When you live over a fault line, the fear of an earthquake is very real, says Becky Hunter Kelm. She explains what experiencing an earthquake is like, and how she has to chose to put her trust in Jesus every day.
It was one of those quiet ‘in-between’ days between Christmas and New Year when I read a Twitter thread recalling the 2004 tsunami in northern Indonesia.
I shuddered, remembering how I watched the horrifying news unfold that boxing day as a first-year student on Christmas break. This then triggered thoughts about the two massive earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria just under a year ago.
Although I wasn’t directly affected where I live in Istanbul, I have experienced some second-hand trauma by supporting those who have and being involved in relief work in the worst stricken areas of the country. I put down my phone and sighed out a prayer. ‘Please, God, no more natural disasters in 2024’.
A few days later, I woke up to New Year’s Day news that a 7.6 magnitude earthquake had struck Japan. As I write, over 100 people are reported to have died, and many others remain trapped under the rubble of their homes in the epicentre (Noto peninsula) of the earthquake, which rescue services are struggling to reach because the roads are destroyed. Over 57,360 people had to be evacuated from their homes.
once again, (I) started to feel fearful because where I live in Istanbul, like Japan, is an earthquake-prone region situated over several tectonic plate borders.
I was shocked and devastated at this news, and once again, started to feel fearful because where I live in Istanbul, like Japan, is an earthquake-prone region situated over several tectonic plate borders.
Istanbul is close to the North Anatolian Fault line, which divides the Eurasian and Anatolian plates that go through the Marmara Sea (just south of Istanbul). We’ve had several minor earthquakes since we moved here in 2016.
The scariest one for me was when I was pregnant with my third child and lying on the bed in the middle of my sonography scan. The doctor’s office was on the third floor, and the whole room swayed back and forth. I then couldn’t get in touch with my children’s school for over an hour due to signal disruption and because the roads were blocked with traffic I had to walk an hour on foot across the city to reach them.
Another night, it was my wardrobe doors sliding open as our building swayed from side to side that woke me up. Then, at the beginning of December, I was writing on my laptop on my couch when my 6th-floor flat trembled, and my glass of water nearly toppled over.
Geology experts at Turkey’s Yıldız Technical University predict that another big earthquake of 7.0 magnitude or higher is expected in Istanbul in the near future, and we ‘should be ready’.
This is a very frightening thing to hear. I know of three families who have moved house to safer buildings, a luxury that most people cannot afford. My children do earthquake drills at school and we have an earthquake emergency ‘go bag’ ready by my bed.
Natural disasters are entirely out of our control, and that’s what makes them so utterly terrifying.
My Turkish friends tell me that apart from that, all that’s left to do is pray. Natural disasters are entirely out of our control, and that’s what makes them so utterly terrifying.
As I process my fear, I remember that it’s normal to be scared. Honestly, I have cried to my husband on bad days and said we should leave Istanbul - which, of course, we are free to do should we want to. But we don’t want to.
So, I bring my fear to God every single day. Because only in the presence of His love can fear be obliterated. Every night, as a family, we read the last verse of Psalm 4 together:
‘In peace, I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.’ (Psalm 4:8)
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February 6th will be the one year anniversary of the 2023 earthquakes in Turkey. I will travel to the Southeast region to join in a week of memorial events as we remember, mourn, and hold our Turkish brothers and sisters close.
Even though millions of people live in areas prone to natural disasters around the world, choosing to settle my family in a city with a high risk for earthquakes has made me face my biggest fear: the safety of my children. This has brought me closer to Jesus than ever before.