December 3, 2015
A woman in her 70s was standing next to me at the Bataclan Theatre’s memorial site. She sighed: “It’s terrible!” I took the opportunity to start talking with her. She was Portuguese and had immigrated to France 50 years ago. She was a “concierge” of a building close to the Bataclan Theatre. Two families from her building had lost loved ones: one family lost a friend and another family lost their teenage son.
She was afraid that terrorists would use chemicals or put something in the water. I told her that I had come from Canada to pray for the Parisians, and that I believed in a good God that brings peace and not destruction. I asked if I could pray for her. She said “yes.” I think she wasn’t used to have somebody pray for her. She said she would go back to church.
At the Bataclan Theatre’s memorial site, a lady was taking out a big lantern from a box. As it was raining I sheltered her from the rain and helped her light her candle.
I started the conversation asking why she had brought the candle. She said she is French but lives in Germany and had bought this lantern for her summer home in France, but decided that she should rather bring it to the place where the shootings happened. She was a bit agitated and talked a lot. I asked if she believed in God. She said “yes”. She goes to the Catholic Church.
I asked if we could pray together and she agreed. We both prayed. After that we spent quite a bit of time talking and looking at the flowers, notes and candles. A Vietnamese journalist must have listened in because she came over to ask some questions. We shared about God to her. At the end, the woman wanted a picture with me so we asked the journalist to take it. We exchanged first names and said good-bye.
The waiter for our breakfast has been the same person each day, so I started talking to her. She is in her early 60s. She was curious as to who we were and what we were doing. I asked her if she was affected by the shootings. She said her daughter’s friend of a friend died and her friend got injured in the eye. Thankfully she will be able to see. I asked her if she believed in God. She said “no,” she is an atheist.
I shared that we were chaplains and all of us have a personal faith in Christ. We have come to bring comfort to the French people by praying at the shooting sites, talking with people and praying with them if they saw allow. I told her that we were working with volunteers from different denominations (Catholic and Protestant).
I told her about an equipping session we did regarding grief counseling and shared about the different stages of grief. She said she doesn’t have compassion. I told her that God is the one that gives it to us. I challenged her to think about faith. The day before I left, I gave her some maple syrup and a Canadian pin and also asked if she wanted the Gospel of John in French. She accepted it and thanked me for it.
At the restaurant Petit Cambodge, where some other shootings happened, I talked to a mom who had a toddler in the stroller. She wanted her son to see the flowers and candles. She brought two candles. She works close by and had eaten at that restaurant. She was shaken. I told her that only prayer in God will help in times like these. She nodded and left.
I saw a teacher with a stack of drawings. She was stapling them together and laying them on the ground. I asked if she needed help. She was very appreciative of it. I spent quite a bit of time on my knees stapling them. I couldn’t share much with her as she was far away from me, but I just told her how great her initiative was and she thanked me.
I prayed with a Catholic volunteer as she was very moved at the sites of the attacks. She had lived in that neighborhood before (rue Bichat). I prayed for strength as she was going to minister to people.
A woman in her 30s was lighting candles at the Bataclan Theatre. She was very agitated. She was angry and was blaming the government, religions and immigrants. I asked her how she was affected by the attacks. She responded that her friend had received a bullet in her leg. She was still at the hospital. I told her that religions do not help but only a personal relationship with God does.
She said quickly she is an atheist but wanted to light candles for the victims and her friend. She also asked me why I was here. I explained why and asked her friend’s name and asked if I could pray for her. She said yes and then we were interrupted by a journalist. She thanked me and asked for my name. She was much calmer when we parted.
I had the opportunity to pray with the hotel cleaning lady who is from Haiti. Her daughter left home and hasn’t given any news for two years. She is worried for her daughter and also her 12-year-old son. He is not doing well in school. She also has a four-year-old boy. They live in a poor and violent neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. She was very thankful for the prayers. I also gave her the Gospel of John in French and the French My Hope DVD.
It was very encouraging to see dynamic Catholic and Protestant youth and adults that wanted to volunteer with us on the streets. They thanked us for organizing this.
A young lady in her early 30s was trying to light a candle. I asked her if I could help her. I held her umbrella as she was lighting the tea lights. She commented how sad the sites looked under the rain. She wanted to light more candles. I asked if she knew some of the victims. She said “no”, but she had lived in this neighborhood before and knew the restaurants very well.
I said “only faith in God” can heal the broken hearted. She agreed. We talked about different things and then I asked her if we could pray. She hesitated but agreed. She said, she was Catholic. She preferred that I would pray. She grabbed my hand and I prayed. She thanked me so much for my presence there.
