During the initial shock of the July 7 train and bus bombings in their city, some Londoners showed their vulnerable side, asked neighbors to come inside, seemed willing to think about spiritual things.
For 24 hours, maybe -- 48 tops.
Then it was back to business as usual and firm British defiance. "We will hold firm" went the refrain from World War II days. Londoners made it through the Blitz and years of IRA terror, after all; they could surely survive this.
But members of the Southern Baptist mission team dedicated to spreading the Gospel in London made the most of their brief window of opportunity.
"The day of (the bombings), people were horrified," said one missionary. "I was over at my neighbor's house three times that day. I talked to my other neighbor, too, who I hadn't been able to speak with for quite a long time. She hadn't even seen my 8-month-old baby."
Missionaries told of another neighbor who initiated a conversation that day. He wanted to talk about evil in the world, Jesus' return, the forgiveness of sins.
"It makes you wonder where God was," he mused about the bombings. "What is the purpose of these events? Why would God let this happen?"
Then he answered his own question: "I suppose that God uses events like this to try to get our attention and think more about Him."
A few days later, people weren't talking much about it, reported Southern Baptist workers who walked the streets to get a feel for their neighborhoods. Some Londoners still hesitated to ride public transport. More cars were being used in central London. Bicycle sales have increased. Otherwise, "It's as if it never happened," reported one missionary.
But the inner questions haven't gone away. They're still being asked, quietly, in British hearts and minds. How do Christians earn the right to answer them?
"Relationship, relationship, relationship," said another mission worker. "These are crucial days. Now is the time to concentrate prayer on those relationships we've already built and allow the Spirit of God to take them to another level. People are discipled into the kingdom of God, not just discipled after they make a commitment."
Relationships are even more important among the huge and varied immigrant communities of London -- particularly among Muslims, who fear a possible backlash for the terrorist actions of a militant minority.
"The circles I'm in are fearful," says a missionary who ministers to Muslim women. "Their children are fearful of things that could happen or be said."
The day of the bombings, she talked with two Muslim mothers -- one from Turkey, the other from a Kashmiri family. "They are appalled at the taking of innocent life. Husbands and brothers could have been on the trains that were bombed, but weren't. They have feelings of guilt and gratitude all mixed together."
Other Christian workers met the next day to share the hope of Christ with London taxi drivers from Iraq and Afghanistan and students from Turkey.
Some Christians look on London and other European cities and despair. They see spiritual wastelands, pockmarked with empty cathedrals and bare ruined choirs, almost beyond hope. Others see them as the new capitals of "Eurabia" -- a region rapidly becoming culturally colonized by Muslims.
They are neither. In God's eyes, they are cities filled with millions of spiritually hungry, searching people speaking many languages -- just like New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta.
A week after the bombings, it was back to "normal" in London, acknowledges one of the missionaries there. "But scratch the human surface of the heart [and you] find people who are troubled at the thought that the men who did this were average people next door," she reflects. "Our worldview is being changed as if in a pressure cooker. The pressure will get more intense. Jesus said so. His word to Paul as he set forth in the Roman Empire was to 'open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me' (Acts 26:18).
"Two thousand years later, in the former Roman outpost of Londinium, there are still believers in Jesus who are praying for London's peoples and the world she represents to receive forgiveness of sins and a place around the throne of King Jesus."
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board whose column appears twice each month in Baptist Press. www.bpnews.net. Copyright (c) 2001 - 2005 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press