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Giving out Bibles with aid in Turkey is ‘opportunistic’ and ‘not the way of Jesus’

02 March 2023

Churches in earthquake region reprimand faith organisations

Alamy

Homeless evacuees in Kilis, southern Turkey, last week

Homeless evacuees in Kilis, southern Turkey, last week

CHRISTIANS in Turkey have pleaded with faith groups and charities not to distribute Bibles as part of relief efforts in areas of the country recovering from the powerful earthquake three weeks ago, which also struck parts of northern Syria (News, 10 February).

Church leaders in Kahramanmaras, close to the epicentres of the two earthquakes which killed more than 50,000 people on 6 February, have branded those who distributed Bibles along with aid “opportunistic”.

Ilyas Uyar, an elder in the Protestant Church Foundation of Diyarbakir, told the magazine Christianity Today: “This is not the way of Jesus; it is opportunistic and doesn’t work. We say we are Christians all the time, but it is disgusting to connect this to aid.”

He also reported that a group of Christians from Italy came to offer help, but filmed and took pictures and then moved on.

Guidance for those wanting to help with aid efforts has been drawn up by the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey (TeK). Its guidance prohibits the sharing of Bibles and other evangelistic materials, and urges aid organisations to work with the local church to co-ordinate aid. There should also be no political commentary, and no use of unauthorised photos, it said.

TeK has urged people to work through the First Hope Association: a relief foundation set up by Turkish Christians. Its chairman, Demokan Kileci, told Christianity Today that the area was also seeing an influx of humanitarian tourists, who fly over, stay in hotels, and visit the affected areas, using up scarce resources.

First Hope is working with Samaritans Purse, whose field hospital is treating patients pulled from the rubble after the disaster, as well as those with long term medical conditions, with a rotating crew of hundreds of disaster relief specialists.

More detail is emerging of the scale of the destruction in terms of lost heritage buildings. The city centre of Antakya, the site of the ancient city of Antioch, has been almost completed flattened, and places of worship for Christians, Jews, and Muslims destroyed. The fate of some of the more remote heritage sites, such as the monastery of St Simeon Stylites the Younger, close to the Syrian border, is still unknown. In total, about 54,000 buildings are thought to have been destroyed or damaged.

Aftershocks, some powerful, continue to strike the region, and there have been four new earthquakes since 6 February, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority reports.

Donations to the emergency appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee for survivors reached more than £100 million last week.

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