December 2, 2015
Outside La Belle Equipe restaurant where another attack occurred
Following a period of rain, almost all of the candles that were at the site had gone out. It was in the evening, and the site was very somber. I noticed a lady who had been standing reflectively started to relight some of the candles. I was inspired to do the same thing.
After relighting candles for a period of time, we stood back. I told her she had inspired me. I told her it was a way of bringing light back to the darkness. I told her that we must bring the light back to the darkness, and I praised her for her thoughtfulness and courage. This led to a conversation about faith to overcome the darkness.
At first she said she did not believe in God, but soon it was clear that she was actually an agnostic. She said she had come to the site hoping to talk with someone, and she was very pleased that she had encountered me. I could see her countenance had changed. As we parted I told her I would be praying for her. I know we had made a connection. She asked my name. I know a seed has been planted.
I encountered a woman who lived only a couple blocks from the restaurant. She explained that upon hearing the commotion, she attended the scene and saw the bodies lying on the terrace. She explained she has not been haunted by the images, but was troubled by the situation. I asked her what she thought the solution was, to which she replied “love.”
I asked her if she believed in God. She did not. I explained that I believed that love came from God, and asked if I could pray with her. She agreed and we entered into a time of prayer.
I spoke to a middle-aged woman who was a retired nurse. She arrived looking very sad and bewildered. She lived in the neighbourhood and was attending the scene like many other to pay her respects. We spoke of the tragedy and of the need for God. She removed from her pocked a small type-written prayer. I suggested that as Christian believers that we join in unison together and pray.
She was most pleased and we spent some time in prayer together. On parting I could see that her countenance had changed, and that she had greater peace and hope. She expressed her gratitude for our encounter.
November 30, 2015
Outside a Cambodian restaurant where one of the attacks occurred
I entered into a conversation with a young lady who was sobbing. She explained that she lived in the area and along with everyone else, was shocked by the events. She said she was “afraid.” I asked her what she was afraid of. “I am afraid of dying,” she answered.
This prompted a conversation about knowing that God is with us and can provide peace and comfort. A tourist who was there with her brother from the UK joined in the conversation. I think they were also believers.
At the completion of our conversation, I asked if we could pray together. The young lady agreed. We joined hands in a small circle and prayed at the very spot where so much evil had occurred.
We asked for peace and assurance for this young lady that Jesus would remove this fear and bring her peace. She expressed her gratitude and thanked us. I could see this encounter was of God and that God had used us to minister to this person.
I spoke to a middle-aged man who said he had to come to the scene to see it for himself. We spoke about the tragedy and I asked him if he believed there was a God. He was quite adamant that there was no God. I shared my faith that there was a God who cares for us. I listened to him share his thoughts for about a half hour.
At the conclusion of our conversation, he said he was pleased to have met me. He said he often talks to people, but finds that they do not “listen” to him. He said I was different, and he could see that I listened carefully to him, and he appreciated that so much. He said he believed that nothing happens by chance, and that there was a reason he had encountered me.
Although he was quite a firm atheist, in parting, I told him that nevertheless, I would be praying for him. He smiled and I believe he was grateful.
November 21, 2015
The Rapid Response Team Chaplains have come alongside the churches of Paris to support and equip them during this extraordinarily traumatic time following the terrorist attacks on November 13th. The Chaplains are pairing up with local church members, going to the memorials at the sites where the attacks took place and offering support and prayers to the people suffering after such loss.
On Friday night, the one week anniversary of the attacks, two local girls, Marie and Yvonne went with one of the Chaplains to the memorial site Le Carillon cafe. As they walked to the cafe, Marie talked about how she had planned to go to the cafe and meet some friends the night of the shootings, but she canceled at the last minute to console another friend who was dealing with some problems. She spoke of overwhelming feelings of sadness, yet being so thankful to God for protecting her.
As the 3 women approached the sidewalk cafe, they saw the hundreds of flowers, candles, signs, and letters left in tribute to the victims of the shootings and all of the many people that had come mourn, pay their respects and work through their grief. The Chaplain and the two young women stopped just short of the memorial, held hands and prayed.
As they lifted their heads from prayer, a man holding a rosary passed them and simply said “merci”. They knew he was thanking them for their prayers. As they went into the crowd surrounding the memorial, they continued to pray silently for the people around them.
One of the young men they spoke and prayed with had lost several friends in the attack there. Another woman, weeping, had lost 9 coworkers. The Chaplain and the two young women practiced a ministry of presence, praying for those around them, offering words of comfort, and hugs of consolation.
As it was time to leave, Marie said she wanted to sing. The 3 women linked arms in the midst of the crowd and the 2 young French women softly sang a beautiful and sweet song of praise and hope to God. As they looked up from their singing, there were tears in the eyes of those around them that had been touched. The presence of God brought a peace to that place of sadness and mourning.
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