Thursday, March 24, 2016

Personal Message: Hope in the midst of despair

On the 22nd of March two bombs exploded at Zaventem Brussels National Airport and one bomb at the Maalbeek station. At this moment, more than 30 people have been killed and many are wounded. The terrible images of the blasts, the images of people running for their lives as well as terrifying eye witness accounts are all imprinted on our minds. 

My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the people killed in the explosions and with the wounded. But also with the people who were not wounded but are in a shock. May God’s healing hand be on them. In the European Parliament, people were crying. Some of them usually take the underground to Maalbeek which is the underground station closest to the Parliament. There was a pervasive feeling of anger and fear. People were asking questions: “Why did this happen?” and “why can people be so evil to each other?”

IS claimed the responsibility for the attacks perpetrated by two brothers. A third suicide bomber ran away and left the explosives becoming a fugitive. Brussels has been hit hard by Muslim extremists whose goal is to kill as many people as possible. After severe terrorist threats in November that locked down the city of Brussels for more than a week, what was then feared unfortunately became a reality. The police could not prevent the terrible things that happened on the 22nd.

Thankfully, I was saved and also did my colleagues and friends in Brussels. There were even stories of friends who just escaped the attacks. However, the situation is still tense. Brussels is in actual lockdown again. Police cars were heard everywhere, army units have been deployed in key areas and the authorities asked from people to stay indoors de whole day. In the afternoon, the advice to stay indoors was lifted. Many people went to the Bourse area (the former Belgian stock exchange) to leave messages, flowers and candles and tried to find support for their anger, their fear and their sadness. The area around the Belgian Stock Exchange became a spontaneous memorial.

Yesterday evening, on the evening of the attack, I went to Bourse Square myself where many were gathered and listened to what the people were saying. There were messages of solidarity with Belgium but also that we should not fear, but love each other. A young man, a banker, said to me: “We should not be led by fear. We should not let our societies be divided. We must reach out to the other: to the Muslims and Moroccans living in Brussels. They are probably as afraid as us and they will also get the blames for these attacks”. 

One picture that moved me (and I shared on my Facebook), was a touching picture of a refugee child in the refugee camp of Idomeni, in northern Greece, expressing his solidarity with Brussels. Someone shared this picture on Twitter, saying: “Always good, on days like this, to remind everyone that the guys blowing up Brussels are the people the refugees are running away from”. Let’s not fall prey to oversimplifications and the populist rhetoric of many politicians. As my good friend Eunice Vatran wrote in her Facebook post on the Brussels attacks: “The only thing more terrifying than the terrorist attacks is the fertile ground it creates for dangerous nationalistic trends to escalate in Europe as well as the US. History teaches us that fear reflected in policy most often leads to discrimination and persecution." 

One person at the Memorial at Bourse said: “We should love each other, only love can defeat hatred”. I looked to the memorial and saw in the middle of the candles and messages a wooden cross raised up. I became emotional. This is our sign of Hope in the midst of suffering. This week is also the preparation for Easter, At Easter, we  are reminded by the example of Jesus Christ who suffered on the Cross for us. 

By faith in Him, we can confess our wrongdoings and be reconciled with Him again. Jesus is resurrected and is alive. He wants to make us free: free from our fears and anger. He wants to forgive us and teach us to love others and to conquer hatred with love. The beautiful hymn “The clouds are gathering” talks about the evil and suffering in the world, and the dove of peace whose wings are broken”. But it finishes with: “the Cross once shall tower over the earth, evil confounding!” We have another perspective, an eternal perspective. We do not have to be afraid! 

Fear can only be conquered by Hope; evil can only be conquered by love, anger can only be conquered by forgiveness. That is why it is so encouraging that besides the messages of solidarity and love, the simple wooden cross was there symbolizing our Hope. After the darkness there can be Light! And I pray that Jesus’ Light will shine all upon us and will give us peace.
One day after the attacks, We are still all in a state of shock as Brussels is mourning. However, life has started to come back to normal. Public transport is slowly running again (even the metro), but there is high security alert. The city is still locked-down with police and army. In front of the Central Station there a queue. There is a control before people are allowed to enter the station. You can not find much laughter and joy. People are asking questions; Is the city safe? After the complete lock down in November, all the police and army deployed on the street could not prevent us from attacks. And how is it possible that one of the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Paris managed to hide for four months in the city?

Even with all the security in the world, we can never feel totally secure. However we know also that God is in control. I like to finish the article with the prayer of Psalm 121 where the Psalmist declares: “The Lord watches over you, the Lord is your shade at your right hand…the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore”. 

I wish you all a blessed Easter







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