Dear Abundant Life Family and Friends,
We are sure you have seen or heard horrifying accounts of this past weekend’s hate-inspired demonstrations in our city by neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and the Ku Klux Klan. Our friends and neighbors are still reporting harassment by those who have lingered or make their home here. These actions have hit very close to home for us, and not just geographically speaking, as they have for many of you.
When an alleged neo-Nazi drove his car into a peaceful group of counter protesters in an act of terror, tragically killing one and wounding at least 19 others, one of our neighbors – who has grown up in our programs – was struck. She was released from the hospital on Monday. The brave group of counter protesters included our former staff members and current and former volunteers, including one of its chief organizers, while current members of our staff participated in multi-congregation worship and prayer services. The congregations of the worship and prayer services exemplified what the Body of Christ should look like on Sunday mornings. Christians worshipping as One from multiple ethnic groups and various denominations but serving the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This should not be surprising. Abundant Life was founded on the three R’s of Christian Community Development: Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation. We take very seriously the apostle Paul’s words that not only have we been reconciled to God through Christ, but that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19). The Bible makes clear that the Kingdom of God includes “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9), and we have many represented among our participants and volunteers. The relationships that form across ethnic, religious, class, age, and other lines are a beautiful glimpse of the Kingdom. We lament ideologies that run counter to the biblical truth that we are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), denounce these evil attempts to divide our community and our country, and we reaffirm our commitment to the ministry of reconciliation.
Hope may seem difficult to come by when following the media’s coverage of these events, but Scripture teaches us that God “is making all things new” (Rev. 21:5) and to “take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33); let us not forget “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord…” (Eph 6:10-17). Indeed, clergy and believers from Charlottesville and around the nation participated in nonviolent direct action in opposing the armed “Unite the Right” marchers, others supported their efforts by staffing safe spaces for the counter protesters, and some compassionately offered water to anyone who appeared thirsty or needed their eyes flushed of chemical irritants, regardless of ideology. Here are but a few courageous acts of love that you may not have heard about or seen:
- While torch-wielding, hate-chanting members of the “alt-right” marched through UVA to the Thomas Jefferson statue in front of the Rotunda, freedom songs echoed from the packed interfaith service happening in the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Memorial Church across the street. (see video)
- Interfaith non-violent counter protesters chanted “Love has always won!” while neo-Nazi demonstrators marched past them. (see video)
- When medics in McGuffey Park treated a neo-Nazi who had been tear gassed in the face, he asked, “Why are you helping me?” The lead medic answered, “Because you’re a human being and we love everyone here.” The neo-Nazi proceeded to share with her for a half hour about what brought him from Ohio to Charlottesville, and she hopes he left the conversation with some changes in his worldview.
- Mourners gathered at the spot that 32-year-old Heather Heyer was struck and killed by a vehicle and sang “Amazing Grace.” (see video)
While most of the “alt-right” demonstrators have left town, many physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds have been left in their wake, and they will continue espousing their hate in rallies, press conferences, and online. Along with many of our community partners, we are focused on providing safe spaces for kids, youth, and adults to process these traumatic events. We are also providing resources and counseling to our volunteers so that they are equipped to be agents of peace and hope. DJ Carter of our partner the Prospect Prayer Group is available to anyone looking for additional help in processing these events. He may be reached at 434.709.7168 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please pray for peace and healing for our community and lovingly oppose racist language and actions. Engage in multiracial dialogue and intercultural learning and stand up for the marginalized people in our society. From the words of Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, “operate in righteous action… and ask yourself, what can I do to make a difference?” Pray for us as we minister to the Prospect community in the midst of pain and brokenness. And pray that the Lord would be glorified through the love of His people for one another. Thy Kingdom come.
Abundant Life Ministries
Special thanks to our neighbor and longtime volunteer Sarah Malpass for sharing her observations and compiling others’ of the weekend’s events.