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Why I stood during the Muslim Prayer.

The testimony of Pastor Derek Tait regarding events on March 15, 2019 and the days afterward.

ManUp is known in Christchurch. There are ManUp and Legacy groups all over the city and as far as Ashburton and Timaru.

ManUp and Legacy are known for their work with people at grassroots level, with no discrimination or prejudice; getting out and about in the local community areas - Meeting needs and facilitating positive change.

On Friday March 15, I was with some friends in a local café, chatting over a coffee.

When the cop cars went screaming past, we reflected on a shooting incident that had happened in the area just last week. We hoped something like that hadn’t happened again.

“We noticed 1 then 2, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 cop cars! Far out! What’s going on here?”

I was shocked as details of the mosque shootings were broadcast through the local radio and news networks.

With the threat of potential “shooters on the loose” public places & schools went into lock down. People were advised to stay indoors and away from windows.

My wife and I contacted our team leaders and immediately started messaging everybody on our contact lists, checking everyone was okay.

My instructions to my teams were; “Be ready to move, think on your feet, flow with the wind, do whatever it takes to show love and to meet needs.”

Our first move was to go to the Hospital to offer help and support to the people who were gathering there. That’s where the famous photo of a gang member and one of our ManUp men was taken. The Hongi and hug showed compassion and brotherhood between ManUp and the gangs. “I see you brother, we are in this together.”

We couldn’t believe it when that photo went global and ended up in the New York Times!

At the Destiny Church service on Sunday, I reiterated the need to be out there in the community and show support and love –

“It’s bigger than ManUp or Destiny, it’s about the love of Christ. Do everything you can to show support to the people affected.”

A school across from Hagley Park became a refuge for Muslim families to gather and have a place to stay. There were armed Police guarding the building and strict security procedures to get in.

When my team and I arrived to lay flowers outside the school, we were surprised when one of the elders of the Muslim community ushered us past the Police and formalities into the room where the families were gathered. I can only think it was because he recognised the Tu Tangata logo on our T-Shirts.

As we walked in, people hugged us and shook our hands. We felt very welcome.

The Muslim elder proceeded to speak to the crowd in Arabic and then passed the microphone to me.

“Can you say a few words my brother?”

I was a bit shocked to be honest, but I understood the honour and the opportunity I was being given, so I went ahead.

I began by saying how very sorry I was that this tragedy had happened to their community. I explained the work of Manup and Legacy in Christchurch and that we were part of the ministry of Destiny Church. My main theme was “love is greater than hate”, from Bishop Tamaki’s message that very morning.

I passed on the condolences and love from Bishop Brian and Pastor Hannah Tamaki and Destiny Church at this very sad time.

I explained the meaning of Tu Tangata and we did a Haka. I told them why this is a significant act for Maori to do.

After our men finished the Haka, the response was incredible! The people were so grateful, they clapped for us and hugged us; they also were adamant that we couldn’t leave until we had shared food with them.

During the meal, we swapped contact details and names and began organising an event for Hagley Park called “Haka for Hope, Ride for Hope.”

My team and I created an event on Facebook. There wasn’t a lot of time, but our city was grieving and looking for ways to show support, so we hoped people would get in behind this event.

Bishop Tamaki and Pastor Hannah had complete faith in us representing them and were whole heartedly in support of our plans.

On the day of the event, over 50 riders from gangs and various clubs rode with us. We had a police escort to lead and follow our group. I was amazed and deeply honoured.

“To ride with that many riders and a police escort after a day’s notice was awesome and no mean feat. There was a great deal of respect all round.”

There were around 1000 people already gathered at the park and at the noise of the bikes, they swarmed to where we were.

There was a lot of local and international media there to take pictures and interview us. I noticed that the international journalists were really positive, not challenging or negative toward us. It was refreshing! They labelled us “gang members” and kept promoting ManUp/Tu Tangata as the face of the “Gangs of NZ.”

My daughter Jade, sung our National anthem and our team lead everyone in the Ngai Tahu Haka of Tika Tonu.

When it was my turn to address the crowd, I was very aware of all I was representing; ManUp, Destiny Church, Bishop Brian and Pastor Hannah Tamaki and ultimately Jesus Christ.

“We are their voice, their hands, their feet. If you know me, you know him”

I reiterated the quote from Bishop’s Sunday message as my main theme –

Love is greater than hate.

People were blown away by the event. There were two particular Muslim men that had come over from Sydney, (they had escorted Sonny-Bill Williams and Anthony Mundene over) who were very interested in us and asked us lots of questions about who we were and why we were doing what we were doing.

My answer to them was, we are here to show love and support to the Muslim families in Christchurch.

“I believe my presence matters, being here makes a difference. I’ll stand against evil no matter who it is, love is greater than hate.”

At the mass funeral service one week after the shootings, I stood with the crowd outside the prayer area that had been set up.

One of the men from Sydney who I’d met earlier, approached me and invited me to come with him into the prayer area.

“Come, my brother, I want you to come and be with us as we pray.”

This was the first corporate prayer gathering for them since the shooting, so I felt that he wanted me to watch and keep guard while they were at their most vulnerable.

As far as the Muslim community is concerned, ManUp is a gang so I invited a Mob member to come and stand with me to show the unity between the gangs.

Only Muslim men were in that prayer area, everyone else was outside the barriers - even the Prime Minister and the media crews!

We were asked to wash our face and hands before we entered the prayer area, which we did, but we weren’t under pressure at any time to pray or bow with them.

I told the Mob member that I would observe the 2 minutes silence but would not be saying their prayer. He agreed he wouldn’t either.

We stood while they prayed with the world media immediately to our right. I knew the media cameras would be going to town. This was when the iconic photo of us was taken. There were 2 main messages in that photo for me:

  1. The photo showed me standing on my conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord and Lord alone.

  2. The photo showed NZ gang members guarding Muslims at their most vulnerable time.

After the prayer, Muslim men thanked us, hugged us and wanted photos with us”

We later attended the burial ceremony. I was deeply moved by the sight of 26 freshly dug graves. It was very sad.

To be honest, I was not surprised by the reaction from the Christian community in regard to me standing during the prayer.

The Muslim community did not see my actions as a sign of disrespect to their faith, they know I’m a Christian and didn’t expect me to pray with them.

They just wanted me to stand and watch out for them while they prayed. Yes, we have different beliefs but it’s not a hate crime to disagree!

One of the most touching stories I’ve heard in this whole thing was the response of one of the men who survived the shooting in the mosque. He was asked by a reporter,

“Do you hate the shooter?” His answer was one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard – “No, I forgive him.”

The bottom line is that 50 innocent New Zealanders were murdered in that event, and that is not okay!

There are two main things that stand out to me as I reflect on this experience:

  1. love is always greater than hate, and

  2. staying true to the conviction of my faith is a powerful statement of strength and authority.

Rise up people of the Lord, stand and proclaim who you are.

E Tu Tangata! Stand Tall. Stand Strong.

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