Pastoral care after devastating quake

Two months after the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider will be visiting the congregation of Istanbul in Turkey. How are the people holding up in Turkey? And how is the Church responding to the disaster?

The city of Antakya in southern Turkey is older than Christianity. Tourists and locals alike love the small winding alleys, the churches, the mosques and synagogues. Museums and department stores invite you to marvel and stroll. But on 6 February 2023 the city was wiped out. The ancient city, the capital of Hatay province, is almost completely deserted.

The epicentre of the devastating 7.7 magnitude earthquake was not far away. Buildings collapsed and people were asleep and buried under the rubble. At least 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria lost their lives. An estimated 20 million people have been relying on emergency relief since the disaster.

In a state of shock

“For the people the whole situation is psychologically very distressing,” Bishop Aramik Fesdjian reports. He is responsible for the region. “Many have lost close relatives, their homes, and some all their belongings.” In Antakya, there was a New Apostolic congregation with about fifty members. A young sister and her daughter were killed in the earthquake, as well as some of the regular guests. Many are injured and in shock.

The members in Antakya have lost their homes, many of them all their belongings, their jobs, relatives, and friends. They have found shelter outside Antakya. The conditions are difficult.

Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider is planning to visit Istanbul in Turkey on 3 April. “The visit will not be a celebration with concerts and events,” Bishop Fesdjian says. “Due to the tragedy in the south-eastern part of the country, we need the Chief Apostle here for pastoral care.”

The desire to help is great

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, District Apostle Rainer Storck, who is responsible for the New Apostolic Christians in Turkey and Syria, wrote: “Since Monday morning, I have been following the news of the earthquake and the growing death toll in the border region between Turkey and Syria with dismay.” He added: “We fear for those buried, grieve with their families, and ask God to help all those affected.”

Church members organised an aid convoy to the earthquake-ravaged region, bringing urgently needed food, warm clothing, and water, and helping with the evacuation. “Our Church members did what families do and helped one another,” Bishop Fesdjian reports. The New Apostolic Church in Western Germany and the aid organisation NAK-karitativ have provided emergency aid of 10,000 euros. Further support measures are planned.

The suffering of the people in Turkey and Syria has touched many people. For example, young people from the Kassel-Korbach district in Germany organised a benefit concert, the proceeds of which were donated to the earthquake relief of the New Apostolic Church Western Germany. And children from the congregation of Dillingen in Germany organised a bazaar, together with their teachers. They donated the proceeds to NAK-karitativ’s Turkey-Syria earthquake fund.

Comfort through trust in God

Chief Apostle Schneider spoke about the earthquake in a divine service about a month afterwards: “One might think: this is the consequence of bad decisions that people have made,” he said in New York, USA, on 12 March. “But no human being caused the movement of those tectonic plates.” He went on to say: “God can use even bad things for good and He can use the trials we go through to help us to focus on what is really important: our eternal life, our relationship with God.” Sometimes, though, he said, you just can’t understand it. “God just tells us: ‘Please trust Me. Even if you don’t understand what’s going on. Trust Me. I love you.’”

This is the attitude Bishop Aramik Fesdjian encountered when he visited the members of the Antakya congregation in shelters, hospitals, and in the homes of relatives. “The Lord permitted it,” he said, was the basic tenor during the visits. “We don’t ask questions, and now we look forward, trusting in the Lord.”

“The visit of our Chief Apostle comes at the right time,” Bishop Fesdjian says. “I believe and hope that he will be a source of great consolation for our brothers and sisters in Antakya. Some of those directly affected by the earthquake will have the opportunity to meet with the Chief Apostle before the divine service.

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