“It was unbelievable,” said Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, which recently moved its headquarters to Atlanta from New York. “The first hour was the worst. You didn’t know what was happening. You’ve seen the images from Orlando and Paris. You think they’re coming after you.”
Kemper ran back in the lounge and took refuge in a storeroom in the kitchen. The door didn’t have a lock.
There was a Chinese man also in the room. The two hid behind some boxes. The other man didn’t speak English. Kemper didn’t speak Chinese, but it didn’t take a common language to know both were scared.
Kemper, who moved to the U.S. six years ago from Germany, said he felt a strange mixture of fear and calmness. He remembers thinking about his family. He wondered if he would see them again. In the end, he said, he knew it was in “God’s hands.”
He had been in some dicey situations, like during the war in Liberia. This, however, was different. It was so unexpected.
“I know Turkey had some risks, but I didn’t expect it to be in the lounge,” said Kemper, who wasn’t injured. “That space felt pretty safe.”
When Turkish officials arrived to escort people to safety, Kemper and others walked through the arrival area and saw glass on the floor.
Despite the attacks, things seemed surreal, he said. The airport was busy. There were hundreds of people. Some businesses were open. While still in the airport, he caught glimpses of the carnage on Turkish television.
He and others boarded a bus. He was with other travelers from Egypt, Somalia and Holland.
Kemper, who plans to return soon to Atlanta, said he began to think about his fellow passengers. Some of them lived through situations like this every day or had fled such violence. Later, when he was interviewed by Al Jazeera, he met crew members who told him that the kitchen had been the best place to hide. Crew members from Beirut said violence was a common occurrence where they lived.
He said the situation made him realize how much work needs to be done so that there are no more attacks like the one he survived.
“I know there’s a big debate about this in the United States, but from a mere Christian and personal perspective, we need to open our hearts and our houses to people of all faiths who suffer and have to flee and become refugees,” he said. “We can only survive together. We can’t win this by heaping more violence on this. It will not work.”