"Blood and soil," they chanted, invoking racist Nazi rhetoric of the past. With what appeared to be a fire of hatred in their eyes, these White Nationalists marched the Grounds of our University and our city seeking to instill fear. They came in hundreds. They came with guns. They came with torches.
How can one respond to such blatant hate, especially when it hits so close to home? Jesus said his followers are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14). As campus ministers at the University of Virginia, we had to think about what carrying this "light" would mean for us. How would we bear the torch of God’s fire for the world?
So we came with prayer. In the aftermath of the violence on our campus and city, we decided to host a prayer walk along the same path the White Supremacists took at our university. We prayed for the reconciliation, healing, love, and truth of God to reclaim what the enemy sought to steal. At various locations, we stopped and prayed out loud specific prayers for God to intervene at UVA. Many of our students and members from other ministries joined us in a moment of Christian solidarity.
We came with conversations. As the forces of darkness sought to build a wall of division between people, we built a conversation wall, literally. It stood all of 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Across the top, where everyone could read, we wrote: “How can you address racism?” In just three hours, the wall filled with hundreds of written responses from students of diverse backgrounds expressing their frustrations, solutions, and hopes. We engaged these students with gospel-centered conversations, offering Jesus as the solution to a world in division. It was the boldest question we’ve ever asked publically at our university, but sometimes we need our strategies to match up against what we’re fighting.
We came with attentive ears. “Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render,” Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together. How many times have we been quick to speak, to assume, or to overlook because we fail to intentionally listen? During this time of heightened racial tension in our country, I’ve discovered how humbling and instructive it is to engage with the experiences of our ethnic minority students. We learn a great deal when we take the time to see our world through a different lens. Take Bonhoeffer’s advice: “listening can be a greater service than speaking.”
The task is far from over, and let’s be humble enough to admit we don’t always get things right. It is out of our necessity that we turn to our God for courage, peace, and wisdom as we seek to carry his torch of reconciliation.
No matter what campus you find yourself in, it is such a strategic time to be on university campuses. We all, as campus ministers, have so much exciting work to do! In Christ, we have the answer for what our country and the world is yearning for-- the ministry of reconciliation. Let us labor with love and unity to be His ambassadors on our campus.
As you process what all this means for you and your specific university campus, I encourage you to pray. Pray for the connections your students are making on your campus Pray for those on your campus who are hurting, angry, or fearful. Pray for unity in the community of believers at our universities. Together, as the body of Christ, we can make His light shine like a city on a hill which cannot be hidden! Together we can persevere to continue reconciling students to Christ!
Chi Alpha at the University of Virginia