Yesterday, I was just rousing myself up in Milan, Italy. We were taking a short family holiday before hitting the ground to promote the Dutch translation of my new book "Street God." My wife Tiffany ran out of our bathroom gasping for air. I could see the urgency in her face.
"What's going on?" I asked.
Tiffany hurriedly recounted that about a hundred people or more had just been murdered at several locations in Paris, most likely by radical Muslim terrorists.
Our hearts sank. The brutality felt so close to us. Just two days ago, we had walk through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a monument that is very close to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. In our minds the horrors of terror were juxtaposed against the courage it takes to defend freedom.
We had planned to leave Berlin to visit and dine in Paris on Friday. That could have been our last supper.
But, instead, we came directly to Milan. This morning our family decided to talk about how we could help the French rather than what tourist spots we could saunter to. We want to root our trip into the traditions of Christian compassion here in Europe. The church has always been a brave disaster-response unit since its genesis. During the Black Plague of Europe, many people were so scared that they pushed the sick members of their families on the street to die. Meanwhile, the Christians took in the victims to care for them. It was risky love.
One of our family mottoes is something that Jesus said (in John 13:35). He identified what should be the character of Christians, saying, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." We know that we escaped a brush with death, but in Paris people are mourning who need all of our comfort and prayers.
Our family deliberately located our Infinity Bible Church in the housing projects of the South Bronx. I have mediated gang disputes, dropped off guns to the police, and opened up our church as a shelter from street violence. There was a great deal of mourning there too. We count too many deaths among the people we know. We have comforted so many people mourning the premature deaths of kids by way of gun violence. I have recounted some of these stories of violence in the streets of New York City and elsewhere in the United States in my book Street God. The need for prayer against violence and prayer for comfort also led me to take on the additional role of leading Concerts of Prayer Greater New York, a coalition of several hundred churches dedicated to praying for the afflicted. Dedicated to Praying for Paris now.
So though my little family had visions of gondola rides in Venice dancing in our head, we turned toward a train for Paris. For New Yorkers we know what it means to have people come pray and comfort with us during a tragedy.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.