An international team of crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) spent Monday morning walking along the Promenade des Anglais, ministering to people in the aftermath of last week’s attack in Nice, France.
Makeshift memorials of flowers and candles covered blood stains left by those mowed down in an apparent act of terrorism last Thursday. 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. As of Monday afternoon, 15 people remained hospitalized in critical condition.
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 traumatized 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.”
Please continue to pray for the people of Nice and the chaplains who are ministering there in Jesus’ name.