Helplessness and Hope

A Turkiye Adventist Visits the Epicenter

The Turkiye-Syrian earthquake of February 6, 2023, came to me like a dream.  Not even a bad one.   I felt my bed rocking.  It was no different than tremors we regularly feel in central Turkiye.  I fell back to sleep.  In the morning, though, my stomach knotted when I glanced at my phone.  My parents in Brazil had tried to call during the night.  Was something wrong?

By mid-morning I felt a heaviness all over as news begun coming to us of the extent of the devastation,  My mind reeled with the realization that what had gently rocked my bed had crumbled the world of millions and, as we would slowly learn, had crushed out the lives of over 47,000 people.

Later that day a friend came to see me, his eyes red.  Two of his cousins were known dead.  Four others were still “under the house,” as they say.  His square, calloused hands reached into the air desperately, “I must go help.  I must.”  I paced the floor around him with thoughts like, “Then let’s get in the car right now and help dig them out.”  But cement on cement, iron on iron created a hopeless impossibility and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.  It was the  feeling that blanketed all of us, and it stays by.

Three days after the quake, I was able to enter Antakya–the place I have reverently called Antioch, where Christ’s followers were first called Christians.  The paradox felt cruel, “No, this isn’t Antioch.  This is hell,” I thought.  

I had already been traveling for hours, watching the devastation around me increase.  But entering Antakya took my breath away.  It seemed the entire city  had collapsed into heaps of gray rubble half-hidden now in rising dust from constant excavating.  Soldiers, police, firefighters, medical personnel, rescue workers moved about in the surreal haze.  Among them, dark huddles of others waited.  They were the ones who wouldn’t or couldn’t leave for a better place or even for safety.  They just sat, waiting on the street, without a home, without belongings.  Occasional groups circled tiny fires made from somebody’s broken belongings.  Over it all was the smell of rotting flesh.  

“Yes, this is hell,”  I confirmed to myself.

Three of my friends were on rescue teams. I had tools for them, a power bank, medicine, encouragement.  When I reached one of them on my mobile to try to locate them, he was crying.  They had just pulled a body out of the rubble.

I kept moving through the skeletons of buildings and the rubble.  I stopped where three buildings close together had collapsed into a tangled mountain and blocked the road.  Three excavators were working, guided by body heat detectors.  An ambulance waited nearby with a group of doctors.  One of the rescue team was talking gently to a young man in his 30’s.  The young man’s eyes were red, swollen with too much crying.

“We think there is someone there; maybe it is your father,” I overheard. A relative nearby began repeating a prayer, pleading for God to intervene.  

Several times during the hour I stood there, the scene focused sharply.  Someone would call  for silence.  Machines stopped working.  Cars stopped.  People bent toward the rubble.  The absolute silence seemed strange in the middle of chaos.  I strained with these perfect strangers, caught up in their grief.  I wanted to hear anything–knocking, an answering moan, a voice.  We were together, aching for hope.

I suddenly better understood the report  I’d heard before:   “In the beginning there were voices, but not enough people to help.  Then help arrived, but without equipment to rescue anyone.  Then equipment arrived.  But the voices were gone.” 

I don’t know if the father was ever rescued, if the son ever found relief from waiting.  I had to move on; I needed to deliver heaters, tents, hygiene kits, blankets, water–anything I could find to buy and distribute.  I walked down more streets with clanging excavators and waiting family, where more rescuers were calling for silence or carrying limp little bodies.  It was more than I could comprehend.  I was compelled to relate though, to do something, anything to help.

I am helpless in the face of so much devastation and death. Nothing I have done is more than a tiny drop in an ocean of need.  But  I have to believe that the little things I do will bring hope.  I have to believe God will work good from this horror.

Millions went to bed on February 5 not knowing it was their last night, or the last time to see their father, daughter, cousin, friend.   They did not know what was going to happen before morning.  Forty-seven thousand people didn’t know their life was “a mist that would evaporate in a moment.”  (James 4:13-14)

Just a few weeks ago, I was like them–planning where to travel on vacation, whether I should change my cell phone, talking about what it costs to finance a house or buy a car.  I didn’t realize I was in a mist.

Today I want to invest in what is important.  I want to give myself to the people I love.  I want to relate to those God loves.  

We don’t know how much time we have or what’s ahead in the mist of this life.  But we do know that everything in this earth is passing, and we look forward to what is real, eternal, and safe in God’s presence, where there is no death, no tears, no crying.