Silent witness to God’s love

“I’m nearly sixty, and I walk with a frame; but God really used me,” said Sue.

In July 2016 Sue Davis deployed as a member of the Rapid Response Team, following the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice which left 84 people dead.

Sue’s normal work is as a Fieldwork Tutor at Moorlands Bible College, where she supports students on their placements. She already had experience mentoring and working with the homeless.

It was after Sue’s home church – Christchurch Baptist in Dorset – became a Lighthouse Church that she became interested in RRT; her pastor was already a member. She attended a Sharing Hope in Crisis seminar which provided many of the skills she would need.

However well-prepared she might be, the impact of Nice was more than she imagined. “I wasn’t expecting the vast amount of blood on the streets,” she said. “There was no rain, so it stayed there. Two days after the attack, people were walking around in shock.”

In some ways she found it surreal. “There were people looking for relatives, and on the beach there were tourists playing with balls and doing what tourists normally do. And I thought, ‘Really?’”

“We didn’t need to say much,” she remembers. “We just made eye contact and put on a sympathetic face. People would burst into tears and give me a hug, then thank us so much for helping. And we hadn’t done anything. We were just a silent witness to God’s love.”

People would gather that Sue’s French is not fluent, and start off talking slowly. “But then they would just gush,” she said. “Although I hardly understood anything, it didn’t matter.”

The prevailing racism in Nice made it particularly hard for anyone who looked foreign, and especially for Muslims. “People don’t trust me,” confided an old Croatian man, “and frankly I don’t blame them. I’ve lived here for forty years; where does my life go now?”

On another occasion, Sue intervened in a volatile situation where a Frenchman was verbally laying into a coloured man. She approached the aggressor and innocently asked him the time. The distraction was enough to defuse the potential blow-up. It transpired that the Frenchman’s daughter had been kidnapped some time earlier, and the terrorist attack had reopened the wound of the old trauma.

“People were angry with God, angry with the government, angry with the council,” said Sue. “They couldn’t understand why, with so many safety cameras around, no-one had picked up the danger of the approaching truck.”

Sue also found herself talking with restaurant workers who had come out to put tablecloths over the casualties, and with owners who had seen a 30% drop-off in business since the attack.

In spite of so much tragedy, she could still see the hand of God at work diverting people from danger. “Ten minutes before the attack the air got chilly, and many people went home to collect a coat. A car stalled on a tram line, blocking the tram and preventing further injuries.”

There was much vicarious trauma to process, and the team got together at the end of each day to pray and debrief. They also benefited from an in-depth debriefing at the end of the deployment.

“We were a ministry of presence,” concludes Sue. “If God can use me, He can use other people as well.”

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