From Facebook to face-to-face

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey shifted Jabari's ministry to Syrian refugees from primarily on social media to in person. He and his wife now see an openness in many to hear the good news.

Currently, 1 million Syrian refugees reside in Europe, 1.5 million in Lebanon, 1.3 million in Jordan and 3.6 million in Turkey.*

With the dark waters of the Black Sea to the north and the crystal beaches of the Mediterranean to the south, Turkey juts out from the Cradle of Civilization, bridging the gap between the Middle East and Europe. Home to the majestic Nur mountains and the lively old city of Istanbul, it’s no wonder that Turkey is among one of the most travelled to countries in the world.

For many Syrians, however, going to the country as a carefree tourist is but a dream; for millions, it is a terrifying journey that means leaving behind your home, family and friends.

OM partners have worked to see Christ known to people across the country — including the millions of refugees that currently reside in Turkey.

Jabari** and his wife Alara** have lived and worked among Syrian refugees in Turkey for four years. Recently, they moved to the south, to a town that is home to a third of Turkey’s refugees but zero churches and only 12 known Christ followers.

“The past two years, we were relying 100 per cent on connecting with people through social media,” Jabari said about the refugee ministry in Turkey. Not only is social media — specifically Facebook — the main avenue for most refugees to receive information, but it is also a common way for people to keep up with loved ones they were forced to leave behind. For these reasons, Jabari explained, social media has been a vital doorway into the lives of Syrian refugees.

Social media is only a stepping stone, however. As the Syrian culture places a high value on relationships, Jesus followers make it a priority to move from Facebook to in-person meetings quickly to make connections and establish trust. “We either use…discipleship methods online before we meet them,” Jabari explained, “or we meet them as soon as possible and disciple them face-to-face.”

Out of all the refugees the couple interacts with through social media, two or three per cent became believers in Christ, a number more significant than it might seem. But no one could have expected the drastic changes that would need to take place within the ministry after 6 February 2023 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ravaged the country, took the lives of over 47,000 people*** and left even more injured and homeless. Jabari, Alara and their daughter were out of the city during the disaster, but when they returned, relief efforts began immediately.

The physical, the mental and the spiritual

First and foremost, people needed their basic needs met. Jabari and his family have passed out about 100 tents to Syrian refugees staying in outdoor spaces since the earthquake, as well as camping equipment such as stoves, heaters and blankets. Food packages are also available every week to those in need. From virtual relationship building to hands-on ministry, Jabari reflects on this sharp shift in ministry. “The earthquake definitely changed how we meet people. Now, we meet people in tents, we share Bible stories…this is how we do things now,” he shared.

Physical necessities are vital to recovery after a natural disaster, but mental wounds often linger longer. Alara, a student studying clinical psychology at a local university, is using her counselling experience to tend to the mental health needs of refugees. This includes individual meetings with those impacted, but also group trauma healing sessions.

Though the earthquake has appeared to bring nothing but destruction and misery, Jabari sees God working amid the pain. “[People] are more open to God and they are willing to hear the gospel more than before,” he explained.

Healing led to hope for Aziz**, a Syrian refugee living in Turkey with his wife and six children, who connected with Jabari after hearing the story of the Prodigal Son. The man had experienced ongoing pain in his ankle, and even after three surgeries, the pain persisted. After receiving permission, Jabari prayed for Aziz's pain to be relieved in the name of Jesus. Though Jabari didn’t know it at the moment, God answered that prayer. “Later on,” Jabari recounted, “he came up to me and said, ‘Since you prayed for me, I’ve felt no pain.’” Through his relationship with Jabari, Aziz has shown an openness to religious discussions and heard biblical stories that have spurred questions.

Now, Aziz acts as a point of contact between Jabari and other refugees, interceding for him to those who are struggling. “When someone needs something, he refers them to me,” he shared, “because he knows I can pray for them, and I do things in a godly way.”

In Aziz, Jabari sees progress and hope for all Syrian refugees. For the future of this ministry, he wants to continue reaching out to Syrians through resource distribution, but also through Bible stories, prayer and by representing a God-honouring lifestyle. However, only so much work can be done by Jabari and Alara. As they are the only OM partners in this region, the weight of the ministry falls on their shoulders. Especially after the earthquake, the need for more workers is tremendous.

One day, Jabari believes the social media ministry will resume, but for now, the work continues on. Whether sharing through a computer screen or sharing in refugee camps, God is moving in the hearts of Turkey’s Syrian population.

Pray for the relief and trauma healing ministries, that through them, many would receive the resources needed to survive and heal. Pray also that through these ministries, people would come to know Christ and receive salvation. Pray for Jabari’s family that they will be joined by more long-term workers who will share with them the responsibilities of ministry.

*www.unhcr.org

**name changed

***www.pbs.org

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