By Ashley Judd
I first “met” you when South Africans, managing to flee house arrest under the racist terror of apartheid, came to Nashville, Tennessee, smuggling out with them LP records of your speeches and sermons.
My family met these folks and the husband would play your records for me in the late 1980s. I was spellbound, captivated and changed. I would weep. I met Jesus of my understanding, a social justice radical for equity and mercy who prompted me to take social action when I helped organise a campus-wide walk out of classes at the University of Kentucky to protest the lack of resignation from the Board of Trustees, a member who used the “n” word and defended it. I knew it was what Father Tutu would do.
Then I met you in real life, knees knocking and tears pouring, after being with prostituted women in Madagascar whose husbands were selling them to be raped for loose change under rice sacks on the concrete streets. It was a place where I could find no evidence of God. You told me a story.
A Jewish man in a concentration camp was being tortured by a nasty Nazi who heckled him as the weak and starving man shovelled human faeces in a deep latrine. “Ha! Where is your God now?” the Nazi bellowed.
Looking up at his oppressor, the Jewish man simply said, “My God is down here, with me.”
You taught me, you encouraged me, that with every act of loving, God loves the loving and the lover. When in eastern Congo buying soap for teen-aged girls -- survivors of gang rape by armed militia -- who might not ever have clean water, you said, do the next hopeful thing and buy them soap anyway, and school uniforms, too.
The late night emails when my soul was wounded by the sorrow of this world, the time someone thought you were my driver (which you thought was rip-roaringly funny and a story you told every time we were together), the way you gave me holy communion. The way you taught me to pray…..
“We pray for those who help. We pray for those who do not.”
Thank you, Teacher. Thank you, Father. I love you. Rest in Glory.
*Judd is a US actress and political activist