On Friday, June 5th, 2020, hundreds stood around the base of the 6 story statue of Robert E. Lee, in Richmond, VA. It was the 8th day of protests, following the death of George Floyd, but in Richmond, the tension was unique.
Richmond has a long and difficult history when it comes to the topic of “race.” A river city, it was a prime location to become a point on a long-standing triangle of slave-trade shared with England and West Africa. Soon after, it became the capital of the Confederacy, up until the city was set ablaze as Union troops advanced.
155 years after Lee conceded, crowds stood in his shadow crying out that black lives mattered, while others shouted an array of differing cries. For seven days there was a deep sense of division and brokenness over the city.
This day, it would be different.
Amidst the shouts, megaphones, and honking cars, a new sound emerged. It was not the normal cries of varying opinions, but a simple message: Jesus.
That week, the team at YWAM Virginia had been contending and interceding for the city and nation. Aware of deep emotions and differing understandings, there were no clear solutions; yet as they listened, God gave an invitation.
That invitation: Go in the Spirit to the Monument, and bring nothing but Jesus. No opinions, no politics, no agendas: as Paul said in 1 Corinthians, they determined “to know nothing… except Christ and him crucified.”
The team put out the call to other believers: from 2 to 7 on Friday, they would come with instruments and a prayer station, ready to bring a new Spirit against the spirits of division and brokenness.
God began to move quickly, stirring the hearts of others in the city to join in; soon, several churches were committed to stepping into a space of prayer and worship amidst the protests.
God also brought a word, in Hebrews 2:14–15:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
There was a clear sense that God was revealing an important truth. While racism had a clear influence throughout the history of Richmond, a deeper root was revealed: fear of death. This fear of death — which was impacting people from all cultures — had brought an enslavement to the city long after slaves were formally freed.
Believing that God wanted to destroy that fear, they stepped into the midst of sporadic downpours and the risk of the unknowns of ongoing protests, and trusted the Spirit to move.
What they witnessed was abundantly more than they could ask or imagine. People from all walks of life were drawn to the music, and many began joining in and receiving prayer. YWAM staff began praying with protesters, speaking into their identities and communicating the love of God.
At one point, a member of a group holding a memorial for Breonna Taylor — a black female killed by police earlier in the year — asked a YWAM staff to pray at the service. That invitation led to a powerful prayer of repentance from a YWAM volunteer, followed by a profound testimony to a large crowd.
And as the sun began to set behind the Monument, the sound of worship intensified; speakers and a drum set were set up to carry the sound of gospel music throughout the neighborhood. Hundreds had gathered, but more shocking than the numbers was the unexpected unity: worshiping together were those that were white, black, Hispanic, and Asian; Protesters, anti-protesters, elderly, and children.
Tears of joy replaced tears of sorrow; steps of praise replaced steps of anger. And while the crowd knew that the journey ahead would still be long and difficult, for a moment, in the shadow of the statue, they caught a glimpse of the Body of Christ, a glimpse of true unity, and a glimpse of Heaven.
What God did in Richmond may be the start of a revival, not just for the former capital of the Confederacy, but for hurting cities across the nation. If the Church embodies the commands to “love God and love others”, perhaps those glimpses will become all we can see.