The wake left by the recent earthquakes in Southern Turkey and Northern Syria is astounding and difficult to comprehend. Each friend of mine who tells another story or shows me pictures of their crumbled home or a hastily built grave renders me only able to say, “How long, O Lord?”
Tens of thousands (at least) have died. Over a million are displaced, having lost everything. But these kind of statistics are so big and generic, they can remain faceless and cold. How do we even begin to enter into such suffering? We, as the church, have not just the calling to remain engaged, but also carry the steadfast love of an infinite God who sees and knows each loss and hurt.
Individually, we can do so little. Yet I am constantly encouraged by how beautiful the bride of Christ is in the midst of disaster. Local churches in these disaster-affected areas are walking with practical, faithful, and measured wisdom. Great thought is being put into how the church can serve through wise and helpful counseling. And I too, with my church, have come together again and again to lament and pray, especially with our youth.
Shortly after the quake, our international church here in Central Asia gathered our middle and high school students together for a time of debriefing and processing. We broke the time into three parts: Looking in, looking up, and looking out.
First, we took time in small groups to process the different emotional reactions. Some in our congregation are directly affected, and others feel quite distant and removed. We encouraged them to write these different emotions on scraps of paper, which were then glued onto a collective heart in the center of each group. Most of the parent-facilitated small groups ended up with two dozen different emotions across a wide range:sadness, confusion, grief, hope, love, fear, guilt, etc. We gave them space to ask questions and share what they had heard. This allowed for even the shyest of students to validate the fact that God has created us to be emotional beings who feel deeply! It also allowed them to see that we all respond differently at different times, and this is normal and okay. Collectively, we as a body feel dozens of God-given emotions at any given point in time and might process these complex events in varying ways.
Of course, we all do something with these emotions, and we desired to model that one thing we must do is talk to God honestly about them. When disaster comes, we help one another keep looking to the God who is near.
Before the session, we pasted 50 different passages of scripture along the walls. We asked the students to spend some time reading and pick one that they found helpful. These verses represented a range of Psalms and passages about who God is. The students then shared these with their small groups before each taking time to write a prayer of lament with a simple template. A time of prayer and worship closed out this time.
At the end of our day, we spent time building some hygiene kits with supplies the students brought to give to victims in the disaster areas. We desired to not just address the emotional and spiritual response, but also give them a way to be tangibly involved in physical relief. A trusted friend was able to hand-deliver these items to affected areas. We also talked about ways we could respond well to our neighbors who are hurting. We have the wonderful privilege of being Christ’s hands and feet to the world in a practical way.
As one person, I am limited as a counselor. Yet as part of the church body, I have the privilege to see each part work together to minister in so many beautiful ways. So many various giftings come together to counsel, support, serve, administrate, and plan in a way that brings glory to God and practical help to one another. This also isn’t just unidirectional from the parents toward the students. They helped lead one another in musical worship, prayer and discussion from the depth of their own personal experiences, and their own faith journeys and cultural perspectives regularly encourage and speak into my own.
Would you join us in praying for this region of the world? Especially pray for the spiritual and physical needs to be met as people grieve significant losses, while also seeking to rebuild their lives in the midst of such destruction. And pray that as the saints in this region experience the comfort of God in their affliction, they would be instruments used by God to help others experience that comfort as well (2 Cor. 1:3-4).