Christchurch Adventists connect with Muslims in attack aftermath

L-R: NZPUC president Pastor Eddie Tupa’i, Imam from Auckland, SNZC president Pastor Mike Sikuri, Imam from the UK, Imam from Melbourne, Imam Zamberi from Southland, Muslims Australia (The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils INC AFIC) president Dr Rateb Jneid, Christchurch pastor Younis Masih, Christchurch regional pastor Stephen Wilson, and two reporters from Muslim newspapers in Australia.

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In the wake of the devastating Christchurch attacks, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South New Zealand has produced resources to help members connect and support Muslim friends and neighbours in culturally appropriate ways.

With both video and printable assets, the simple techniques will help break down barriers at a time when the people of Christchurch are struggling, according to South New Zealand Conference president Pastor Mike Sikuri.

“People here are tired,” he said. “[The attack] has brought back former trauma from the earthquakes. We are shocked something like this can happen here. It raises questions about how we deal with people of other races and communities.”

And that is where Pastor Sikuri sees the resources as important to coach members on how to connect. Yet he recognises that it is not only the Muslim community that is hurting.

Christchurch Adventist School was quite close to the scene of one of the mosque attacks and was placed in lockdown during the incident. While counsellors and pastors have been providing support, Pastor Sikuri said there has been a rise in the number of children responding violently to disagreements, and having anxiety and panic attacks, particularly those who watched a video of the attack. The Conference is looking at how to best provide mental health first aid to the children and staff.

After the vigil at Latimer Square, Adventist leaders (Pastors Masih, Sikuri and Tupai) meet with an Auckland Imam. A touching moment as a policeman had given the Imam his jacket as the evening got colder.

In the aftermath of the event, there was an outpouring of community support, and Pastor Sikuri said the Conference and ADRA are committed to long-term support as more needs become obvious in the future.

“We’ve touched base on a daily basis, offered accommodation at the campground (Pascoe Park), including breakfasts from Sanitarium at the family centre, but we are committed to helping with needs that may come up down the track.”

The Christchurch ministers have met regularly and were encouraged to be joined by Pastor Eddie Tupai, leader of the New Zealand Pacific Union, and Denison Grellmann, CEO of ADRA New Zealand. “Their support was important as it showed we are not alone, but part of one big family,” reflected Pastor Sikuri.

On the first Sabbath after the attacks most Adventist churches in South New Zealand made time in their services for reflection and ministers changed their sermons. “People had questions, fear, wondering what’s going on,” said Pastor Sikuri. “Some churches provided spaces where people could talk and process or a special time for prayer.”

After the Vigil at Latimer Square, Pastor Mike Sikuri and Pastor Peter Hira from Christchurch Worship Centre greeted each other with a traditional Maori hongi.

Pastor Sikuri paid tribute to his ministers, especially Christchurch regional coordinators, pastors Stephen Wilson and Younis Masih. Both have had experience working with Muslim communities in the past—Pastor Masih is originally from Pakistan and Pastor Wilson worked in Albania.

“We had a vigil of Christian churches on Thursday,” said Pastor Sikuri. “Imams and Muslims turned up because of the Adventist connection. Stephen and Younis had been there [at the family centre] almost every day. They have developed our resources to coach people to be culturally sensitive, and we’ve shared those with other Christian churches.

“These two men, I’ve been really proud of them. Muslim leaders have just been overwhelmed with so much to process. Through those men they made the connections.”

But the work in Christchurch is not finished yet. In the churches of the Conference, leadership is now focused on asking what the needs are and supporting people in the Church at large.

“Over the next number of months, we may look at bringing somebody in, some Adventist specialists, to help people process things.”

Adventist churches are also gearing up for evangelism meetings in October. In some ways, the tragedy has reminded locals of the important things in life, and they are prioritising relationships and connections like never before.

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