Congregations in Christchurch, New Zealand, are lending support to the Muslim community in response to last week's terrorist attack at two mosques where 50 people were killed and 50 others were injured.
A gunman who held both radical far-right and far-left views stormed the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Central Christchurch last Friday.
Nick Duke, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church in Christchurch, who once visited the Al Noor Mosque at the invitation of a Muslim acquaintance, told The Christian Post that the tragedy prompted his congregation to hold “a service of lament and hope” on the Sunday following the shooting.
“I preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan and our responsibilities around loving our Muslim neighbors,” Duke said.
“Throughout the week we have been gathering in smaller groups and thinking through the sense of loss of security and looking at the Scriptures on that. I am speaking at a number of groups on Psalm 46 — of finding refuge in God before all else.”
At a news conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted to ensure that people feel safe and "can practice their religion, no matter what it is."
She asked citizens to help her ensure their communities are places "where there’s no environment for violence to flourish, where we don’t let racism exist, because racism breeds extremism, breeds some of the things that we unfortunately have had visited upon New Zealand," news.com.au reported.
"... if we want to feel like we’re doing something to make a difference, you show the outpourings of love, gather together, send that strong message, look after one another, but also let New Zealand be a place where there’s no tolerance for racism ever, and that’s something we can all do.”
Duke spoke of showing “practical acts of kindness” to Muslims, especially those attending the Christchurch-based University of Canterbury. This included “contact with the Muslim students on campus” by “offering meals and practical assistance.”
“We’ve been involved in dialogue with Muslims on campus at points. Learning about the teaching of Islam — to know what we hold in common and what we differ on,” said Duke when discussing ways in which they're working to combat Islamophobia.
“We tend to talk about responsibilities to our Muslim neighbors but don’t use the language of religious 'brothers and sisters.’”
Ardern, who quickly identified the mass shooting as a terrorist attack last Friday, told the New Zealand Parliament Tuesday that she will never mention the shooter's name.
"He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety but we in New Zealand will give him nothing — not even his name," Ardern said.
Police said Wednesday that when they apprehended the suspect they stopped him from going to a third location where they believe he planned to stage another attack.
“We strongly believe we stopped him on the way to further attacks, so lives were saved by our staff, who were courageous in their interventions,” Police Commissioner Mike Bush said without specifying what that location was, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Bernhard Wewege, senior pastor at Every Nation Christchurch, told CP that the mass shooting had a personal impact on his congregation, as many of the students at his church had friends among the victims.
Wewege told CP that the way to address violence like the mass shooting was “what we model as a church.”
“We must model unconditional love for all people. We all differ in our beliefs and how will live, but we are all humans and need to be treated with honor and respect,” Wewege said.
“This culture of honor and respect must be modeled and taught at all levels. Everyone has value no matter your belief system. Mindsets have to be shifted and changed. This is only done by the grace and power of God.”
As part of their response to the tragedy, Grace Vineyard Church gave out 130 halal gift baskets to Muslim neighbors who were affected by the mass shooting, as well as 30 additional gift baskets to others who either witnessed the shooting or were part of the response.
James Renwick, one of the executive pastors at Grace Vineyard, told CP that they “are just playing our small part as part of a larger response from the churches in Christchurch.”
“We have also delivered police and paramedic gift baskets to say thank you for being on the front line. Those teams saw horrendous things on Friday and are giving out constantly over the last few days,” explained Renwick.
“We have also been opening our church for people to have a chat, have a listening ear and being around others which is open to anyone in the city. Many other churches are responding this way as well.”
Renwick also told CP about the actions of local churches that collected a “combined churches offering to help the [Muslim] families directly affected.”
“We feel this is one way to offer our love and support. The churches in Christchurch are also looking to hold a prayer vigil in the city over the coming days,” continued Renwick.
“This doesn’t include the other ways in which our congregation are reaching out in love this week in whatever context they are in. Many of them are coming across individuals who are really struggling the events. We are encouraging people to keep on loving. Let’s overcome evil with good.”
Arden announced Thursday that within three weeks New Zealand will ban semiautomatic guns, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines like those used in last Friday's mass shooting.
She said the government would also pay cash to gun owners who surrender their weapons in a nationwide amnesty. An estimated 1.5 million guns are in circulation in the country, according to Gunpolicy.org, an online database of gun crimes and laws hosted by the University of Sydney. But a registry of gun ownership in New Zealand does not exist.
“The time for the mass and easy availability of these weapons must end, and today they will,” Ardern said.