Remembering Syria

A month after the devastation of the earthquakes, are our hearts still shaped by loving concern?

Over the past two days there has been unfolding news of devastation in Syria and Turkey. Early in the morning of February 6, while most were at home sleeping, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region – followed by a major aftershock 12 hours later. I write these words on the evening of February 7 and there is news of more than 8,000 lives lost, with that number expected to climb. Alongside the occasional stories of remarkable rescues, it is beyond heartbreaking to hear of so many families and loved ones lost, homes destroyed, and already tenuous lives and livelihoods shattered.

Yesterday was, for me, a day to reach out to Syrian students and colleagues, to ask concerning their families and communities back home. In each case there was news of safety and escape, but also expressions of fear and loss and sorrow. It is difficult to know what words to offer in the face of such pain and distress; difficult to know what words and actions can adequately express compassion and love.

As I write, I am also reminded that this column will appear in print, or online, one month from now. That temporal distance invites a certain kind of reflection (it’s not the first time I have reflected on this dimension of my writing). What comes to mind in this moment, for me, is our tendency to move on from our concerned engagement with the pain and plight of others. When one month has passed, will our hearts still be shaped by loving concern for those living this devastation?

It is true that in our globalized context we are confronted, on a daily basis, with more pain than we can possibly hold in our hearts. If we tried to do so, we would almost certainly be overwhelmed – be paralyzed by grief. At the same time it seems possible that we forget too quickly; that the next thing in life, and on the news, too easily carries our attention elsewhere.

As one very small act of resistance against my own tendency to forgetfulness, I offer a prayer here for Syria and Turkey. When these words come back to me one month from now, may they hold me faithfully in the place I need to be in remembering others.

Living God, we draw near to you at a loss for words. The most honest words, perhaps the only words we have for you are questions: Why so many lives lost? Why so much grief unleashed in the world? Why are the most vulnerable made vulnerable again? Why must human life be accompanied by such suffering?

Loving God, we hold in our hearts and minds those who are grieving the loss of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents, children, friends. More tears are being shed than we can acknowledge or comprehend. Many cannot imagine their lives or hearts ever being healed. We trust that your heart breaks for those who are heartbroken.

Providing God, there are so many hard at work meeting the needs of others right now – rescuing, bandaging, sheltering, embracing, feeding, planning, protecting, cleaning. Come alongside them in their labour, we pray. May the work of their hands and feet and minds be done in the love and hopefulness that express human flourishing.

God with us, be present in the grieving and questioning and labouring and hoping that unfolds in these days. Be present with those who are lost and afraid. Be present with those who are dying. We pray in the name of the one, Jesus, by whom you are with us. Amen.


  • Roland De Vries

    Roland De Vries is Principal of The Presbyterian College, Montreal, and a Lecturer in the School of Religious Studies, McGill University. He teaches in a variety of areas including Missional Theology, Reformed Tradition, and Global Christianity. Roland has also previously served as a Pastor in two congregations in Montreal. He and his wife Rebecca (a nurse) have three teenage/young adult children.

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