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November 4, 2019

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Mahud Villalaz tells his horrifying story behind a sign reading #StopTheHate.
Hispanic man burned with acid says attacker accused him of invading US. The 42- year old man from Peru was attacked, with battery acid thrown into his face, and taunted with racial slurs, while trying to enter a restaurant - via PBS.

How long, O Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph? They bluster in their insolence; all evildoers are full of boasting. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your very own. They kill the widow and the stranger and put the orphans to death. Yet you will not abandon your people, nor will you forsake your very own. - Psalm 94, selected verses

The story is harrowing, and sadly not an anomaly. Mr. Mahud Villalaz was doing what so many of us do; what my family and I just did tonight - go out to dinner at a restaurant. For this act of living his life, Mr. Villalaz was met with battery acid thrown onto his face, and the trauma of a violent attack that harmed not just his physical body but also his emotional and spiritual self, as he was subjected to words and accusations born of hate. 

PBS notes in the article about this attack that “data collected by the FBI showed a 17% increase in hate crimes across the US in 2017, the third annual increase in a row. Anti-Hispanic incidents increased 24%, from 344 in 2016 to 427 in 2017, according to the FBI data. Of crimes motivated by hatred over race, ethnicity, or ancestry, nearly half involved African Americans, while about 11% were classified as anti-Hispanic bias.” 

We see acts of hate in mosques, synagogues, supermarkets, parking lots, schools and churches. Nearly everywhere people gather, hate can also arrive. Earlier today my 17-year-old daughter came to me physically shaking in anger as she showed me the latest hate-filled salvos in video and meme, directed towards women and African Americans, broadcast out via Snapchat from other kids at her high school. The evil is everywhere.

When hate is emboldened from the highest places of power in our country, it takes up space everywhere. I sometimes shush my husband, an immigrant from Colombia, in public. I am afraid for someone to hear his accent, I am worried about what might happen. I sometimes instruct my daughter that we probably shouldn’t speak Spanish in a particular location. And then I worry about what lessons I am offering, and the privilege I carry as a white woman - what does it mean that I tell my husband, an immigrant, and my daughter, who is biracial, that they should or shouldn’t do certain things in some public spaces? Do I have the right to do that? Are my fears justified? Am I adding to the problem? Or should we proudly speak whatever language we want to, wherever we want to, come what may? How do any of us make decisions in the space we are in today?

Mr. Villalaz should never have been victimized in this way. No one should. This is not the mark of a society that is well or that can proclaim to be “Christian” or of any other faith. The God we know as a people of faith, not just as Christian (which is my tradition), loves all people, sees all people, celebrates all people, created all people. No one is outside of God’s love. And God abhors all that is violent and hate-filled and calls all who are acting in ways contrary to the will of God to repent and change and be made well again. For hatred is sickness.

Watch the video interview with Mr. Villalaz. Watch it with your children, their friends, or with family members who might not realize how challenging it is to live in fear in our country today. Host a conversation with those near to you, using this video, with Scripture and with prayer for healing from the sickness of hate, and for Mr. Villalaz and so many other victims.

God of the ages, you have always been faithful to your people. Come to us, now, we pray! Give comfort and courage to those who are suffering. Give strength and skill to those who are working to save and to heal. Give us your peace that passes all understanding in these moments of shock and sorrow. Open our eyes, hearts, and hands to the movement of your Spirit, that we might be comforted and comfort others in the name of Christ, our healer and our light. Amen.

- Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Common Worship, a prayer for after a violent event

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