Something dark is happening in France. Just last week, a terrorist killed more than 80 people in Nice; late last year, 130 people died in a terror attack on Paris; and at the beginning of 2015, a shooting killed 17 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The news outlet Bloomberg counts seven terror attacks in France over the last 18 months.
The global Hillsong Church, which began in Sydney, Australia, has congregations throughout France. We talked recently with Brian Houston, the founding pastor of Hillsong and the executive leader of all Hillsong campuses, about the attacks and how Hillsong France is responding.
In Nice, we saw the third major terror attack on France this year. Have you heard any explanation of why France seems to be such a target for ISIS and hate groups like them?
There is so much speculation about the terror attacks in France. Some say targeting France is a direct result of their involvement in Syria, others have made claims that the government’s laïcité—excluding religion from government—stance on religious activities is drawing forth the hate.
I would hate to add to any confusion by speculating a cause. Political and cultural commentary is probably best left to people with a better understanding than I, but I think it is obvious that the world is in a state of upheaval. Evil forces at work are causing fear and hatred to rule and reign in the hearts of people everywhere. In countries like France, where there is great diversity of both religion and race, this seems all the more prevalent.
Have any of the churches of Hillsong or your members been directly affected?
As far as we are aware, there is no one in our congregation who has been directly affected. However, friends and acquaintances of our congregation have been—both in this attack and others.
That said, the Bible exhorts us to ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15), and for that reason, each and every one of our churches has been affected as we mourn with people who have lost so much.
What are the churches of Hillsong—and, that you know of, others—doing to help the people of France?
Our entire church has taken up a call to prayer. Last year, my wife, Bobbie, led a movement on social media called #middaybabymidday—mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people to set their alarms for midday and pray for the nations, to warfare against darkness and take a stand against the enemy that his plans shall not prosper. We’ve seen the most remarkable response as people are strategically praying in unison.
In Paris specifically, all of our pastors and team leaders are equipped and mobilized to bring encouragement and practical help wherever needed. As a leadership team, we are aware that every message spoken from our platform during these days must be filled with the hope of the Gospel, with answers that people are looking for about life and grace and purpose.
In the wake of these attacks, are the people in your communities more open to the message of Jesus?
The truth is, people (particularly in France) have initially (and understandably) responded with fear. Lifestyle changes in Paris, such as rigid security checks in shopping centers and increased police presence in public places, have made the threat all the more real.
However, I believe that people the world over are asking questions about the warped beliefs behind these radical actions and through that are being drawn to people who exude peace and hope—Christians who understand the significance of the days we are living in.
I believe that men and women everywhere are open to a message of life and hope and that when the church of Jesus Christ responds with compassion, understanding and genuine concern for the welfare of a nation and its people, we will see many people find the answers they have been looking for.
What are some of the needs of Christians and churches in France that we Americans can help with?
I think regardless of where you are based, Christians the world over should be praying for peace. We ought to be praying for wisdom for governments, for the forces of evil to be brought into the light, darkness dispelled and for churches to rise up in strength and stature. Yes, to have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus to their communities when tragedy strikes but to be places of peace and refuge at all times.
France is a strategic nation in the world. I believe its strength and prosperity are an essential force to peace and stability in Europe. Everyone everywhere can and should be praying for Christians in France to be salt and light during these uncertain days.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is a contributing editor for RELEVANT. You can follow him on Twitter at @achanbury