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Nice: chaplains offer support after tragedy

Crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team have been in Nice this week, following the attack on Bastille Day …

Crisis-trained chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team have been in Nice this week, following the attack on Bastille Day …

An international team spent Monday morning walking along the Promenade des Anglais, ministering to people in the aftermath of the attack.

Makeshift memorials of flowers and candles covered blood stains left by those mowed down in an apparent act of terrorism. The tragic incident turned a typically joyous Bastille Day into an evening of complete horror. Eighty-four people, including children, were killed and many more were wounded fleeing for their lives.

BGEA chaplains arrived within days of the incident and have been offering emotional and spiritual care in the resort city.

“You look down this Promenade and you see memorial after memorial,” said Chuck, an experienced RRT chaplain from the United States. “They’re on the street and then on the walking path; you can kind of follow where the truck went.”

The memorials cover a 1.2-mile (2 km) stretch along the promenade, so the chaplains split up into three groups Monday to talk and pray with people. One group of chaplains had the opportunity to pray with a family mourning the loss of two loved ones.

“I think that’s the role of the chaplain,” said Laurent, a French-speaking RRT chaplain from Canada, citing Matthew 9:35-38. “That’s what drives everything we do is that love and compassion, just like Jesus had.”

Laurent has a particularly soft spot in his heart for Nice, this picturesque city facing the Mediterranean Sea. The son of French parents, he was married there and welcomed his first child there. He still has family in the area. Some of his extended relatives were at the Bastille Day celebration, and he was relieved to hear they successfully fled for their lives that tragic night.

“It really brings it home because we have family members that were impacted and affected by it, so we’ve been trying to minister to them as well,” he said.

In addition to offering emotional and spiritual care to the traumatised community, the chaplains will be conducting training sessions at local churches during the next two weeks. These seminars will include material from the Sharing Hope in Crisis courses and will help equip the local church to share the hope of Jesus Christ in these trying times.

“We’re seeing a little bit of the same kind of response as we did in Paris, where people from the churches are wanting to go out but they don’t really know what to say or how to respond, so we can come alongside and provide some coaching and encouragement,” said Laurent, who participated in the Rapid Response Team’s deployment to Paris in November 2015.

The Nice deployment marks the team’s second trip to France in eight months to offer a ministry of presence in the aftermath of terrorism.

Laurent experienced mixed emotions returning to Nice.

“Part of me was happy to be here in a city that I love, to be serving, but part of me was so sad as well,” he said. “The Promenade is always such an iconic place. Everybody comes here with family, with strollers, to jog or just walk and talk. We’ll never see it the same way.

“Same thing with Bastille day. The 14th of July is our national holiday. It’s a time of joy and celebration. It will always be marred by what happened, by that massacre. No one’s ever going to be able to forget that.”

The joint effort of the US, Canada and UK Billy Graham Rapid Response Teams includes French-speaking chaplains. It is anticipated that they will be joined by newly-trained chaplains from Paris and Brussels, cities that have also weathered terrorist attacks in recent months.

The deployment to Nice marks the fifth time in the last nine months that the UK Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has sent chaplains into areas hit by disaster. In November chaplains joined an international team in Paris following the terrorist attacks, in January teams responded to the flooding in Shipley, West Yorkshire and Inverurie, Aberdeenshire and again joined an international team in Brussels after the Easter bombings.

For more information on the ministry, including videos, photos, news articles and an interactive map of former and current deployments, visit www.billygraham.org.uk

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