As the death toll rises, Istanbul-based writer Rebecca Hunter-Kelm, shares the responsibility on us as the Church to respond.


Source: Alamy

On Monday 6th February at home in Istanbul, Turkey, I woke up to a panicked message from my friend in Beirut, Lebanon. Oh no, I thought, not again. I muttered a prayer and opened my news app. It was already a snow day in Istanbul with schools closed, and because earthquakes are common in this part of the world, I was hoping it was just another minor tremor with little damage.

I was horrified when I learned that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had struck near Gaziantep in south-central Turkey at around 4am, followed by a 7.5 magnitude tremor hours later. My friend had messaged because she had felt it! All of south eastern Turkey and northern Syria have been devastated. Over 7000 people have lost their lives, and the death toll continues to grow as search and rescue efforts persevere after two freezing cold nights. Some distressed relatives of victims trapped under the rubble are saying that help arrived too late.

Over 7000 people have lost their lives, and the death toll continues to grow

The last 48 hours have been intense. Turkey called for international aid immediately, and we have been doing what we can to help; sending aid via collection points at schools and government centres all over Istanbul. It’s impossible to know someone who hasn’t been affected.

Our church WhatsApp group has been asking for prayer non-stop for loved ones buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings or who could not be reached by phone. My friend’s cousin was found alive after 48 hours. He worked in a hospital that had collapsed in Gaziantep. The same friend’s older sister and her family are now homeless, outside in freezing cold weather. Our other friend is from Adana, and he can’t get hold of his cousins. He returned home from Istanbul on Sunday, missing the deadly quake by a day. Last night we heard from another friend in Izmir that his nephew, wife, and four children also went to be with Jesus.

As for us, safely miles away from this devastating pain, we know we have a responsibility as the church to respond. The family of churches we are a part of is already taking action to go to affected cities to serve hot food and offer assistance, led by those who played a key role in responding to the last devastating earthquake to hit Turkey, in 1999.

I battle fear every day that a big earthquake will also hit us in Istanbul

Please pray for Turkey and Syria, for the search and rescue teams to quickly and safely reach affected areas, and for more lives to be saved. Pray for the believers across Turkey for a unified and effective response from the churches. And finally, pray for those who have suffered unthinkable trauma and those who are broken-hearted having lost loved ones.

As for my family and me, the snow continues to flutter down here in Istanbul. School has been cancelled this week. I am finding it hard to focus on my work and even harder to go and make a snowman with my three kids. I have explained to them in the simplest way what has happened and why we are sad. I do not let them see the news or the images on Instagram. We meet on Zoom with our church most nights to pray. I battle fear every day that a big earthquake will also hit us in Istanbul, forcing me to renew my mind with truth from God’s word. Yet the love I have for the nation of Turkey and its people remains - which is that nothing compared to the love of God for Turkey and Syria and every single life touched by this tragedy. 

If you would like to give directly to the churches emergency response fund, please email us: with ‘Turkey and Syria Earthquake Fund’ in the subject line, and we will connect you with Becky.

All funds will be used for an emergency response either directly to those on the ground or to partner organisations that are bringing relief to those most affected.