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‘Our hearts are with you’

‘Our hearts are with you’

‘Our hearts are with you’

23 March 2019

Salvationists in Christchurch have been supporting the local community this week as people express their grief and shock and need a listening ear.

By Robin Raymond

As the terrorist attack unfolded 200m from their building, Linwood Corps and Family Store staff locked the doors and sat with members of the public, not knowing what was happening.

In the days since, it has become clear how close many Salvationists and Army staff were to the attacks, and the 50 people killed at two mosques in Christchurch last week. People at corps and centres have rallied to provide support, while grappling with their own grief.

There were around 20 members of the public in the Linwood Corps Family Store and church foyer when the attack began at Linwood Masjid.

Linwood in lockdown

“The staff were just amazing at looking after everyone to make sure they were okay and felt safe. Then we offered them tea, coffee and something to eat,” Linwood Corps Officer Major Graham Medland said.

They were gradually able to help people home, but the corps was not unscathed. “The Family Store manager has told me of at least two families affected who are volunteers or regular customers, so we’re following up with them, and we have a couple here whose neighbour was killed,” Major Medland said.

Like this sign among the flowers says, The Salvation Army is focusing on love.

The corps is inside the cordon police set up around the mosque, meaning people can only access the area on foot. The next day they set up the community van, which has facilities to provide food and drink, for those coming to lay flowers and they have stayed open as a listening space for people, including some who witnessed the shootings.

“A guy came in who said, ‘I should have been at prayers on Friday’. He asked if there was someone who could pray with him. I did that and shared some scripture with him,” Major Medland said.

The man was also able to give Major Medland a phone number for the mosque’s Imam, so he could assure him of the love and support of the corps.

The corps was thankful to be allowed to hold its Sunday service as several people came who would not regularly attend church.

Salvos in Christchurch respond

Across town, Sydenham Corps Officer Captain Jocelyn Smith said being open and available had been hugely important. The corps had a movie night planned for Friday night. “We went ahead, but it ended up being people who were on lockdown and couldn’t get home,” said Major Smith.

And this week, more people have been at corps community events or just dropping in. “This becomes a cumulative event,” added Major Smith. “People are talking about this and then after a few minutes they’re talking about how their marriage is breaking down or their struggling at work, they’re saying, ‘I can’t cope, I need someone to talk to’.”

Commissioner Andy Westrupp greets Bridge staff who were close to the attack.

At the request of Christchurch International Airport, Salvation Army staff were on hand from Sunday 17 March till Tuesday 19 March to welcome bereaved family members and support them through customs and security. They also provided chaplaincy support for staff and travellers.

Salvationists have also been visiting what is being called ‘the wall of love’, where the public have been laying tributes outside Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Last Thursday, the Army received permission to formally set up a contact station to offer food and drink and spend time among the crowds. 

In Rolleston, south of Christchurch, The Salvation Army community house and corps plant building sits opposite Rolleston High School. Corps Officer Lieutenant Stu Duxfield said they sat with anxious parents during the three hours that all schools in Christchurch and the surrounding towns were in lockdown.

They worked closely with the school counsellor – who already uses a room in the house – to be a listening ear for students and set up a drop-in for students who would be going home alone in the afternoons.

“Some parents who heard what we were doing dropped off biscuits and I brought in my Nintendo Switch so we could play games and chat,” said Lieut Duxfield. “The big thing is the kids who were struggling to feel safe since the earthquakes. The conversation I have been having so far is to reassure them that the reason they were locked down was to help them be safe.”

Territorial leaders visit Christchurch

“Our hearts are with you,” Commissioner Yvonne Westrupp told staff when the territorial leaders visited corps and centres in Christchurch and Rolleston on Wednesday (20 March).

The commissioners, along with Southern Division leaders, Australian officers Majors Earle and Christine Ivers, shared prayers and messages of support at a number of locations including four corps, Divisional Headquarters and Addington Accommodation Service.

The Westrupps and Ivers spent time in the area offering support.

Sharing from Psalm 34:18, Commissioner Andy Westrupp encouraged people that, “God is close to those who are shattered.”

They also listened as people shared their stories of new trauma and old. Among them was Addington staff member Venda Maponga, who shared an emotional hug with Yvonne as she told her how she had been trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building during the 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

Addington Manager Glen Dodson told the leaders the attack had brought home how close their links were to the Muslim community. The centre is looking after a Muslim family of four, two single Muslim men, and another Muslim client had left Christchurch this week. 

“We have a staff member who was supposed to be at the mosque, but he was late,” said Glen. He always goes to Pak N Save [supermarket] after Friday prayers, but for some reason he can’t explain, this week he went before. He was getting out of his car when he heard the shooting.”

Major Rex Cross, who spent time at the airport and the tribute site, said there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to having a Salvation Army presence.

Sydenham Corps soldier Jillian Breach, who also visited the tribute site, agreed. “This woman was there with some others praying,” she said. “She was just traumatised. I just hugged her and tried to do what I could and tried not to say the wrong thing.”





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