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Team assesses quake needs, planning Turkey relief effort

ISTANBUL, Turkey (BP)–Disaster relief assessors arrived in earthquake-stricken Turkey Aug. 22 to see how Southern Baptists can best help alleviate the suffering of the devastated Turkish people and share with them the good news of God’s love.
The assessment team first met with Southern Baptists living in Turkey, then with the larger evangelical community to discuss ways Southern Baptists can provide resources needed for the relief effort.
A massive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale hit the northwestern area of the country Aug. 17. More than 12,000 people have been found dead. Many fear that most of the 35,000 people still listed as missing will eventually be added to that list of dead.
Survivors struggle daily for basics like food and shelter. Southern Baptist assessors are searching for ways to give hope and comfort to those survivors.
“We want to show the Turkish people that God loves them and we love them,” said Gary Smith of Texas Baptist Men.
Southern Baptists already have committed $100,000 from hunger relief funds to help the people of Turkey. The assessment team, made up of representatives from Texas Baptist Men, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the International Mission Board, is looking for ways they can provide volunteers, supplies and money for the relief effort.
Until their work is complete, the most-needed resource is money to buy relief supplies, said Southern Baptist human needs specialist Jim Brown. Donations designated for Turkey may be sent to Southern Baptist World Relief, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
Throughout the areas surrounding Izmit and Golcuk, near the earthquake’s epicenter, the destruction is rampant. Six-story buildings are reduced to rubble, with no single stone bigger than a coffee table. The smell of rotting corpses permeates much of the area, where thousands of people lie dead under tons of rock.
Even buildings that didn’t collapse have been left so unstable that residents cannot go back inside. To minimize injuries from aftershocks, the government has banned people from re-entering their houses in some areas. This has left more than 200,000 people homeless, living in scattered tent communities that have popped up all over northwestern Turkey.
Three teams from Texas Baptist Men are expected to arrive in Turkey with mobile kitchens Aug. 31 with the hope of beginning to distribute meals two days later. Each mobile kitchen can prepare up to 10,000 meals a day.
As the assessment team deals with future plans, Southern Baptists who survived the earthquake are reliving the first day of the disaster.
“At the first building I came to, they said there were 70 people trapped inside,” said one of those Southern Baptists. “While we were standing there they took a body out. It was a girl and her father brought her out. I guess they had caused enough commotion that someone trapped farther inside starting yelling.
“Their relief effort consisted of five guys with one sledgehammer on top of a pile of concrete. It looked to me like either they were going to hurt themselves or hurt the person inside. After seeing that 40 or 50 times in the space of a couple of hours, it helped me see the extent of the damage.”
Two days after the earthquake, Southern Baptists banded together with other evangelicals and began handing out food to the thousands of Turkish people forced into streets by the disaster. The group lost count of the thousands of New Testaments they gave out.
With the help of Southern Baptist hunger relief funds, the members of Hope International Church in Istanbul bought a water truck to help distribute clean drinking water in some of the cities hardest hit by the quake. Almost a week after one of the most devastating natural disasters in the country’s history, most of those cities still have no water or electricity and there are few signs that will change soon.
Southern Baptists in Turkey also have begun hand manufacturing six-person tents, reflecting a shift from meeting immediate needs to addressing long-range concerns. On Aug. 31, the group will put up 500 tents, one of the most-needed resources.
According to a Southern Baptist strategy coordinator focusing on the Turkish people, the disaster highlights a fatalistic streak in the Turkish culture.
“I expected to find grieving people just huddling around, and I didn’t,” the strategy coordinator said. “They were just sitting there. They weren’t laughing, but they weren’t crying either.
“I think it is from the faith of their culture that God is so high and we can’t have a relationship with him. He just decides and you don’t get too worked up about it. Whatever God wills, happens.”
The strategy coordinator already is seeing signs God is using the disaster for his own purposes. Turkish believers have had a good opportunity to work together as they have united to minister and witness in the midst of the crisis, he said.

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  • Tobin Perry