Merry and her family fled their home during the February earthquakes that devastated parts of Syria and Turkey. But thanks to training she’d received last year through Open Doors partners, she was able to step up and help co-ordinate the relief effort. From relief aid to rebuilding, your prayers and gifts are helping believers in Syria to recover and return to their homes.
Merry (pictured with her brother Simo) helped co-ordinate the earthquake relief efforts after she received training through Open Doors
The memory of the first earthquakes on 6 February are still vivid in Merry’s mind. “My mum had a cabinet where she kept her good glasses and plates,” she says. “I saw them falling and breaking right before we ran out, screaming and crying. We went down five flights of stairs, but they felt like a hundred.”
As she remembers that night, she seems near tears. “The streets were full of people stranded in their wet pyjamas,” she says.
Fearing structural damage to their home, Merry and her family were too scared to stay there, so they took a few of their belongings and went to stay at a nearby church.
“I couldn’t sit still, I had to do something” Merry
Over the next few days, more than 7,000 people in Aleppo left their homes that night and went to stay in churches and monasteries. Open Doors local partners were among the first to respond to the situation, providing several churches with food, water, blankets, mattresses and heaters, equipping them to reach out to their hurting communities.
It was in the midst of all this that Merry felt God prompt her to help. Last year, she’d taken part in Open Doors training – a programme showing participants how to use sports to help people see the light of Christ and bring people into the church. During the training, she was in charge of organisation and meals, and also taught about first aid.
“I felt that I was back in the sports training and, based on that experience, I was scheduling meals for the people and helping with distribution of food and blankets,” Merry says. “I was entrusted with a responsibility in the [sports programme], and I was entrusted with it here as well. I couldn’t sit still, I had to do something.”
Along with her brother and three other young people who had all participated in the Open Doors training, Merry created a relief team to help people through the aftermath of the earthquakes. The team received help from relatives and friends who live abroad and began buying, bagging and distributing packages of food and hygiene products to needy people.
“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we split the tasks just like a football team,” she says. “For us, ‘winning’ was helping people and showing humanity; we have a message to send, and that’s the message of love. In the 12 days after the earthquake, we were able to show love more [often] than we were able to share during the 12 years of war.”
“For us, ‘winning’ was helping people and showing humanity; we have a message to send, and that’s the message of love” Merry
Merry and her friends were just part of the outpouring of support for Christians in Syria, spurred on by Open Doors partner churches. Since the February earthquakes, thanks to your gifts and prayers, we’ve been able to help believers in Syria with both emergency support and long-term aid as recovery begins.
So far, Open Doors partners have assisted 5,038 families with one-time cash vouchers to help in the immediate aftermath. Additionally, they were able to identify nearly 2,500 families who needed cash vouchers for six months.
A key part of the aid efforts has been making sure believers’ homes were safe to return to. Due to years of civil war and occupation by so-called Islamic State, the infrastructures of cities like Aleppo and Latakia – each with significant Christian populations – are already compromised.
Open Doors partners identified 2,600 homes that need to be inspected. Thanks to your support, 1,200 of those homes have been examined by engineers, and more than 780 have been repaired or are in the process of being restored. Forty apartment buildings were identified as needing reinforcement, and work has already begun or been finished on seven so far. Additionally, 40 families have received rent support when it was determined their homes were unsafe to return to.
There’s still much to do, but Open Doors is committed to long-term support for the Christian community in Syria. Local partners are hosting a series of retreats to address the trauma of Syrian believers, and students undertaking counselling training through Open Doors’ supported programmes are involved in helping with trauma care and healing.
“I have no idea where I got the strength to do what I’m doing, but I know God was with me and still is” Merry
With your help, we can serve all 50,000 Christians in Aleppo and Latakia, as well as believers from Muslim backgrounds, who can be hard to reach. Choosing to follow Jesus can still be extremely dangerous and difficult in Syria.
Merry sees how the earthquake relief has impacted the church. She felt distant from God before the earthquake. “Sometimes we take God for granted, but when I screamed to God with all my heart, and He saved me and my family, I started feeling Him close to me again,” she says. “I am hearing worship songs with new ears, understanding sermons with a new mind, and I am holding on to His words more than ever: ‘Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid’ (Joshua 1:9). Those words accompanied me throughout the days after the earthquake.”
Merry smiles as she continues: “I have no idea where I got the strength to do what I’m doing, but I know God was with me and still is. My only desire is that God would declare Himself and be shown through us to the people and let everyone in Aleppo and Syria know that Christ is love, and that we as His children will be a good example of that love.”
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.