On March 15, a shooter walked into two Islamic mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and took 50 lives in an act of hatred. Within 24 hours, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) was on the ground to comfort the hurting.
“Our hearts broke for people because we saw how shattered, distraught and fearful they are,” said Stewart Beveridge, a crisis-trained chaplain who deployed from Australia.
Watching the sun slowly rise over his city of Brisbane, Beveridge recalled the three-hour plane ride that landed him in a place where the world seemed to stop spinning.
“I was the stranger, standing on the edge of something I didn’t participate in but was there to be with people [and help them] come to grips with the enormity of what happened,” Beveridge said.
He compared the moment to walking on ice, realizing the severity and necessary caution when dealing with a man-made crisis. Although Christchurch faced a deadly earthquake in 2011, this tragedy rocked the community differently.
It was an act of terrorism that stunned Muslims on a Friday they’ll never forget, during their holy day of worship.
So, how could chaplains from a different religion possibly help in this time of crisis?
“Because God is our anchor in times of storms, we can serve them from a place of confidence in God,” Beveridge explained. “But, we must trust Him to lead us in the direction that would be most helpful.”
Chaplains were able to be there for the grieving by encouraging churches with crisis response briefings and visiting hospitals to spend time with families of the wounded.
They helped calm and pray with shaken high schoolers who were put on lockdown during the attack amid rumors about the shooter’s location. And they provided a ministry of presence to those who just needed a shoulder to cry on.
RRT offered emotional and spiritual care to Christchurch—even to those with different beliefs.
While chaplains desire for everyone to come to know the Lord, they realized this deployment was not the time for theological debate. Instead, they simply loved with no bounds.
“The BGEA does not draw lines about who it will care for and won’t,” Beveridge said. “God does not draw lines around who the BGEA can and cannot minister to.
“In the eyes of many people, Christians and Muslims aren’t friends,” Beveridge continued. “Why would one do an act of kindness for the other?
“[Because] the compassion of God to cross the lines we as humans have drawn.”
This compassion was visible as the RRT stood in solitude at a prayer vigil, cried tears alongside those in agony and prayed countless times for deliverance.
And slowly but surely, the community’s etched expressions of shock transformed to somber tones and demeanors during the chaplains’ week-long stay.
“The RRT was very much about being present, building trust, and sharing comfort and hope with the desire to have relationship going forward,” Beveridge said.
“It’s holy ground every time we step into crisis. … [God] was already hovering over the place.”
And He still is.