Congregations in Christchurch, New Zealand, are lending support to the Muslim community in response to last week’s terrorist attack at two mosques where 50 people were killed and 50 others were injured. A gunman who held both radical far-right and far-left views stormed the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Central Christchurch just over a week ago. Nick Duke, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church in Christchurch, who once visited the Al Noor Mosque at the invitation of a Muslim acquaintance, said that the tragedy prompted his congregation to hold “a service of lament and hope” on the Sunday following the shooting.
“I preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan and our responsibilities around loving our Muslim neighbours,” Duke said. “Throughout the week we have been gathering in smaller groups and thinking through the sense of loss of security and looking at the Scriptures on that. I am speaking at a number of groups on Psalm 46, of finding refuge in God before all else.” At a news conference after the tragedy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted to ensure that people feel safe and “can practice their religion, no matter what it is.”
Duke spoke of showing “practical acts of kindness” to Muslims, especially those attending the Christchurch-based University of Canterbury. This included “contact with the Muslim students on campus” by “offering meals and practical assistance.” “We’ve been involved in dialogue with Muslims on campus at points. Learning about the teaching of Islam, to know what we hold in common and what we differ on,” said Duke when discussing ways in which they’re working to combat Islamophobia. “We tend to talk about responsibilities to our Muslim neighbours but don’t use the language of religious ‘brothers and sisters.’”
Police said that when they apprehended the suspect they stopped him from going to a third location where they believe he planned to stage another attack. “We believe we stopped him on the way to further attacks, so lives were saved and our staff were courageous in their interventions,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said. Bernhard Wewege, senior pastor at Every Nation Christchurch, said that the mass shooting had a personal impact on his congregation, as many of the students at his church had friends among the victims. Wewege said that the way to address violence like the mass shooting was “what we model as a church.”
“We must model unconditional love for all people. We all differ in our beliefs and how we live, but we are all humans and need to be treated with honor and respect,” Wewege said. “This culture of honor and respect must be modelled and taught at all levels. Everyone has value no matter your belief system. Mindsets have to be shifted and changed. This is only done by the grace and power of God.” As part of their response to the tragedy, Grace Vineyard Church gave out 130 halal gift baskets to Muslim neighbours who were affected by the mass shooting, as well as 30 additional gift baskets to others who either witnessed the shooting or were part of the response.
James Renwick, one of the executive pastors at Grace Vineyard, said that they “are just playing our small part as part of a larger response from the churches in Christchurch. We have also delivered police and paramedic gift baskets to say thank you for being on the front line. Those teams saw horrendous things and have given out constantly over the last few days,” explained Renwick. “We have also been opening our church for people to have a chat, have a listening ear and being around others which is open to anyone in the city. Many other churches are responding this way as well.”
Renwick also told of the actions of local churches that collected a “combined offering to help the Muslim families directly affected. The churches in Christchurch are also looking to hold a prayer vigil in the city over the coming days,” continued Renwick. “Many congregations are coming across individuals who are really struggling. We are encouraging people to keep on loving. Let’s overcome evil with good.” Renwick said. Prime Minister Arden has announced that within three weeks New Zealand will ban semiautomatic guns, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines like those used in the mass shooting.
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