Signs of Life and Unity in the Wake of Paris Attacks

By   •   November 20, 2015

chaplain ministering in Paris
Billy Graham Rapid Response Team Chaplain Laurent Trabadello prays with a man outside le Petit Cambodge in Paris on Nov. 18, 2015. Photo credit: Benjamin Girette

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” —Jesus (John 10:10, ESV)

When terrorists attacked multiple locations across Paris on Friday night, Nov. 13, Laurent Trabadello says the attackers knew exactly what they were doing.

“Most of the victims of these shootings are young adults,” Trabadello said. “I think that was intentional. They hit areas that are not necessarily touristy areas. They hit regular Parisian streets where people gathered to have a drink, have a meal. They just wanted to create a profound trauma, because they hit areas where there’s life.”

Days after the attacks, Trabadello and a team of crisis-trained Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains arrived in Paris. They’re working closely with local churches to reach out to Parisians in the wake of the terror. Their goal: to be vessels of compassion, hope and life in the midst of death.

“People are traumatized,” said Trabadello, who was born to French parents but now lives in Canada where he works for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. “There’s fear. There’s anxiety. There’s profound sadness and disbelief.”

They just wanted to create a profound trauma, because they hit areas where there’s life.

As a French speaker who lived in France for a number of years, Trabadello has been leading the team of seven chaplains as they volunteer alongside dozens of French Christians ministering to people in their own city.

Each day, about 60 volunteers take turns traveling to four sites where the attacks occurred. Their time is broken down into three shifts, and there are always about five people, including a Rapid Response Team chaplain, on each site at one time.

They’re there to offer emotional and spiritual care by talking to people, listening to their stories and offering to pray with them.

Trabadello says there has been an openness from the people they encounter. Although France is not known for Christianity, many Parisians have been open to prayer and conversation. Like a young man who lost a friend at le Petit Cambodge. Or a young woman who was sobbing by one of the memorial sites.

“We’re seeing people take steps in a direction of accepting or knowing God,” Trabadello said. “As a Frenchman, I’m very encouraged by that.”

Volunteers from Paris churches (many of them wearing “Pray for Paris” shirts) have been going out with crisis-trained Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains to minister to people in the streets. Photo credit: Benjamin Girette

For many of the French volunteers, chaplain ministry is a new concept. Trabadello says they’ve been eager to learn from the chaplains, who have been teaching the concepts normally covered in the Sharing Hope in Crisis course.

“People started to say, ‘Can you train us, can you give us tools so we can be better equipped?'” Trabadello explained. “The church really feels that the crisis they’re facing is not the last one. They feel ill-equipped, and they see we have resources to share.”

Along with five French-speaking chaplains from Canada, two Americans—Ray and Suzanne Thompson from California—have been helping to equip the French volunteers. The Thompsons bring a decade of chaplain experience to the table and have responded to numerous natural disasters and tragedies, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

“We are just surrounded by a great group,” Ray Thompson said. “We feel very privileged and honored to be here.”

Over the next few days, the Thompsons will be working with Trabadello to hold several training and equipping sessions with churches that have expressed interest. Trabadello is quickly working to translate the materials into French.

He’s thrilled to see many churches of multiple denominations working together to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with their fellow Frenchmen.

“I have seen a unity among churches that I’ve never seen before,” Trabadello said. French believers, he continued, are “wanting to show Christ to people that don’t know him.”

It doesn’t fix the pain and terror of what happened in Paris a week ago. But unity and love in the wake of the disaster are signs that God is there and He is moving. Signs of life.