Helping young people respond to terrorism

In recent months we have witnessed a number of horrific terror and ‘lone-wolf’ attacks across the continent of Europe, as well as a number of under-reported terrorist atrocities across the globe. When our young people are bombarded by news of attacks that have happened in places and cities that look very much like their own, this can highlight fear, cause distress and breed uncertainty. How do we help young people process these events? And in the midst of the brokenness, how do we focus on the hope that we find in Jesus?

Firstly, we need perspective. I grew up in East Belfast during The Troubles, when news coverage led to the widespread assumption that the whole of the city was completely unsafe. The reality was rather different; for the majority of people it wasn’t that dangerous.

The media’s coverage of world events can lead to saturation which can quickly cause us to view these incidents through a warped lens, a lens that says, “this is happening everywhere to everyone”. Although we must not detract from the very real pain felt by all concerned in tragedy, we have to gently bring the bigger picture. Often, the media paints with a broad brush; sometimes if we stand too close to that painting, the pain is all we see.

Secondly, tragedy should lead us to prayer, not to panic. The day after the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, a group of people from 24-7 prayer travelled on the tube and all they did was pray; as London reeled and the world stood by in shock, people prayed. When we see terror erupt anywhere in the world it can cause a sense of panic – a sense of how scary the world can be. But when the world is scary, we need to get praying.

So how do we pray? We use three simple Ps: people, pastors and politicians. Pray for the people involved; those who are suffering and have been directly impacted. Pray for the pastors; those who are caring, rescuing and defending – not just the church, but the medical staff, police, and fire crews at this time. Pray for the politicians; how our leaders respond is important, and what they do at times of crisis can lead to years of positive or negative repercussions. We need to pray they have wisdom, patience and clarity about how to lead people in times of crisis.

Finally, we need to fill our young people with faith, not fear. Some of the Bible’s key texts such as: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 40: 10) can bring hope to our young people so that they can hold onto the truth that God is in control.

We need to re-emphasise the sovereignty of Christ: that God in the end is in control, that evil may prosper for a season but it will prevail. We are placed in a position to teach that our faith gives us the strength to persevere in times of terror: to hold on when it is rough and to keep going when we haven’t got all the answers. When the world seems broken and these events saturate our airwaves, we must worship because it is then we look up. Irrespective of what happens next, we must be thankful because it is then we remember what we have. And, of course, we must pray that God will intervene.

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