How to Help After the Paris Attack Without Saying a Word

This piece was originally published on LinkedIn's Pulse on November 16, 2015.

Over the summer I was traveling by train in Paris when it stopped suddenly on the tracks. A pressured French voice came over the intercom. People started shifting in their seats. Passengers nervously exchanged glances. Anxious chatter filled the cabin. I couldn't understand what was being said but I knew something was wrong.

Eventually the train started backup and we were on our way. As soon as I stepped off the train I noticed security had drastically increased. I saw people glued to every television in sight. I wondered what everyone was watching. I didn't recognize any of the French words scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Then the word "Terreur" raced across images of armed military and police. I was able to put two and two together. There had been a terrorist attack in France.

I briskly walked to the nearest transportation worker to see if I could find out what happened. The language barrier got in the way again. However, the transportation worker was able to communicate the general "gist" of what had happened through gestures.  It probably looked like we were playing a game of charades to onlookers. I'm sure we were probably a funny sight to watch. I will always remember how effectively she was able to reassure me and create a calming presence without uttering a word.

Words failed me again as I watched the terrorist events unfold this past Friday. In the 10 years I've been researching disasters I've found people often want to help but get discouraged because they don't know what to say. If this describes you, know you can still help. Like the transportation worker who assisted me, you can aid support others even if you are at a loss for words. Below is a list of some ways you can offer support without saying anything that I shared in The Washington Post over the weekend:

  • Pray
  • Practice the ministry of presence
  • Don’t focus on finding THE answers
  • Use welcomed and appropriate contact
  • Gather in community

Click here to read the full article Don't Offer Bumper-Sticker Theology: Five Simple Ways to Help After the Paris Attack.


Jamie D. Aten is the founder and co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.