Billy Graham Rapid Response Chaplains are in Manchester, ministering to a community traumatised by the recent terrorist attack.
All day groups of people carried bouquets towards St Ann’s Square, to be laid at a shrine of flowers in front of the cathedral, where a subdued crowd mourned for the 22 people who died in the bombing earlier this week, and the more than 60 who have been injured. Police armed with automatic weapons leaned against their vehicle in the shade of a tree. To many it all seemed surreal.
There were so many who had stories they needed to share with the chaplains, and many of the stories were of generosity and sacrifice.
There was the man who had driven in from Rochdale in the middle of the night when he heard the news, and began picking up wounded, badly bleeding victims from Victoria station and taking them to the hospital. Then went home and broke down in tears in the arms of his daughter.
The man who had been out walking his dog by Manchester Arena when the explosion occurred, and offered his flat to a man who was in shock, having seen people blown up in front of him.
Some Muslims were devastated at what had happened – especially Rami, shaky and deeply upset, who barely dared to whisper to the chaplain that he was from Libya – like the suicide bomber who had carried out the attack. “Crazy man!” he lamented.
Or Teresa, a British woman who had converted to Islam a number of years earlier and had since suffered much abuse for it. Who had a long tearful hug with a neighbour in the crowd to whom she had admitted she was Muslim.
Jose had come to Manchester from Spain to study English. Connecting with a Spanish-speaking chaplain, he was able to share his disorientated feelings. “How could it make sense to kill these young people? What could these terrorists possibly be fighting for?” He was grateful to receive prayer from the chaplain.
The Rapid Response Team estimates that seventy per cent of people caught in a tragedy like this are already experiencing trauma of some kind in their own lives. That was certainly true of Alex, who a chaplain spotted sitting alone on a bench near St Ann’s Square, weeping quietly.
On the night of the bombing, Alex’s daughter had gone into the city to celebrate with friends. When he heard the police helicopters overhead and the sirens screaming, he realised what was happening and began frantically calling her phone. He kept calling for 16 hours, becoming more and more desperate, until she finally picked up. She had been partying hard, and had just woken up from a long drunken sleep. The strain had come close to breaking him.
As he began to share with the chaplain, all the other pain began to pour out – sexual abuse as a child, twenty years as an alcoholic and now a report from the doctors that he was likely to die soon from liver disease. He welcomed the chaplain’s heartfelt prayer for healing and flooded with tears.
For some people, very few words were needed. Like the young couple who came carrying two large yellow bouquets of flowers. He said they would be grateful if the chaplain would pray. She had lost her best friend in the bombing. She couldn’t say anything. She just needed to cry.
God can bring comfort even in these most terrible situations. Please keep the chaplains in your prayers as they to continue to serve in Manchester this week.
Names have been changed