MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A Memphis pastor who was in Israel when the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas militants started is sharing his story.

Pastor Kenneth Whalum Jr. with New Olivet Worship Center in Cordova had been touring Israel for a week and was scheduled to leave the day the first rockets struck. 

There was a moment of calm Wednesday night as people of all backgrounds, religions, nationalities came together to hear Bruno Mars perform in Israel for the first time. Among them was Pastor Kenneth Whalum Jr., whose son plays in Bruno’s band. 

“You know they don’t speak English, but they were singing, ‘Just the way you are!’ They were singing the same words Bruno was singing, ‘That’s the way I like it,'” Whalum said. “I’ve never heard Bruno perform so pristinely as he did.”

That calm was shattered days later when Hamas launched a massive attack on Israel. Pastor Whalum said he woke up Saturday morning to sirens. 

“It wasn’t like the sirens you hear around Memphis, the tornado warnings and whatever. It was a much deeper kind of sound, and it almost literally shook the ground while it was going off,” he said.

He said he learned from a driver while on the way to the airport to head back to Memphis what was going on. 

“He was so calm. He said, ‘We have to deal with this all the time. We live under a constant threat of violence, but never had it ever been like this,'” Whalen said.

He said he’s thankful to be alive and home safely.

As Israel now declares war, Pastor Whalum said the experience has given him a new perception on the issues we face in our city. He thinks of the war on crime we’re facing in Memphis.

“When you see 11-year-olds carjacking and murdering people, it’s out of a sense of hopelessness. And the Hamas attack is an extreme example of what can happen when people feel hopeless, when they feel rejected, when they feel like they’re not being heard. That’s what stands out in my mind,” he said.

Whalum said he isn’t sure what the answer is, but he thinks the power of prayer can help us figure it out.

Meanwhile, the devastation in the Middle East is also felt throughout the Memphis community, with several organizations, including Temple Israel, hosting vigils and prayers.