The blaze at Grenfell Tower has been one of the most challenging UK deployments so far for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. Grief for the 79 or more who lost their lives has morphed into anger and at times civil disorder.
Yet even as the disaster unfolded, God was working for good and to salvation.
Emmanuel is a 28-year-old pastor who lives in a flat near the scene. On the night of the fire he was outside looking up at the flames. He was speaking with a friend who had just received a video message from a girl trapped on the sixteenth floor. Emmanuel didn’t want her to die without the chance of knowing Jesus, and he sent her a text with the sinner’s prayer. She prayed it, and her spirit and emotions came alive.
The girl had tried to escape earlier but the smoke was too dense. Emmanuel’s contact prompted her to try again, and she put a damp cloth over her mouth and managed to get into the corridor. The fire brigade had made a brave decision to enter the building, and a firefighter rescued her.
As the disaster unfolded over the next few days, vocal campaigning was stirring up the injured local community, and inciting them towards hostility. As the mood became volatile one day, a Filipino Gospel choir appeared and began to sing. Immediately the atmosphere changed.
On Sunday Latymer Road Community Church organised an open-air service. Members had worked around the clock since the blaze to meet the needs of those homeless and grieving. By the weekend, it was obvious that they themselves needed much love and support.
“The churches are just so tired,” said one chaplain. “One had to close their service early because they are worn out. They are so grateful that we are here.”
Chaplains prayed with one church leader who was afraid that releasing her emotions would let her down. The chaplains convinced her that a few tears were nothing to be ashamed of.
Partway through the open-air service at Latymer Road two fire engines squeezed slowly along the front of the service. The crowd cheered and gave them a standing ovation.
Even as the chaplains brought the love of Christ to Grenfell Tower, hatred was escalating in another part of London. Just after midnight this morning a man drove a van into a group of Muslims who were leaving the mosque at Finsbury Park after Ramadan celebrations. One man has died and eight are receiving treatment for injuries.
What a contrast to the scene at North Kensington. A Muslim lady was crying when a chaplain approached her. She managed to tearfully explain that she had been on the phone to a friend who was caught in the fire, and was actually speaking to her as she was dying.
It was almost beyond words, and at first the chaplain just sat in silence, crying with her.
Then she offered words of comfort: that the Muslim lady’s friend would have felt the comfort of a familiar voice during her last minutes. That despite these horrific last moments beautiful memories of the friendship would gradually come back to the lady.
Finally the two prayed together: the grieving Muslim and the Christian chaplain who grieved with her. Not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.
Please continue to lift up our chaplains in prayer at this most challenging time. If you would like to give to support this ministry you can do so here.