repay the costs interest-free over 20 years. A disaster of such a magnitude drew widespread international support, particularly in the initial phase of search and rescue with some 141,000 people from 94 countries coming to help. However, long-term recovery never has the same intensity of response as the first month after a natural disaster. Thus, many opportunities remain for non-governmental organisations, including Christian relief and development organisations, to support and uplift affected communities for years to come.

The Turkish Church, though very small (about 0.5% of a population of nearly 86 million, with about 0.04% evangelical – according to the Joshua Project), was clearly visible in their response to the earthquakes. Türkiye is an earthquake-prone area, so this is not the first time the Church has responded. However, according to a contact within the country, it was the first time that the Church’s efforts were entirely locally driven. In 1999, the Church (with international assistance) became ‘visible’ in a very public way as they served those in need (regardless of their faith), but several errors were made. Accusations spread that Protestants were assisting simply to preach the gospel. Such criticism caused many to shrink back. However, much has been learnt in the interim, and the Church has seen encouraging growth which has allowed for more opportunities for local congregations to reach and touch those most in need, especially in those communities closest to them. The influx of refugees after the Arab Spring of 2011 also saw a change in mindset from a Church that receives to one that gives as the realisation sank in that the Christian Church was rich… compared to the masses of refugees with so little.

One of those believers who did not shrink back after the initial setbacks experienced in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake was Demokan Kileci, founder and current board chairman of First Hope Association (FHA), a Turkish Christian disaster relief agency. In a Christianity Today article (27 September 2023) his journey was explained: “As a respected employee in the Turkish defence industry, he had many trusted relationships in both government and civil society. Reaching out to volunteer, he received training from the Turkish Red Crescent and AFAD, the national disaster management agency. Learning the ropes, with additional education and support from Samaritan’s Purse, he was able to legally register FHA in 2014.” FHA has utilised its expertise (gained since its inception) to provide ongoing support in the form of temporary shelters, container kitchens, safe playgrounds for children within ‘container cities’, educational supplies, clothing, fuel for heating, and numerous other essentials. FHA maintains a policy of serving all victims without discrimination, in cooperation with the local church. Believers’ solidarity with fellow citizens has begun to slowly increase levels of social respect. FHA has assisted in the vital process of transitioning earthquake survivors from tents to modified container homes and schoolrooms. They have partnered with a South Korean NGO and Samaritan’s Purse in these efforts and continue to encourage the larger body of Christ to partner with them in this long-term vision to assist these broken communities. FHA has also been able to assist in the development of a ‘container city’ specifically for Syrian refugees who have suffered the additional trauma of fleeing war in their home country, and sometimes opposition in their host nation. A recent FHA newsletter also highlighted that many individuals are coming to Christ or finding a local church to learn about Jesus.


While the impact of the earthquakes in Syria was on a smaller scale than its northern neighbour, the effect was different. In a nation that had already experienced 12 years of war and far-reaching sanctions, it was a much more complicated process to get resources and search and rescue teams into affected regions, especially those that remain under the control of rebels. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had to provide special permission to open an additional border crossing point with Türkiye to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid and assistance. Similarly, the Syrian Church has mainly been able to support impacted communities in government-controlled areas due to the favour and respect shown to the Church by the Syrian government.

Even before the earthquakes, it was estimated that around half of Syria’s population was food insecure and around two-thirds required some form of humanitarian assistance. Coupled with a lack of access to safe water and sanitation this has resulted in the spread of waterborne diseases, leading to a dramatic increase in child malnutrition. For a country already facing such significant levels of need, the terrible earthquakes left more people without access to essential services, including safe water, education and medical care. A year on, many Syrians impacted by the earthquakes remain in temporary shelters.

Larger organisations such as World Vision (among other organisations) did manage, through collaboration with local organisations, to reach areas like Aleppo, Afrin, Azaz, and Idlib in northern Syria. Their assistance included delivering vital essentials such as food, heaters, fuel, hygiene kits, cash assistance, and psychological support sessions in schools. In those areas where the Church has had a long-standing presence, it was able to quickly respond to immediate needs such as shelter and other necessities. Open Doors has in recent years been building capacity among Syrian believers to reach their communities with the gospel and the love of Christ through local programmes for children and adults alike. Many believers were thus able to put these skills to use in response to needs created or exacerbated by the earthquakes. However, due to the far-reaching needs of their nation, most local churches need a dedicated commitment from the larger body of Christ to assist in their continued efforts.

Please join us in interceding for the following:

  • For a second wave of international support to pour into both nations to bolster the efforts of local organisations and church communities
  • For the Holy Spirit to draw many desperate, grieving, and broken people into His Kingdom
  • For Turkish and Syrian believers to be encouraged and empowered afresh amid overwhelming needs

Putting Action to Words:

INcontext supports churches and ministries within Syria that actively reached out to the affected communicates during the earthquake and continue to do so as their resources allow. If you would like to support these ministries, please contact jeremiah@incontextinternational.org or visit our donate page.


The Crisis Response Network also has an active project supporting Syrians who are struggling from years of war and the aftereffects of the earthquake. To learn more about this project or to make a financial contribution toward the restoration of Syrian communities, visit the CRN website or donate page.