Sarah Jane Weaver: How prayers for Turkey, Syria remind us that faith is the ‘preeminent force for good in the world’

Latter-day Saint leaders join other faith leaders in a powerful prayer vigil for earthquake victims in Turkey, Syria

Days after a devastating earthquake struck Turkey and Syria on Monday, Feb. 6 — claiming at least 41,000 lives to date — a group of God’s children on the other side of the globe looked heavenward and prayed.

“We believe that prayers have power to make a difference,” said Zeynep Kariparduc, chair of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, as she stood and welcomed leaders of my community in Utah to a special prayer vigil. “Miracles are made through the hands and hearts of those who care.”

Representing the Muslim faith, she asked a beautifully diverse congregation to unite its hope for Turkey and Syria.

In the moments that followed, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined with those from Hindu, Lutheran, Native American and Jewish faiths. The South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, a Bosnian mosque, the First Presbyterian Church, the St. James Episcopal Church and the Utah Islamic Center were also represented. Local civic leaders came.

One by one the religious leaders stood and petitioned God for healing, comfort and restoration. The congregation shared respect and sacred silence. Everyone felt peace.

I was awestruck by the power of faith.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake — the strongest to hit the region in more than a century — caused death and destruction in one area of the world and prompted unity and grace in another.

It was a feeling I had felt once before.

On a June day in 2017, as the children in my neighborhood were getting out of elementary school, domestic violence spilled into our streets — resulting in the tragic loss of a mother and her 6-year-old son and the hospitalization of two other children.

In the wake of that tragedy, it was faith leaders who gathered our community together and provided needed context — offering comfort to the grieving and directing the children’s focus to the emergency responders, police and other helpers who rushed to the scene.

The words and direction of one faith leader built on another until a sense of peace, safety and moving forward settled on our neighborhood.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook central Turkey early Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. and was followed by a strong aftershock. | Associated Press graphic

The Salt Lake Interfaith Council was formed to provide religious support for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games — held 21 years ago during the same week the earthquake struck Turkey and Syria this year. On that occasion, 45 leaders representing more than 22 faiths joined as the SLOC Interfaith Roundtable. From that event grew a desire for continued interfaith dialogue, friendship and understanding, and the group has met monthly since.

Simply said, the group learned that they can accomplish much more together than individually. Their vision statement defines a community and world where those of “diverse faiths, cultures and belief systems can enjoy mutual respect, understanding, appreciation, acceptance, harmony and love.”

That is what I witnessed as, one by one, members of the group, joined by others in the community, petitioned God as sacred prayer was added to sacred prayer for earthquake victims.

It is also the promised blessings of a special invitation extended four years ago by President Russell M. Nelson in an op-ed published Feb. 10, 2019, in the Arizona Republic.

“Whatever your faith tradition or personal circumstances, as a servant of the Lord I invite you to look to Him and make Him the center of your life,” he wrote.

President Nelson’s article detailed another tragedy — a fire in Paradise, California, that destroyed the community, flattened 18,000 structures and left 86 dead.

“In Paradise we witnessed utter devastation,” wrote President Nelson. “The city was destroyed. The aftermath was staggering — families homeless, businesses gone, children still haunted by the night they fled for their lives.

“But that tragedy also revealed the best of humanity — first responders racing to help others as their own homes burned, families helping older neighbors out of harm’s way, residents and neighbors working tirelessly to help the refugees.”

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President Nelson left Paradise sobered by what he had seen but also inspired by the goodness of so many. “We were comforted by the reassurance that God watches over His suffering children.

“If there is anything I’ve learned in my 94 years of living, it is that a life with God is far better — more filled with hope — than one without Him. Faith in God is, and has always been, the preeminent force for good in this world. It is the most enduring source of peace for minds and hearts.”

Just as in Paradise and in my own neighborhood, hope is found in Turkey and Syria. Media reports detail the efforts of responders and medical personnel, of individuals and families being rescued from the rubble, of aid arriving from across the globe. Religious, humanitarian and government leaders — including Latter-day Saint leaders — issued statements of support.

And on a sacred night in Utah — exactly 21 years after the 2002 Winter Olympic Games brought them together — a diverse group of faith leaders was compelled by their belief to appeal to God on behalf of their Turkish and Syrian brothers and sisters.

Their sincere and powerful prayers are yet another example that faith is the preeminent force for good in the world.

— Sarah Jane Weaver is editor of the Church News.

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