SAT-7 ARABIC programme You Are Not Alone dedicated its latest episode (10 February) to hearing from and sharing fellowship with earthquake survivors in Syria. Then, minutes after the programme ended, a volunteer firefighter who had spoken to the programme during an intense rescue and recovery operation, called with some wonderful news.
“We are watching what is happening to the Syrian and Turkish peoples and find ourselves speechless; words fail,” You Are Not Alone presenter Sirene Semerdjian told Syrian families, who spoke to the programme live from Aleppo via Zoom. “We don’t know how to share our condolences with you and console you, so we’ve surrendered this episode to God so He may speak to you through us.”
Semerdjian approached the programme fully aware that her Syrian guests were reeling from the trauma of a devastating natural disaster. One that came on the back of an epidemic and amid an unfinished civil war and an economy under foreign sanctions.
Programme guests included Aleppo Alliance Church worker David Sousan, who was joined by earthquake survivors who have found refuge at the Union Armenian Evangelical Church in Aleppo. According to Sousan, people are struggling to meet essential needs, such as food, shelter, chronic disease medication, baby milk, and nappies.
While a large number of local people are temporarily homed in churches and emergency shelters, some are on the freezing cold streets with nowhere to go. Still others are in homes that may collapse at any second.
Guests revealed the psychological impact of the disaster. The Maraashli family explained how even the slightest signs, such as “water moving inside a bottle” now triggers fear of another earthquake, “We feel terrified. We don’t know how we will live after this point.” The Daali family added that the shock would take a long time to heal.
Yet God’s awesome grace was also evident in these stories. Small miracles had taken place that saved lives. Five minutes before the earthquake, the Maraashli family’s only daughter came to her parents’ room. Had she stayed in her bed she would have sustained critical injuries from a closet that fell over.
Guests repeatedly insisted that before the much-needed practical and financial support, what is required of viewers is prayer. The Dali family jumped at the opportunity to lead viewers in prayer. They thanked God for His love, provision, and presence amongst the people, and asked for His presence with humanitarian workers and people who are under the rubble. They prayed in the name of Jesus for the healing of the injured.
The programme included a live link to a rescue operation being carried out by Lebanese firefighter volunteers in Lattakia. Ali Saifeldeen, who is part of the 72-member team, described the severity of the destruction and the sheer difficulty of locating and recovering bodies. When Semerdjian asked if the team had found any survivors. Saifeldeen said, sadly no; they were sure that everyone in the building had died.
But the news they had been hoping for came minutes after the programme ended, Semerdjian says. “Shortly, after we hung up with them and we were off the air, the firefighters contacted us and said that they found a woman and her child and they rescued them from under the rubble and they sent us a video via WhatsApp of the rescue.”
Test of faith
The episode itself concluded powerfully with an interview with Revd Ibrahim Nseir, Vice President of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Aleppo.
Immediately after the quake, Nseir and his family had run out of their unaffected house to lead people to safety. Now his church is drawing on a wealth of experience in community service to give shelter to people of all faiths. They are serving food and drink to survivors in government-created shelters, acting as God’s representatives for anyone, regardless of their identity.
Nseir explained: “Christ said, ‘I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; I needed clothes and you did not clothe me.’ They said, ‘Lord, when did we see you and not help?’ He said, ‘Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Right now,” he stressed, “faith is being tested in every sense. We either serve everyone or there is no meaning to this spiritual inheritance we carry with us if it fails to impact positively on society.”
He advised viewers to respond to the crisis and give generously, sharing what they have without any deference to politics, so that everyone may see their good deeds and glorify God in heaven.
Semerdjian concluded the episode by asking Nseir to share a message addressing those who feel grieved, hopeless, and desperate.
“Remember Christ’s words on the cross, when he screamed and said, ‘Abba, why did you forsake me?’ It is not wrong to ask God why this is happening,” Nseir said. “This life is a mystery; it is a mirage. One day we will see God face to face and then we will be able to know why we faced this reality. We are Christ’s companions in difficulty so that we will be his companions in the resurrection, God willing.”
Please join us in praying:
- For God’s healing power to break into the bodies, minds, hearts, and souls of those who are suffering.
- For material provision for the people of Syria.
- For all those affected to encounter Christ’s sure love, acceptance, and hope.
The next episode (17 February) of You Are Not Alone will share video of the successful rescue carried out by Lebanese firefighters and a follow-up conversation with Ali Saifeldeen