Thursday at the Berlin Christmas market, residents attempted to get back to a sense of normalcy.
Vendors set up shop as they usually do. The streets had been cleared of evidence of a crime scene. But, memorials every 100 feet or so kept most from moving on.
Still lingering is the pain and fear from what happened on Dec. 19—when 12 lives were lost after a truck pummeled through the popular square in a suspected terrorist attack. Some 50 others were wounded.
“This was bigger than we thought,” said Jeff Naber, manager of chaplain development and ministry relations for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.
“There are [at least] eight memorial sites around the church where the attack took place,” he added. “At any given time, there’s probably 100 people or more at each one.”
A small, international team of crisis-trained chaplains arrived in Germany on Wednesday and it wasn’t long before they were at the Berlin Christmas market, ministering and just being present for those who needed comfort.
“There are a lot of people showing a lot of emotion—crying, hugging,” Naber said.
Because of the overwhelming response, more Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains are being sent to the area over the next few days.
Though the tragedy happened at what’s typically a joyful time of year, the holiday season has given chaplains a great opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas.
“So many here have no idea what Christmas is about,” Naber explained. “If you ask them, they say ‘It’s about families getting together’ and ‘giving gifts.’
“Some may even say, ‘Christmas is about God,’ but they don’t know it’s about the Son of God and the free gift of salvation through Him,” he continued.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for inspiring the Berlin attack. Because the primary suspect is still on the loose, there’s a huge police presence in the city. But that doesn’t make everyone feel safer.
“The hopelessness and fear in this situation is very different,” Naber said.
“When we go to a natural disaster, it’s usually after a storm, tornado or flooding. The sun’s out, blue skies. People can get back to a sense of normalcy.
“Here, there isn’t that. The new normal is having this fear weighing heavy on everyone.”
But, each Rapid Response Team chaplain is uniquely equipped for crisis situations like this—many of them with law enforcement and first responder backgrounds.
“We try to bring people comfort by listening to them, praying with them or sharing the Gospel,” Naber said. “We’ve seen God work through us, and we expect Him to do the same here.”
Thursday before taking a break from the frigid winter weather, Naber was reminded that God will do just that as he witnessed a young man, about 30 or so, make a decision to accept Christ.
“He was writing in English (at one of the memorials) about dark and light, peace and joy, so I started a conversation with him,” Naber recalled.
They talked about Christmas and God. The man said he believes there is a God, but he never fully gave his life to Christ. Surprised that it was as simple as him asking God for that freedom with his full heart—the man eagerly said a prayer with Naber.
Shortly after, Naber crossed paths with a local pastor and passed the man’s information along so that he could be connected with a church.
Naber’s hope is that many more will come to know Christ, even amid such hurt and despair.
“You can tell that the level of anxiety and fear is still high,” he said. “They’re asking, ‘Where is the hope if this happens in our backyard?’ ‘What do we turn to?’
“This is a great opportunity for ministry.”
Please continue to pray for Berlin and Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains ministering after the deadly market attack.
The Rapid Response Team, an international coalition of crisis-trained chaplains, can deploy at a moment’s notice in times of tragedy because of the support of faithful donors. Would you consider partnering with the Rapid Response Team today?