|Raw. That word kept coming to Nigel Fawcett-Jones’ mind as he reflected on the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team’s ministry efforts in West London.|
Crisis-trained chaplains from the United Kingdom deployed Wednesday, June 14, in the aftermath of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire and served alongside Latymer Community Church. The church has been what Fawcett-Jones would call a “hive of activity,” offering food, clothing and all sorts of practical items for those impacted by the fire.
As firefighters worked nearby to quench the flames, chaplains arrived on scene and were welcomed to join the church’s efforts. They offered a listening ear and prayed with many who visited the church for supplies or emotional support. Their pain was palpable.
“For a lot of people, the grief and the pain and the numbness and the anger is just so raw in their lives right now,” Fawcett-Jones said. “Just being there as much as possible is what a lot of people need at this time; just someone to stand with them.”
The church, which is maybe a five minute walk from the now-restricted Grenfell Tower, offers a makeshift prayer wall outside, and that’s where many hurting people have spent time with the chaplains.
Witnesses recount the horrifying things they saw as the fire unfolded. Some admitted they couldn’t sleep, while others worried about the toll this could take on their families. They all welcomed prayer.
Others shared about family members they feared didn’t escape the high-rise that now stands mostly hollow.
Mary’s* cousin lived in the high-rise. She resigned herself to her cousin’s likely fate as she told the chaplains the last communication she received was via Facebook. Her cousin wrote, “We are locked in our room. Pray for us.”
George* lived in the flats himself before getting married. His mother, sister and another relative escaped from their 11th floor apartment, but nobody knew what happened to his father. In the hour after the fire started, George desperately went to search for him, but firefighters wouldn’t allow it. He was doing his best to stay hopeful.
Ruth* and Grace* hadn’t heard from their relatives, either. Fearing the worst, they showed up at Latymer Community Church with flowers to honor their missing family members.
Chaplains listened as these individuals shared their stories and then prayed with them. Officials have placed the current death toll at 80 lives lost, though a final tally isn’t likely until the end of the year, given the hundreds of residents the building housed. Chaplains were there as one family received word. Ruth and Grace were heartbroken to learn their family members did not survive.
“They took a phone call from another family member who received the news that the police had identified the family members,” Fawcett-Jones said, adding chaplains began to comfort the two ladies, joining them as they took their flowers to the church’s prayer wall.
During their visit, the women shared they believed in Jesus Christ.
“They said they didn’t blame God at all,” Fawcett-Jones said. “What distressed them was the manner in which they died.”
In the wake of the deadly fire, the prayer wall became a place for all kinds of expression as the neighboring population embraced a variety of faiths. Encouraging messages and hopeful Scripture verses notably stood out, sprinkled among posters of missing people.
Anita*, a young student, already knew her classmate had perished in the blaze when she stopped to talk with chaplains. But her questions led her down a deeper path. She talked through her faith and decided to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
This was the fourth time in three months the U.K. chaplains deployed in the midst of tragedy, and this small but faithful team leaned on Psalm 147:3 during their ministry. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
“We see so many people that are brokenhearted around here, and not just those who have lost loved ones, but those who have lost their homes and have been displaced,” Fawcett-Jones said.
“There’s a lot of hurt in the area.”
Fawcett-Jones and his team of chaplains served alongside Latymer Community Church until late June, helping its members minister to the needs of the community.
“The church is so active in the area,” Fawcett-Jones said. “They have prepared the way with their prayers long before this disaster, and now the people are looking to the church for answers in response to their questions. They’re coming with physical requests, but they’re also coming with those deep questions as well.”
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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