It’s Friday, March 15th, 2019, at 1:41 pm in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A few people clock out, leaving work early, to start the weekend. A couple leaves a restaurant, following a late lunch, and some people gather for prayer at Linwood Mosque.
They kneel on mats, covering terracotta tiles, face to the ground. That’s when they hear the shots. That’s when darkness sweeps over the mosque, taking the lives of 50 people. With an additional 50 people injured, neighbours, friends, and global communities grieve in shock, grappling the realities of hate crime.
So, how do we respond to the New Zealand tragedy? More than that, how can we respond well? How do we respond rightly when acts of terrorism fill our world, either overseas, or in our own neighbourhoods? There are helpful and unhelpful things we can do following tragedy, and sometimes it’s hard to discern between them both. The following suggestions are just five ways to respond that I’ve found helpful in my own life. Whenever something terrible like this happens, I remind myself of these.
When tragedy strikes, confusion, sadness, and frustration commonly enter our mind. Take some time to disconnect from the media circus, online discussions and debates, and seek out some silence and stillness. Inviting God to help us process our thoughts allows us to remember in whom we place our hope, and allows us to intercede for others.
When praying over a community, ask God to provide them with courage to keep on loving and forgiving one another. In the wake of a tragedy, it’s easy to slip into bitterness and resentment. Praying for a change of heart removes fear and cultivates joy. You can also pray that we, as Christians, learn how to love each other well. Both prayers invite God into the grieving process and prepare our hearts for the future.
Finally, pray for justice, reconciliation, and for the hurting to place their hope in Jesus. As much as we desire justice towards those who have caused so much pain, we should also desire that they come to know Christ and be transformed. Having a relationship with God provides us with hope and peace, reminds us of God’s goodness and love, encourages us, and convicts us of our own sinfulness. Pray that those who do not know God come to know the light and love of God. Pray that Christians would faithfully obey God when it comes to pursuing justice, and show Christ-like love to others, in spite of their previous actions.
2. Place your hope in God
In hard circumstances, when we don’t understand what’s going on, and questions fill our minds more than answers, we need to root ourselves in God. Making the conscious effort to linger on God’s character (love, peace, justice), more than the bleakness of the situation, can strengthen your faith and anchor you in truth. Consider reading passages from Hebrews 13:8, Daniel 7:14, Psalm 145: 17-18, Psalm 18:2, and Joshua 1:9. Reflect on these truths, write them out, and journal how you’ve seen God reflect these truths.
3. Form an inclusive community
Invite people from different ethnicities, faith backgrounds, and walks of life into your world. Building trusting and diverse relationships helps us form healthy and balanced views of other cultures and experiences around the world. It increases our empathy and investment in others who may not view the world how we do. Consider inviting them out for a movie, lunch, or an adventure in the city. Practice hospitality by welcoming them into your home for dinner, or brunch on the weekend. Opening your door allows opportunities to practise acceptance, kindness, and love, thereby rejecting the very fear and insecurity that may instigate division.
When tragedy strikes any community (particularly communities to which we don’t belong), it can feel intimidating to know what to say. There’s often the temptation to remain silent. However, not acknowledging these significant events and their impact can break more trust than build it. Instead of saying nothing, offer your condolences, or a friendly smile. Ask them, “How are you feeling about ______? I would love to support you, and I’m here to listen if you feel safe to share.” Be okay that they may not be ready to open up just yet. Aim for presence in the friendship instead of perfection over your own words. You may not get it right, and that’s okay.
4. Discuss the situation with your classmates, friends, and family
Add a multiplicity of voices into the conversation! Whether you’re discussing heartbreak, or how to show love to that community, engaging in dialogue allows us to grow in listening and openness to one another’s thoughts, develops humility, and sharpens our ideas. These types of discussions can also help prevent negative thoughts from festering, and encourage camaraderie.
Acts of terror, natural disasters, and tragedy are simply too hard to tackle alone. Naturally, we can become overwhelmed with shock and fear. In order to tackle these emotions and thoughts, having conversations and listening to someone else’s perspective may influence ours. For example, having a conversation with your friends about the situation and praying over it allows your brain to let go of some thoughts, rather than bottling up your thoughts and emotions. Sharing your worries about security and asking questions about how others feel can open doors for learning about different ways to battle fears of insecurity.
5. Monitor your data intake
Finally, sometimes we need to monitor what we’re watching, reading, and listening to, in order to prevent spikes of anger, or even emotional breakdowns. We only have so much capacity for evil, and the never ending cycle of terrible news stories can weigh heavy on our hearts. Personally, I live in the tension where I want to be informed and help others during times of tragedy, but I also sometimes need to guard my heart and soul from too much evil.
Know that it’s okay to unplug. Take some time offline (alone or with someone you trust) to process the details, fears, ideas, and issues that arise in grappling with this heartbreaking situation. God remains in control. He is good. His love for us never ends. God is faithful, always by our side, so we can choose to place our trust in him.
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