Surviving an airport bombing and searching for hope

Story highlights

  • Thomas Kemper was among those who had to find shelter after Istanbul airport bombing
  • Kemper: People of faith and their leaders must unite in the battle against fear and hatred

Thomas Kemper is the general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, the worldwide mission and development agency of the United Methodist Church. Founded in New York in 1819, Global Ministries today supports 340 missionaries in 60 countries, including the United States, and has personnel, projects and partners in more than 125 countries. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)Fear and hope interact powerfully in a crisis. They did so for me on June 28 in Istanbul, Turkey, when I was awakened from a nap in the transit lounge of Ataturk Airport by a bomb blast and gunfire that killed more than 40 people and wounded hundreds of others.

Thomas Kemper
Those of us at the airport -- people of many nationalities, cultures and faiths -- ran this way, then that way, not knowing which direction led to safety. I found refuge in a storage room off the lounge kitchen, huddled next to an Asian man with whom I could not communicate. But what we shared in those moments of fear gave me hope that an expanding sense of this humanity could lead toward a different, perhaps even peaceful world.
In that kitchen hideaway, I experienced a renewed awareness of our innate connectedness as people in the volatile events of the 21st century while we waited to be allowed out of the airport, and in my interactions with others -- a Somali family, some Middle Eastern refugees and a young Turkish woman there to see off a friend and trapped without her passport in the melee.
    Our presence in Istanbul was not a political act. We were there just as human beings, whether we were European or Asian, young or old, people with faith or people with no faith. We didn't ask each other about our faiths at that moment. We were there as humans, and we felt that we all wanted to live. We all wanted to have a future, and we all wanted to see our families again.
    I happen to be a Christian of European ancestry living in the United States where I lead the General Board of Global Ministries, an agency of the United Methodist Church, with operations and partners in more than 125 countries. I am accustomed to speaking about faith, collaboration, justice, love and peace. I expect I have usually done so from a perspective of security. In the Istanbul airport, though, I responded from a place of vulnerability. This vulnerability has given me a new determination to reach across boundaries and bridge chasms of distrust, and to encourage my organization and my church in that direction.
    Notably, most of the people killed, injured or trapped with me at the Istanbul airport were Muslim. Most of the people killed or wounded in the recent terrorist attacks in Bangladesh and Iraq were also Muslim -- a telling commentary about the ignobility of ISIS, which claimed responsibility for each of these attacks.
    Despite the religious divide between many of the Istanbul airport victims and me, I felt an intractable common humanity; a need to admit our shared vulnerabilities; to stand together against hate, terror and violence; and to open our minds and arms to the possibility of making a new world.
    This duty to create a better, more loving world is the responsibility of people of all faiths. The Muslims who died in Istanbul and Baghdad are our friends, our brothers and sisters, and our allies in life's joys and challenges. The same is true of the people of multiple faiths killed by terrorists in Orlando, Paris, Brussels and elsewhere in the last year.
    And the recent abhorrent attack in Dallas that killed five officers and wounded others further demonstrates that hate knows no boundaries.
    If people of faith and their leaders do not stand together in affirming a common humanity, there is no hope for our future. We must show the way. We must get better at reaching out to one another, to affirming that in our strengths and weaknesses, we are all a part of one human family. And we must succeed, because if we fail, fear will conquer hope.