Last Tuesday afternoon, reports began to emerge of a shooting in the Finley Forest condominiums in Chapel Hill. I immediately thought of the several graduate students in the graduate IVCF chapter who live there and called one to check on their safety. They were just returning home from class and were greeted by parked police cars surrounding one of the condos. That was the first they had heard of the shooting which happened less than an hour before.
It was only the previous Friday that our graduate InterVarsity chapter held one of its chapter meeting dinners at these same graduate students’ home in Finley Forest, so my mind went immediately to the people I had seen there that day as I parked on the street before entering their condo . . . as I had done on a few Fridays previously over the last year. Our chapter rotates its dinner meetings among several of the grad student members’ homes so it just so happened that our last dinner meeting had been in Finley Forest.
I am very familiar with Finley Forest. I had friends who lived there when I was an undergrad at UNC in the 1980s, and for the last fifteen years I have known quite a few graduate and professional students who have lived there. The news of a shooting was startling to say the least.
The next morning, I awoke to an email from the University that three Muslims, one a current UNC dental student, had been killed. Deah Barakat (DDS2), his wife Yusor (incoming DDS student this coming fall), and his wife’s sister and current NC State undergrad, Razan, had been gunned down in their home execution style by their next door neighbor, Craig Hicks (a current Durham Tech student). Hicks had turned himself in to the sheriff’s office in a neighboring county and is now currently in the correctional facility in Raleigh.
I drove to the UNC campus that morning and spent the rest of the morning at the Dental school, where I had conversations with a few faculty members who had just had Deah in class and clinic the previous week. I stopped by the memorial in the common area of the D-school and had opportunities to see a fellow campus minister and several dental students from the local Christian Medical and Dental Association chapter. At Noon on Wednesdays our med student CMDA chapter meets for its weekly meeting. I led a prayer time with this group concerning all of these events. Since then I have continued to have conversations and opportunities for prayer with graduate students and faculty.
The media coverage for these events is far too vast and broad for me to summarize. Locally, a lot is beginning to emerge about the strange behavior of Craig Hicks, especially centering around his issues with parking spaces in the Finley Forest neighborhood. Internationally, Hicks’s comments on Facebook about his commitment to Atheism have garnered comments from the likes of Richard Dawkins who emphatically condemns Hicks’s actions. And, one night last night, as I lay awake in bed thinking about these events, I turned on the radio to listen to the BBC and immediately heard a report about the president of Turkey’s critique of the Obama administration’s lack of a response on these events. Let me remind you, these terrible events happened in Finley Forest where we just had a large group dinner meeting for UNC graduate students just a few condominiums away.
We would appreciate your prayers. Here are some things for which you could pray:
Our relationship with Muslim students and faculty. There has been an outpouring of support which is good, but there is fear. Steve Hinkle (my colleague at Duke) relayed to me earlier that the Muslim Student Association at Duke had canceled its public Friday prayers (though continued with their private gathering for prayer) on that campus because of fear (some of you might be familiar with the recent controversy over the question of using the Duke Chapel by the MSA which they were ultimately not allowed to do). Pray that we would live into Jesus’s command to love our neighbors . . . and in this case that would be our Muslim neighbors. Pray that we would approach this in a posture of humility and commit ourselves to the long term vision for this.
The UNC School of Dentistry. It is a small community and most of the students and faculty know each other. Pray for comfort during grief and witness during suffering. Pray for the Christians in the dental school to know how to walk best alongside all who are grieving in the D-school community.
The UNC graduate students living in Finley Forest. We will be having our next Graduate InterVarsity dinner meeting this Friday. We will be devoting that meeting to prayers and discussion over these difficult events.
Lastly, the season of Lent begins this week. Lent is a season characterized by repentance. Pray that we would take to heart the practice of examining ourselves and removing the log out of our own eyes before offering critique and correction of others. Pray that we would grow in humility and love.
Thank you for your prayers.
Grace & Peace,
Hank Tarlton is Campus Minister at UNC Chapel Hill and the SouthCentral Regional Coordinator for Faculty Ministry for InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministry. He resides in Durham, NC with his wife, Tara, and three children and enjoys Carolina basketball and bluegrass music.