ANTIOCH, Turkey – One of the cities affected by the Turkey earthquake holds biblical significance. Antioch played a prominent role in the life of the apostle Paul, and it also served as a foundation of the early Church.
According to the New Testament Book of Acts, it was in Antioch that followers of Jesus were first called Christians. The city was devastated by the February 6th earthquake.
Like many cities and towns throughout this region, Antioch took a particularly hard hit.
CBN News visited the destroyed house of a pastor and his wife in Antioch. Nearby, the buildings of their beloved neighbors stood. Many of the neighbors didn't survive the earthquake and others were relocated away from their leveled homes, so the pastor's family lost the ones they had been serving and sharing about the love of Jesus for many years.
Turkish pastor Elmas Akin told us about that terrifying night.
“I just can’t find the words to describe it and I don’t think you can really understand what happened at that time," she said. There was a deep noise from the ground and it wasn’t ending and it was a long time. Both my husband and I just looked at each other and hugged each other and we started praying.”
They expected to die.
Elmas explained, “And then we discussed with my husband later and we realized we both thought the same thing so we thought maybe that’s is Lord, we’re coming, so is this our last day. Are we coming to meet you?"
Instead, they rushed outside.
“And then when we came out and completely outside and I looked and I realized that all these buildings were collapsed and that was so painful because this has been our ministry to our neighbors," Elmas said.
For years, she ministered to about fifty neighborhood children, teaching them the Bible.
“They know me as their Aunt Elmas, sometimes Mother Elmas, because we’ve been having them at church and playing games, sharing the Gospel for many, many years. They grew up in our own hands, so to speak," she recalled.
She cried as she said, "And now they are all gone now. I’ve lost all of them. Some of them died and some of them are just spread around the country or medical help or they can’t live here anymore or they have moved to other cities and I’ve lost them all."
Senem Ekener of Turk Sat 7 came here to document what happened to the church after the earthquake.
“Many of the church buildings are completely on the ground," she said. "They lost, our brothers and sisters, they lost their church buildings. Congregations which the Body of Christ actually spread everywhere as we speak. Some of them remain behind to help with the rescue efforts, distributing help, everything they can. And the whole church in the country has been utilizing help, sending help, sending people to round wherever is in need of help and by praying."
Ekener also found a church in one accord.
“How God is actually showing Himself in people, being Christ to one another as the Body of Christ in unity, amazing unity and just functioning as His Hands, as His Feet reaching out to people," Ekener explained. "So I’ve been seeing that, I’ve been trying to console. Words are not sufficient, of course, and it’s time to just cry with them over their loss and also just be Christ to people that they’re never alone and we are in this together because you can’t really detach yourself from what your brothers and sisters and country going through (in) this devastating earthquake. "
Pastor Elmas's church was destroyed as well.
Our CBN news crew found that many of the streets of Old Antioch are impassable now because of the rubble. The Akins' church that lasted for 23 years was down one alley that couldn't be reached because of all the debris. Only the sign remained visible.
“Nothing is left," Elmas said. "And this has been our church for 23 years. All those years of love and for caring for everyone. Everything is gone completely."
Still, Pastor Elmas has a positive outlook.
“But my hope is great. Because we have been renting the old church building and we were asking the Lord to give our own church building and a year ago we spotted land and we started to build. So this has already started, the new church building's construction," she explained.
Although the old church was destroyed by the earthquake, a new building they were preparing has not been destroyed, and it's already open for ministry.
“There’s no more Antioch left but there will be a new Antioch. There will be a new church. And God has already give us that building for that. So that will be the new church and there’s no damage on that church," Elmas said.
She asked for prayer for a new beginning.
“Please, please pray God will see us through to the completion of the new church building. Where the need is so much more evident. Please pray for that."
She continued, “And please pray for us since for church now, it’s just me and my husband. We are that church now. And thank God now many other Christians from around the country are coming to help. But we need Human Resources. We need people to stand with us. Please pray. Please pray that God will send the right people to continue this work."
Ekener says now more than ever, it's important to pray for a move of the Holy Spirit.
“They’ve been praying thank God. But I would ask that they pray that there will be many divine encounters with Jesus," she said. "He can reach. He doesn’t have to be broadcasted. We all know that. He can reach to ever human through His Holy Spirit with visions and dreams and indescribable consolations to the human heart. So just pray that people find comfort in God."
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