WHAT REALLY HAPPENED ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 12, 2017 IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA
On Saturday, August 12, 2017, a group of worshipers and intercessors from the Charlottesville House of Prayer gathered at the C-HOP/Wellhouse building on 115 10th St., N.W. Our group was interracial and intergenerational. After a safety briefing and a short season of prayer we boarded a 15 passenger van at 9:30am and traveled downtown to Emancipation Park in the center of our hometown, Charlottesville VA. Our plan was to gather in a circle and lift our voices in worship and prayer from 10 – 11:30 at the protest site. Our goal was simple: to stand in the place of worship and prayer and agree with heaven for God’s purposes in our city against the lawlessness that we discerned was being brought to our city. We truly had no idea what to expect when we arrived in downtown Charlottesville that morning. We were aware that some sources were saying that up to 4000 people would be at the event. The State police were encouraging people to avoid the area due to potential violence. City leaders and clergy were also requesting that people remain at home. Other churches and prayer groups decided to meet and pray off-site. Our decision to go downtown on August 12 was based on discernment.
At our weekly prayer meeting the night before the event, we confirmed our intentions to go acknowledging the potential for violence. We felt confident that God was giving us a divine strategy for engagement and we were fully confident that He would protect us since He was truly calling us to participate.
Our discernment came from a dream. In a dream I had soon after July 8th, I saw an angry torch coming down from above Charlottesville in an attempt to set fire to our city. In the dream, I saw the torch touching Charlottesville, but I did not see the fire taking hold. During the following three days the Lord made it clear that the torch was “lawlessness” and that the potential for violence was coming to our city. In response to this discernment God made it clear that we were to engage the powers (not the people) that were attempting to bring this lawlessness to our city.
In preparation, we had spent several evenings prayer walking and worshiping in Emancipation park. God began to give us confidence and specific strategy for the event based on revelation and our engagement at the KKK rally on July 8th (more about these later.)
On the morning of August 12th we arrived with one guitar, a belt clip amp and several song sheets. We arrived at a prearranged drop off point (at Jackson Park) and walked 5 blocks to the park. On the way we passed a fully armed group of white supremacists making their way to the same destination. Someone in the group quietly said, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty!”
As we approached the park we could hear angry chants being exchanged between the gathered protesters and counter protesters from two blocks away. As we climbed the steps entering the park, we could feel the spiritual oppression all around us. It felt like a dark place even though the morning rain had ended and the sun had just peeked out of the clouds. The air was charged with antagonism and anger. Chants from the group of angry white nationalists were being returned in like manner by the group of angry counter protesters. Ideological insults and slurs were exchanged from one side to the other like punches in a boxing match.
We were greeted with smiles by two young men in our group who I had dropped off earlier in the morning. They had been reserving our place with a large blanket. As planned, our little band of 11 formed into a circle and prepared to appeal to heaven in worship and prayer. Our blanket was located right on the line of battle. In front of us were a line of police and then the angry white nationalists. Behind us, just outside the park, Market street was filled with an equally angry mass of counter protesters.
As I picked up my guitar, I looked around at the circle of faces in our small group. It was clear to me that some in the group were feeling a little intimidated by the anger that was swirling around us. A confidence welled up inside of me and I was able to say with assurance: “Do you feel that angry spirit around us?” Then I smiled and said, “We are here to bring a different Spirit! Let’s worship!” This declaration was the first of many spoken agreements with Heaven. This statement seemed to resonate in the hearts of our group members. Somehow the Lord sovereignly gave each of us the focus and determination to persevere in obedience even when we felt weak and incapable. Smiles were on every face when we began singing at 10:03.
With the first word of worship everyone around us immediately fell silent. The response was remarkable. Worship sovereignly muted the chants of both protesters and counter protesters for almost an hour! All of us bore witness to the supernatural sense of awe that we experienced in the wake of this shift. We were able to visually recognize bewilderment on faces around us. It was one of the most significant spiritual events that I have ever experienced. Like a switch, the Spirit of God suddenly and sovereignly shifted the atmosphere. During the next period of time, we experienced faith replace hope inside us. Because of this, we were able to sing with boldness. In confidence we were able to prophesy and make declarations in agreement with heaven (as we often do when in worship on Friday nights). Some important declarations that I can recall included, “Stop the plan of enemy for our city Lord! Remove the lawlessness! Let your peace reign and rule in Charlottesville!” “Pour out your love and light on us, Lord! Make your Name glorious. Reveal your intentions for our city God!” We offered prayers and declarations were made about removing the torch of lawlessness and violence from our city. These were our appeals to heaven and they found agreement there.
About 50 minutes after we started the white nationalists began shouting at us; “Hypocrites, Hypocrites, Hypocrites, Hypocrites!” but stopped within minutes having not received the response they expected. Instead of stopping our singing, smiles appeared on our faces and their shouts were drowned in worship.
This video originally aired on Aug 12th on local Channel 29 News Website. It was recopied to our Facebook page after 110,009 views.
