United Methodist safe after Istanbul attack

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A United Methodist mission official caught up in the attack at Istanbul Ataturk Airport is calling for a show of solidarity in response.

Thomas Kemper, top executive, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, was in transit from Berlin on Turkish Airlines on June 28 — waiting in a lounge for a flight to Japan — when the terrorist attack began.

He thought about people who live in places where they experience such fear “every day and every night,” Kemper told United Methodist News Service in a June 29 phone interview.

“I felt very deeply there’s a joint shared humanity and the need for solidarity.”

Two of the attackers began shooting in the international terminal and then detonated their suicide vests. Kemper hid in a back room near the lounge kitchen for 30 to 40 minutes before a staff person said it was safe to come out.

A third terrorist was in a nearby parking lot, CNN reported. At least 41 people were killed and 239 people injured.

“Terror coming so close lets me give thanks for my life, my family and calls us to fight hate and terror everywhere,” Kemper wrote soon after the attack. “And it leads us into deeper solidarity with all who experience terror and violence not just once but every day and every night.”

A call with CNN’s Anderson Cooper after the attack spurred requests for other media interviews, including another live CNN interview in front of the Istanbul airport just before 7 a.m. ET the following morning.

“We need to set examples that humankind can stand together,” Kemper said during that interview. “We need to build bridges.”

Praying for victims

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit offered prayers after the Istanbul airport attack on behalf of the World Council of Churches. “We pray for the victims and their families,” he said, “and we hope and pray there can be a redoubling of efforts to bring peace to the region to end the conflicts which are fueling such odious criminal acts.

“This attack is particularly monstrous as it was clearly aimed at causing maximum casualties to the innocent during a particularly busy time at one of the world’s busiest hub airports,” said Tveit, the WCC’s top executive.

In a different way, the “busy time” continued after the attacks. Because of security checks, it took hours to get out of the airport, Kemper told UMNS.

He said he spoke to a number of Muslims during that period, including a young Turkish woman who had come to the airport to see a friend off, a Somalian family from Holland who were on their way to Mogadishu and another family from Egypt. 

“I saw, really, all these people as brothers and sisters,” Kemper pointed out, stressing the need to “make an effort to reach out” and say that faith groups stand for peace and that such violence can never be done in the name of religion.

Housed with hundreds of other waiting passengers at a local hotel, Kemper decided to reroute his trip. He is scheduled to return to the U.S. via Air Canada on June 30.

But he expects to continue reflecting on how to respond to the attack in Istanbul. “I’m very convinced that we need to continue our interreligious work,” he said. “It’s essential to mission that it’s done respectful of (other) faiths and we try to do as much jointly as possible.”

The fear he experienced, Kemper added, gave him a sense of what refugees must feel when they are fleeing a dangerous situation. “It gave me a new understanding of really what it means to be welcoming to the stranger.”

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected]

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