Brussels explosions: Christians praying as death toll mounts

Flowers and a candle for the victims of today's Brussels attacks, are placed on the steps of the Belgian embassy in Berlin, Germany.Reuters

Christians in Brussels are praying as news of this morning's attacks unfolds, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel confirmed that "scores" of people have been killed or injured.

Speaking to Christian Today from Brussels, Joe Szabo, senior pastor of the Christian Center, said that members of the congregation were caught up in the attacks, and that staff at the church met to pray this morning.

"We do know of people from the church... who were in the airport, they were there when the explosion happened," Szabo said. "Thankfully no one was hurt."

The church will specifically be praying for those injured in the attacks, and the families of those killed, during its Easter services, he added. "For the victims, for God to protect the city and our country."

OM Belgium, an evangelical Christian missions organisation, is located just five minutes from Zaventem Airport where two of the blasts took place. Field leader Jan Wisse said his brother-in-law was on a train following the blast at Maelbeek metro station an hour later.

Wisse said his team held a prayer meeting this morning, and a number are currently helping the Red Cross. Another member has been sent to see what practical help the organisation can offer to victims who are recovering in a local sports complex.

The Christian Center has been involved in responding to the refugee crisis in Brussels, where hundreds have fled from countries such as Syria and Eritrea. Already, controversial columnist Katie Hopkins has sparked outrage by blaming refugees for this morning's attacks:

Republican presidential candidate frontrunner Donald Trump – who has infamously called for a ban on Muslims entering the US – also appeared to blame refugees for the attacks. "My message to us is, we better get smart and we better get smart fast," he said during a phone interview with Fox today.

"In my opinion, this is just the beginning. It's going to get worse and worse. Because we are lax and we are foolish.

"I've been talking about this for a long time. Look at Brussels, Brussels was a beautiful city, a beautiful place with zero crime, and now it's a disaster city," he added. "It's a total disaster. And we have to be very careful in the United States, we have to be very, very vigilant as to who we allow into this country."

Szabo said the Christian Center will continue to serve refugees in its community.

"We are still believing that we are to love all people in our city. We pray for Muslims, for Christians and for the Jewish population. The bombing will not deter us from continuing to carry out our mission to share the love of God with all people," he said.

Though the church had to suspend some of its outreach to refugees today because public transportation has stopped, it did distribute food to refugees closer to its building. "As soon as the security allows us to move in", volunteers will be heading to refugee centres in other areas of the city as usual, Szabo added.

Carlton Deal, founding pastor of Brussels church The Well, said in an email to Christian Today that the Maelbeek metro station is a just a kilometre from the church's office.

"Stories of near misses are pouring in from our community: a last minute flight cancellation, an impromptu decision to walk instead of take the metro, a friend of a friend who was on the metro when the bomb exploded, but is unhurt," he said. "All day long sirens are sounding, police and ambulance vehicles rushing to respond to needs, helicopters hovering overhead."

Belgian police and emergency personnel work near the Maalbeek metro station.Reuters

Several years ago, The Well held a week of service called 'Serve the City', which has now grown to a movement that spreads across 100 cities around the world. One of the ways volunteers continue to serve is by helping in refugee centres in Brussels. Deal wrote in a Serve the City Facebook post today: "Let's... be very attentive to the needs of the most vulnerable in our city and neighbourhoods in the coming days. Join our weekly projects or share with us news of ways you have been able to care for people in need.

"On a day like this, we see more clearly the brokenness around us. We grieve all that is lost, but not as people who have no hope. May the events of today deepen our compassion and strengthen our resolve to cross the line."

In his email to Christian Today, Deal added: "We normally serve homeless friends and refugees tonight, but we have cancelled all activities, for the safety of our volunteers.

"However, we do not view refugees in any way as the cause for the Brussels attacks. We will return to serving them absolutely as soon as possible. We care deeply for them, and see them as people who are running from the same bombs we are."

He said: "If we're placing blame we have to look to immigrants not refugees, and, in the same breath, ask ourselves how much we have helped them to integrate into Belgian society. Third and fourth generation Muslim immigrants in Molenbeek still report feeling foreign and alienated, with few prospects for meaningful work and a successful European life. Radical imams and jihadists find them easy prey.

"This is where we have to start. Live in their neighbourhood. Become their friends. Hear their stories. Feel their pain. Grieve together about all that is lost and look to Jesus, the risen Lord, our eternal hope.

"Pray with us that in these challenging days, Jesus would continue to make of us a well, from which people in Brussels may drink His living water," Deal said. "We are a community of faith and mission. We love, we serve, we believe – for such a time as this." 

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for today's explosions.  

"Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels," AMAQ agency, a news source close to the jihadist group, said.

"Islamic State fighters opened fire inside Zaventem Airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maalbeek metro station." 

No official death toll has yet been released, but Belgian public broadcaster VRT said 34 had been killed and Mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, confirmed that at least 106 have been injured.

Downing Street said at least one British citizen was hurt.

According to the Mail Online, two suspects have been arrested.