In retrospect (as evidenced by Channel 29 video footage of the event) our little group seemed insignificant, even pitiful, by all human standards. But the genius of the Lord was revealed in His plan for us to maintain a focus on worship and prayer! As time went on, and as more and more people began to move in around us, it became difficult to persevere in prayer and worship. Several times the noises around us along with a helicopter flying low overhead combined to make it nearly impossible to hear. We were thankful that we had often worshiped together before so it was not something new for us. It just seemed that all we needed was to keep our eyes on the source of love and peace! Had we not been engaged in corporate worship, I feel sure that, at this stage, we would have lost focus.
From the beginning it was clear to us that the power to repel the plan of the enemy was being maintained as we kept our attention on the worthy One. From the beginning it was clear to those around us that we were not there to demonstrate or to defend our position. We were not there to petition men but to petition God, and our worship captivated their attention and made them “spectators” of what was happening in OUR midst! It seemed to confound the agenda of lawlessness that they had come to promote. A few attempts were made by people walking around us to distract or confuse. At one point, the organizer of the event Jason Kessler surrounded by 5-6 bodyguards walked immediately past our group. One of his group members engaged our members telling us to move from the area. One in our group smiled and declined. Another man from the same group leaned over some of our group members and shouted some distracting comments. I was amazed, it seemed as though nothing could penetrate the wall of worship and prayer that we had created.
During this later period, we heard some screams coming from the street behind us. We later learned that one or two violent exchanges occurred at this time. These two events are the ones have been shown over and over on CNN. I interviewed the members of our group following the event and nobody can remember seeing ANY violence that day other than water bottles being thrown and mace being sprayed. Even to those who were standing there, it is unclear who initiated these actions.
At close to 11:30 we sensed the pleasure of the Lord in the completion of the assignment that we had been given. At this point, the venue was nearly packed and there was only a small margin of space around us. After we finished the last song we efficiently gathered our belongings. Each of us took for 3-4 water bottles in hand to give to others as we made our way out of the park onto Market Street. We began walking back to our van the way that we had come that morning. People from both groups graciously stepped aside and allowed us to step over the stone wall and make our way east on Market Street.
When we were almost two blocks away we heard someone on the sound system at the park. It seemed like an announcement was being made. When we got three blocks away we noticed some smoke rising up from the park over the buildings in the distance. Finally, as we turned left onto Fourth Street we saw hundreds of police with black shields in riot gear quickly moving west toward the park on Jefferson Street. We sensed that something big was going on behind at the park in our absence.
Once we got back to the Wellhouse/C-HOP building we learned that the governor of Virginia had declared a state of emergency soon after 11:00 and just 10 minutes after our departure (at 11:40am) the police announced that gathering was unlawful. The police then had ordered all participants to disperse within five minutes. A smoke bomb or tear gas was released to disperse the crowds when they did not immediately begin to disperse. No significant violence was reported during this time. Protesters were evacuated north toward Jefferson St. and counter- protesters moved south and east. The police in riot attire had been deployed to maintain order and assist in dispersing the crowd.
Two hours later on Fourth Street, a driver violently rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on Fourth Street. This action resulted in the death of a 32 year old woman and the hospitalization of 19 others. Police later arrested James Alex Fields, a 20 year old protestor from Maumee, Ohio who is alleged to have been the driver.
Four hours later, at 4:45 pm a police helicopter providing surveillance for the rally crashed into trees on its way back to the airport. The cause was ruled to be pilot error. UVA Medical Center reported that only fourteen people (in addition to the 19 wounded by the car) would eventually seek medical attention that day at local hospitals for minor injuries that happened during the rally. No additional significant violent interactions would happen for the remainder of that day in Charlottesville. Still the events would be described by media with headlines such as: “Charlottesville Rally Erupts in Violence: 3 dead, dozens wounded.”
As the director of the Charlottesville house of prayer who was gathering with others intercessors in the city at/during the events of August 12, 2017. I can say that God showed up in power in spite of the polarizing forces that had come to our city! Large scale violence was averted due to the prayers of God’s people. The current national crisis and the events that that are happening in our cities are not being properly reported or understood. The problem that we face is not going to be solved simply by teaching empathy for other races and cultures. Nor will it be solved by educating or punishing those who exhibit prejudicial behavior. Spiritual awakening is the only course for the salvation of our nation! I truly believe that the escalating tide of violence that is surrounding us right now is intended to bring us - ALL of us - to repentance. Our only proper response is an appeal to Heaven, to the God of love who saves and heals. No human effort or change of mind will curb the momentum of the spirit of lawlessness that is upon us.
As a result of this weekend I feel very strongly that the people of God need to operate in contrast to the patterns that surround us. We must avoid the pressure to conform to patterns of behavior around us. I want believers to know that there is a third way! We don’t need to stay at home or be herded into one of two opposing camps. Our message cannot be "all you need is love."
Neither group in the conflict at Emancipation park demonstrated a capacity to love. I don’t think that the headline: “Charlottesville Rally Erupts in Violence: 3 dead, dozens wounded” adequately tells the whole story of August 12th. I believe that God did something extraordinary that day! We are grieved with the loss of life and frustrated with the violence that took place. But we also can testify to the power of God! I believe that through worship, prayer and agreement with Heaven widespread violence in Charlottesville was averted.