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23 June 2017

Communities of hope

Israel Olofinjana is pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church

I woke up on Monday morning to another terror attack on the country – the attack on a group of worshippers near a mosque at Finsbury Park. Considering the string of sad events that has happened in the last three months, it was almost as if I was waiting for something to happen having now somehow got used to hearing the country being attacked or because of some other form of sad news. 

This week also marks one year since the referendum vote to decide whether to leave the European Union or remain part of it. We all know the result of that and the debates that have followed it. As Brexit negotiations start, the country continues to polarise along us and them, migrant and non-migrant, young and old, the haves and the have-nots. 

Since 23 June, 2016 when we voted to leave the EU, there has been a series of events that look like we are living in John's apocalyptic world in the book of Revelation. John saw four horsemen depicting conquest, bloodshed, famine and death only to be followed by seven trumpets which further announce doom and destruction (Revelations 6-8).

As our country was waking up to the news about leaving the EU a year ago, David Cameron decided to resign. This was followed by a surge in gun and knife crime in London as young people turned on each other. It was as if John was there: he describes the effect of the second horsemen as, "Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other" (Revelation 6:4). Alongside these local killings there was terror in Europe with France and Germany suffering multiple terror attacks. 

Fast-forward to this year, when London experienced a long-anticipated terror attack at Westminster on 22 March. As the country was coming to terms with this national tragedy, another severe terror attack happened in Manchester on 2 May. We were not given enough chance to mourn properly as we were hit again on 3 June with the London Bridge attack just five days before the general election resulted in a hung parliament, only to be followed just eight days later by the Grenfell fire disaster. 

It is no wonder that the people of Grenfell protested with anger. They had gone through the process of shock and horror, to compassion that leads to acts of mercy, to anger and frustration, to demonstration and protest, and a night vigil for the dead in just four days. If Brexit has exposed some of our multitude of divisions around immigration, economy, and age, the Grenfell fire has exposed the inequality in our government and housing institutions.

How can our country after these series of attacks look to the future with hope? This is a very difficult question because at the moment the attacks feel like they are ongoing. The Queen acknowledged this difficulty in her official birthday statement when she said, "Today is traditionally a day of celebration. This year, however, it is difficult to escape a very sombre national mood." 

Nevertheless, John in the midst of his apocalyptic vision also saw hope and peace. This was in seeing multitudes from every nation, tribe, people and language worshipping Jesus the lamb and God (Revelation 7:9-12). Here was a diverse community of people portrayed in the midst of death and destruction. It was good to see that several churches and other people in the community near Grenfell responded immediately with compassion in setting up what I refer to as "communities of hope". In these places people can grieve together, cry together, have their material loss met and be prayed with. 

When I see these communities of hope it reminds me that hope for the future is not something we just wait for, but the breaking in of God's kingdom on earth in the now just as John saw God's kingdom of heaven breaking into our world. It is my prayer that our churches will move into action and be these communities of hope as the nation continues to worry and mourn.  

Image: Daniel Funes Fuentes