It’s been an unusual winter here in the Middle East. We’ve been hit with wave after wave of chilling weather and had several feet of snow dumped on us! Locals here say they’ve not seen anything like this in at least 20 years. Some say it’s the worst since a major storm in the 1980s literally buried homes in the mountains with almost 9 feet of snowfall.
Either way, it’s been a hard winter for us, the refugees and the locals. The Lord has been with us though, and in these times we’ve had increased opportunities to serve for the Gospel!
We’ve seen these hardships manifest in the form of unexpected crop-destroying cold, increased needs for heating fuel and heaters, and a dramatic rise in residential fires due to the collapsing electrical grid.
Trying to meet all the needs has kept us pretty busy these months. At times we’ve had to grab a chainsaw and shovel to dig ourselves out of our own neighborhoods too when trees would block the local roads or heavy snow make our building’s shared driveway impassable!
A Collapsing Electrical Grid & Resulting Residential Fires
The heavy snowfall and violent winds took down innumerable trees and power lines. Mangled wrecks of metal towers litter the area. Many still lean precariously over roads or homes.
To this day there are still lines draping on the side of roads, and others that resourceful locals decided to just tie up off the ground to a tree because nobody else was coming to fix it. We try to be careful to not drive under power lines like that in a strong wind!
Power was out for over a week in many places. The grid, already under huge strain and decades of neglect, is further collapsing. When there actually is electricity coming in to homes, the voltage ranges from 160V to 240V or higher. This in a country that should be standard 220V. Why’s that matter? The huge variation in power is causing motors on older appliances to short out and burst into flames.
These electrical fires are adding further misery to a country already in collapse. Residential fires are typically rare out here as most buildings are concrete block. But in the winter, many homes have heating fuel, blankets, mats, rugs and other flammable items abounding. Two weeks ago a family died in the city area when their home caught fire, probably from an electrical short. Three weeks ago a woman from an Evangelical church we partner with also lost her home in a fire.
She was at home with her brother and elderly parents when, shortly before midnight, they smelled smoke in the living room of their fourth-floor apartment. They ran in to find that their entire outside veranda and the roof was engulfed in flames. Their refrigerator they kept frozen food in near the door to the veranda had caught fire from an electrical short and spread quickly to the other rooms.
With only moments to spare, as the fire was near to blocking the only exit from their apartment (there’s few, if any, fire escapes in this part of the world), their family managed to escape with their life. From the street below they watched as their family home of generations went up in flames. They waited an hour for a volunteer fire service to arrive. Miraculously, several propane tanks on the roof, as well as a large 500-liter diesel storage tank, avoided the flames. Had those caught, the top floor could have been reduced to rubble with loss of life to the surrounding neighbors.
This woman is a Christian and sees God’s providential hand in sparing them from the worst. We went down the morning after the fire to assess what could be done to help. From that day to now we’ve had various workers there cleaning, repairing and working to get their house back in order and inhabitable once again. Doors burned off the hinges, windows shattered and twisted from the heat, electrical wiring melted within the walls, and black soot covers the majority of the interior. Pray we could continue in this service until her family has their home back once again!
Helping Refugees in the Bitter, Sometimes Lethal, Cold
Perhaps you saw in news reports last month that several Syrian children froze to death in refugee camps in this region. That is an avoidable tragedy, and something we never want to see amongst our own population of refugees that we serve.
To help them make it through this hard winter, every two weeks we are distributing heaters and heating fuel (jugs of diesel) that they can use to heat at least one room in their home where the family can gather at night when it becomes particularly cold.
We gave out 12,650 Liters of diesel fuel so far (that’s about 3,341 gallons) from December until today, the end of February, to around 180 families in the area. Those families comprise approximately 850 people in total, including children and elderly. Each one is an opportunity to share the love of Christ and something of the Gospel. They are all appreciative of this winter aid, and many often take the various literature we provide during the distributions.
We also give out heaters to families that need them. We find that many have old, broken heaters that rusted out over the last year. Some also live in areas outside the city with access to forage for scrap wood and brush, and they request wood stoves so that they don’t need to rely on increasingly costly diesel fuel for their heaters.
Digging Out Our Frozen Grace Farms
Previous winters in this region were relatively mild, and sometimes downright balmy, compared to the frozen, snowy winterscape we’ve experienced this past month. In past years it was not uncommon to enjoy a second winter growing season for farm and garden plots, as long as done with cooler weather plantings like bush beans, onions, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and the like.
This year it didn’t work out quite so well as last! The risks of farming always include weather, but one does not expect to face frost and freezing weather on land that hasn’t experienced it for almost a generation.
Every farm location, from the higher altitudes to lower, was covered in snow and froze last month. Many of the crops were just not ready for this sudden, unseasonal freeze. Two of our beehives also froze, and we lost the entire colony in each, which is highly unusual for a winter here.
We harvested what we could after the snow melted enough to access the ground. Some potatoes were ready, as well as kohlrabi. We left the rest of the battered crops in place to try and recover by spring time in the hopes milder weather may prevail this month.
There’s enough greenery left on the beans and onions that we still have some hope of an early spring harvest prior to turning over the fields for spring planting. It seems roughly 50% or more of crops planted for the winter season are likely a loss, however.
While we considered things like winter row cover, those supplies are essentially non-existent in a part of the world that almost never sees winter weather like this! Pray for the coming spring planting to be prosperous and cover for these winter losses.
Thank You For Your Prayers And Support
We know there are some who faithfully read these updates and do what they can to help. We thank the Lord for you. Keep praying. Every assistance provided via these mercy ministries is a potential open door. Some days those doors are wide open, and we pray any seed sown would bear fruit in due time.
On our end, we aim to try and increase the frequency of these updates to catch up on everything else happening out here in past months, including the ongoing (and vitally important) medical assistance to people, a new women’s sewing program, progress with the Daily Bread bakery, and other things going on out here.
Please do pray for the situation out here as it relates to the recent Ukraine invasion as well. As we watch this new tragedy unfold in Europe, we know that what we face here pales in comparison to what the Ukrainians are suffering in these days, and we pray for them.
However, we found that this crises will also begin to affect us here. The country we are located in receives 80% of their wheat imports from Ukraine. They currently have only about a two months supply – or less – on hand in the country. Bread prices will likely skyrocket as supplies dwindle. It will take time for global supply chains to adjust to this new reality. We intend to keep the bakery going as long as we can still find flour in order to help people with free bread in this difficult time. So, please pray for that too!
If you wish to be involved in any way, you can support TGI via our site, sign up for our relief updates e-mail newsletter to better know how to pray, or contact us if you are interested in knowing more about how to be personally involved.