UPDATED, 3 p.m. Aug. 10
LONDON (BP) — As riots, looting and arson continue to plague urban England, IMB missionaries are looking for ways to minister to those left in the aftermath.
Violence spread from the capital to other cities following the death of Mark Duggan, 29, who was shot and killed by police officers Aug. 4 during an attempted arrest in Tottenham, a working-class district in north London where race riots erupted in 1985.
Duggan’s friends and family gathered at a Tottenham police station for a peaceful protest Aug. 6, but about 300 people joined the demonstration, which soon turned ugly.
“It was to be a peaceful demonstration against the police that turned violent,” said Paul Machaka, a Zimbabwean immigrant who moved to England in 2001. “What I’m seeing are racial tensions, and people are taking advantage of the situation to unleash their anger.”
In the midst of the chaos, International Mission Board workers are taking the opportunity to reach out to neighbors and communities affected by the violence.
“London is usually an incredibly safe city, but these riots bring to light the nature of sin in all humanity,” said a Southern Baptist missionary serving in London. “Please pray that out of these shocking circumstances people will hear and understand the Gospel.”
There is widespread debate whether race or class issues sparked the riots. Some say the destruction reflects anger among the poor over suffering caused by the struggling global economy and harsh economic austerity measures now being implemented by the British government. Others say young thugs have seized on the situation to carry out mindless violence and looting.
“A lot of it now is just hooligans and gangs set out to loot and destroy,” said Machaka, a resident of Croyden, a London area hit hard by rioting and destruction. “But people are praying and that is a good thing. Prayer brings about change. People can try to take the situation into their own hands, but at the end of the day they can’t create real change. Real change comes from God. Answers are found in Him.”
An IMB missionary couple, who help lead an ongoing prayer unity movement in north London, said in a communique that the violence “has been a frightening experience for people, especially within the immigrant community.
“Christians in these communities are trying to give hope, but that hope needs to be coupled with tangible help, whether that is working to clean up areas or walking alongside these kids who have become so hardened.” (The couple’s names are being withheld for security reasons.)
Homes and businesses have been ransacked and burned in parts of London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool and Bristol. British authorities are taking measures to stop the unrest and are beginning to clean up streets strewn with debris.
“People in London, especially immigrants, might become more open to the Gospel because of their constant state of fear,” said an IMB worker serving in the area. “This event [police shooting] has opened up a powder keg of pent-up frustration. There is a very real sense of hopelessness about the future among the young people of Britain.
“This is a time when people could turn to the Lord and seek something that man and the government cannot provide.”
Reported by the global communications staff of the International Mission Board.