Westminster and what we do in the face of terror
On March 22, 2017, a man killed 5 people and injured another 50 outside the parliament buildings of Westminster in London. Over the following weeks, we have tried to make sense of what happened. As a Londoner, I was confronted with what my city does in the face of terror.
My Experience in America
I need to start with full disclosure. I was not anywhere near Westminster at the time of the attack. I wasn’t even in London. I was back in the states visiting friends and family. In fact, a few days before the attack my wife Merina and I were sharing with some of her family how safe London/UK/Europe was. We talked about how safe it felt to walk in the city at night, how kind people, in general, were to each other, and how being immigrants to the country ourselves we had become friends with mostly other immigrants who represented a range of nationalities and religions. We shared all these things as some of our favorite parts of being a Londoner.
I didn’t hear about what had happened from the news. In fact, I was nowhere near a television for most of my trip back to the states. I heard about it because the church staff I am on uses WhatsApp to message each other. The day of the attacks my phone started buzzing with messages about Westminster. At that point, most of the details we would later know were still unknown and what details we did have led us only to deeper concern and anxiety. As the conversation carried on I saw names of members of my church come up as people who worked in, around or at Westminster. I remember the conversation ultimately ending with the feeling that we were completely powerless to do anything but hope and pray. Then I remembered what powerful things hope and prayer can be.
I spent a few more days back in Seattle with friends and enjoying the rest of my holiday. Each time I would receive a report that one of our church members had checked in and was safe I breathed a sigh of relief. I also spent a lot of time wondering and questioning what it would be like when I got home. I wondered how airport security would be. I wondered if it would be harder to get back into the country on a visa. I wondered if terror would have hurt the city I have come to know and love. If it had somehow succeeded in tainting it or even weakening it.
My Experience in London
There is something about the British spirit that I truly love. Nothing seems to really phase London. I don’t know if it is a bit of resilience left over from the Blitz, I don’t know if it is the general British sentiment of “Keep Calm and Carry On”, I don’t know if it is simply the fact that London is so big and diverse that it is simply impossible for anyone or anything to really shake it. When I returned, I returned home to a place not engulfed in fear or lashing back in anger, but rather a better place. If anything, what I experienced was that an injury to London only made it kinder.
My wife and I were both nervous to re-enter the country. As we waited in the Non-UK/EU passport holders line I did my best not to let my worst thoughts get the best of me. When we reached the border patrol Merina anxiously shared her worries about getting back in with the officer. He looked at her sternly, paused for a moment then asked to see her papers. After an uncomfortable long pause and a few more glances, the officer finally cracked a smile and gave up the ruse. He loudly exclaimed, “Merina Burda! We were wondering when you’d get back! Welcome home!”
A few days after the attack a silent vigil was held in the middle of the day. For just a few moments London was still and quiet. Some news outlets critiqued that the vigil should have been longer, that the whole day should have been taken off work. They did not understand London. London is never quiet, never still. But for just a few moments London said,
“We will be still, we will reflect, we will mourn, pray and comfort. Then we will move forward because we will not be overcome with terror, or hatred or fear. We will keep calm and we will carry on.”
I remember 9/11 and I remember Columbine. I remember the theater, mall and school shootings that took place over the past few years. This was the first time I really felt like the victim of a terrorist. I don’t know if it was because I am in a different place in life or simply because I am in a different country but I remember the first time I walked past Westminster after the attack. I remember seeing the flowers and candles that lined the bridges and gates around the site of the attack. I remember walking through bustling squares and imagining what they looked like completely full yet for a moment still.
I remember that coming back and standing in the midst of a city inflicted with a terrorist attack I think for the first time since moving here I truly identified myself as a Londoner. I may not have earned the right to call myself that. I have only lived here a short time and when London was hurt I was half a world away. But when I came home I joined my fellow Londoners to say that this wound would scar us but it would only make us kinder. I stand with my fellow Londoners from the Muslim community who responded with prayers, support and financial giving to the busy London business woman who stood at the heart of Leicester Square for a moment of silence.
What do we do in the face of terror?
How do we stand? What do we do in the face of terror? We acknowledge it for what it is. The act of an individual who by misguidance, illness or extremism has decided to hurt others. We acknowledge that although this act causes fear, pain and confusion it is only against the body and cannot hurt the soul. We react in love, in kindness. We find a way to be still and reflect. We move forward into an uncertain tomorrow on the power of hope. We pray, for our loved ones, for our neighbors, and for the very ones who have done this to us. We pray because we know that only a power greater than our own can overcome.
*Manchester When Terror goes after Teens
Full disclosure I am writing this part of the article just hours after hearing about the attack in Manchester and I am very much still processing it. The news is still coming in and the wounds are very fresh. In the above post I wrote about how we respond to terror and my answer remains the same. This attack hurts more though.
Given the nature of the concert it feels that this attack was intentionally targeted at teens and families. Sometimes it is easy to feel distant from a terrorist attack it may be because it is against a group you are not part of or because it seems to be a statement against the west, or against a government etc. This attack was against children and whether or not it is the case this one feels somehow more evil than the rest.
Tonight I am meeting with my small group of mostly 14-18 year olds and we are going to talk. We are going to pray for the many lives impacted by this attack. We are going to eat snacks and talk about our weeks much like we do any other week. We will hopefully laugh a little, we will likely cry as well.
I know no other response to terror than to combat it with love, with life and with hope. I will share that with my students tonight. I will not hide from the tough question of why God would allow such things to happen, but I will answer with what I know is true. He is against this, His heart is even more broken then ours, and that He expects us to be part of a world that stands against this and removes the opportunities for something like this to exist. There is no fear in love and perfect love casts out all fear. Please pray for me and my youth. I will pray for you and yours as well. Please pray for our Muslim communities. No matter who is responsible for a terrorist attack they always seem to pay the heaviest price here. Pray for Manchester.
Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.