Recently, I had the fun of going to Glen Lea Elementary School in Richmond, Va., with the staff from First Baptist Church and surprising the teachers with a show of appreciation.
We knocked on classroom doors. When the teacher opened the door, we would burst in and say “Surprise!”
We would then tell the class we were from First Baptist Church, where we had been trying to be good to Glen Lea all year long, but on that day, especially, we wanted to be good to their teachers.
And then we presented each teacher with a rose, a huge Hershey bar and a poem of appreciation. Each presentation took about two minutes. The teachers seemed grateful and, for the staff, as I said, it was fun.
But that afternoon I went to police headquarters for the monthly faith leaders’ meeting, and that was no fun at all.
I learned that in some of the same neighborhoods where those bright, beautiful children from Glen Lea live, there is an ongoing epidemic of domestic violence.
The place was packed. Police Chief Ray Tarasovic began by saying, “The house is full today because we’re on a mission. We have some folks here who are in the business of saving lives.”
He said that when it comes to domestic violence, we always know who did it. It’s not a stranger; it’s someone who lives in your own home. And so he asked us, as faith leaders, to “preach about it, pray about it, identify it and refer it.”
Sergeant Carol Adams talked about her own efforts to rescue a Nigerian woman from abuse.
Her husband had been keeping her locked up in a house on the south side of Richmond with the windows boarded up so she couldn’t see out or get out. He threatened and abused her almost daily.
Adams talked about her efforts to get that woman out of that situation, including taking a day off from work to drive her to New York, where she had family. Her passion was evident; I got the feeling she knew exactly what she was talking about when it came to domestic abuse.
But Tarasovic wanted to make sure that we knew as well. He told us that simple assault involves slaps, kicks, punches and threats. Aggravated assault is when a weapon is used or serious injury results. He said that so far this year, there have been 39 instances of aggravated assault in Richmond.
I thought about the difference between what we had done that morning – surprising school teachers with flowers and chocolate – and the kind of surprises some people face in their own homes when someone who has promised to love them turns against them in anger, even violence.
I said a silent prayer for those 39 people who had been victims of aggravated assault, and for the hundreds more who have been slapped, kicked, punched or threatened in their own homes.
“A lot of these situations never get reported because people are too ashamed to talk about them,” Adams said. “But we ought to be able to talk about them. We ought to be able to talk about them in church.”
She added, “If it happened in the first family (referring to the story of Cain and Abel), we shouldn’t be surprised that it happens in ours, too.”
No, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and dismiss it, either.
We should do everything in our power to stop it. And if we know of a situation where domestic violence is going on, we should report it to the police.
We’re trying to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Va., on a year-long, every-member mission trip. On this day, I was reminded that there are some places in Richmond that are much more like hell.
Jim Somerville is pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.