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Lutherans in Turkey ask for prayer following devastating earthquake

A collapsed building in Diyarbakır, Turkey (VOA).

UPDATE (February 21, 2023): Another large earthquake hit Turkey on February 20, leading to additional death and destruction. As of this update, more than 47,000 people have been confirmed dead in Turkey and Syria following the first earthquakes on February 6. The ILC urges continued prayer for the people of Turkey and Syria, and invites readers to contact their local church body for additional information on ways to support victims.

TURKEY – The Istanbul Lutheran Church (İstanbul Luteryen Kilisesi – ILK) is requesting prayer following a catastrophic earthquake on February 6, 2023 which has left parts of Turkey and Syria devastated.

As of this publication, more than 6,000 people are confirmed dead and tens of thousands are injured, but officials warn that number will continue to rise. Thousands of buildings have collapsed, and rescuers are facing a race against time and freezing temperatures to save survivors. Countless people have been left homeless, and critical infrastructure has been destroyed. The World Health Organization estimates that upwards of 23 million people have been affected by the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

In response to the tragedy, the head of the Istanbul Lutheran Church, Rev. Bahadir Argönûl, is calling for urgent prayer. Some of his congregation have lost family members and many are among those affected by the disaster. “We thank the Lord that our brother, his wife, and their daughter, were saved from the earthquake,” he says. “We request prayers for them and for the tens of thousands of others who are in a similar situation, lacking shelter and daily necessities.”

“Pray for those who are working to help those who are still trapped under collapsed buildings that many might still be saved,” ILK Pastor Argönûl continued. “May the Lord have mercy on all those who suffer and provide comfort for those who have lost loved ones. And may all this strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ.”

The International Lutheran Council’s Chairman, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), is also calling on the international Lutheran community to remember Syria and Turkey in prayer. The ELMDF has close ties to the Istanbul Lutheran Church. “We are witnessing enormous human suffering in Turkey and Syria,” Bishop Pohjola noted, “and we offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones.”

“We pray for those who have been injured and those who have seen their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Even when the television cameras have moved on to other places, we know that our Lord Jesus Christ and His words of mercy and hope will remain. We pray for the Istanbul Lutheran Church and her witness, that many will receive true comfort in Christ, through whom we find life and salvation. ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea’ (Psalm 46:1-2).”

Lutheran ministry in Turkey first began in 1709 but came to a hiatus in the late 19th century. In 1999, Lutherans living in Istanbul came together to form a congregation. Rev. Risto Soramies—who would go on to serve as the ELMDF’s first bishop—was eventually called to serve as the Istanbul congregation’s first pastor (he had previously served a Turkish-speaking congregation in Germany). Today the Istanbul Lutheran Church has congregations in Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey, as well as Turkish-speaking congregations in Peshtera and Krushevo, Bulgaria.


Lithuanian Lutherans welcome Syrian refugees

Lithuania-logoLITHUANIA – By invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania (ELCL), forty Syrian refugees arrived in Lithuania February 26, 2014. The Syrian families arrived at Zokniai Airport (near the city of Šiauliai) by means of a Spartan military transport plane Wednesday afternoon.

According to Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis, the Syrians will live in parish houses and in housing provided by private persons all over Lithuania. Fifteen of the refugees are coming from Homs, a city in Western Syria which was for a long period of time surrounded by the military forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

“Christians are the most vulnerable group in Syria,” Bishop Sabutis stated. “Every day, they are murdered, persecuted, and robbed.” He noted that the ELCL was encouraged to invite the Syrian refugees to Lithuania because of the refugee experience of Lithuanians themselves. “We ourselves [in Lithuania] are a minority church,” he explained. “We endured much suffering [during the Soviet era], and therefore we have to respond to the pain suffered by others.”

He continued: “We remember our refugees who found asylum in Germany and the United States. Unlike Sweden, the Germans and Americans did not send the refugees back to the Soviet Union. We understand what it is like to be in situations from which there is no way to escape, and what it means to receive help in such situation,” Bishop Sabutis stated.

Bishop Sabutis expressed his gratitude for the help provided by Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense in this project. There have been more than 130,000 casualties in Syria’s civil war. The conflict started in March 2011. President Bashar al Assad used military force against the protests that later grew into armed resistance. Later in the civil war, fighters from abroad joined the conflict on both sides.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania has 21,000 members and is a member of the Lutheran World Federation. It also has close ties to the International Lutheran Council (ILC). In 2000, the ELCL declared itself to be in full-fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (ratified by the LCMS at its own convention in 2001). In 2013, the ELCL hosted the ILC’s 2013 World Seminary Conference in Palanga, Lithuania; the convention’s theme was “Suffering, Persecution, and Martyrdom as a Mark of the Church.”


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