The Solidarity Project took place on the University of Oregon’s campus from April 18th – 22nd, 2016. From the beginning of the ARISE internship, we intentionally set the goal to plan an event that would minister to the U of O community. The month of April is nationally recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Once we learned of SAAM, and that the U of O had a SAAM planning committee for events all throughout April, we saw this as a wonderful opportunity get on board and to share God’s love with the U of O student body and community.

A message on the wall (The Solidarity Project)

A message on the wall

The Solidarity Project was a wall that stood 8 feet tall and 12 feet long in the middle of the Memorial Quad on campus. The Memorial Quad is a central location on campus many students pass on their way to class. We painted the wall a matte gray and bought an array of acrylic paint-filled markers for the community to use to write upon the surface. The function of the wall was to be a blank canvas upon which the U of O community could write personal messages of hope and love to survivors of sexual assault. The question we asked students and staff was: If you could say one thing to a survivor what would it be? Then we invited people to write those responses on the wall.

If you could say one thing to a survivor what would it be?

Another significant element of The Solidarity Project was the Love Letter. The letter was a short original message to inspire hope and reassure the reader that their purpose and value is resilient against life’s traumas. We hoped to remind as many people as possible that they are seen and that they are loved. Ultimately, we passed out 1,500 Love Letters to students, faculty and community members in the Eugene area. However, to our joy, we learned that many recipients of the letter were sharing it with friends, classmates and roommates. For that reason, the ultimate reach of the letter was far greater than the initial 1,500 people we shared it with.

One of the most impactful parts of the project for me was seeing people’s reactions to the wall. It was incredibly touching to see the gradual realization of what this project was fill the eyes of the person I was explaining it to. Often those eyes welled up with tears, or glistened with a spark of excitement, or pure shock. Many of the people I talked with were most stirred by the fact that our purpose for this project was simply to do something loving on the campus. There was no “catch.” Countless people told me that they had never seen anything like this done before at the U of O. One young man ran after me after I handed him a Love Letter and said, “I just want to say thank you. I have never received anything like this in my life. Usually there is a catch of some sort, and well, I just want to say thank you.”

Building the wall (The Solidarity Project)

Building The Solidarity Wall

Another touching aspect of this project was the number of survivors that revealed their identity. I did not expect to encounter so many people, male and female, that would admit to being a survivor of sexual assault. It saddens my heart that there were indeed a great number of people of all ages that admitted to being survivors.

She was overcome with emotion. She told me the first message she saw on the wall was, “It’s not your fault.”

However, I am also greatly thankful that God saw fit to use the other interns and myself to remind each survivor that Love, Himself, sees them and has not given up on them.

One survivor that really blessed my heart is a first-year student at the U of O by the name of MJ. I saw her from a distance. Her eyes were transfixed on the wall as her steps slowed to a near stop. I approached her and asked if she had seen the wall before. She responded that she had not. I explained that this project was in honor of SAAM and that we wanted to remind people that they are valuable no matter what violations they endure. She was overcome with emotion. She told me the first message she saw on the wall was, “It’s not your fault.” She admitted that this is something she has a hard time accepting.

Writing on the wall (The Solidarity Project)

Writing on the wall

MJ was the first student I felt impressed to pray with. I was nervous so I ignored that first impression. I invited her to write on the wall instead. It was while I was later talking with another student that I glanced over and noticed that MJ had finished writing her message. One of my fellow interns handed her the Love Letter, and now she was beginning to walk away. Again I felt the burning impression to pray with her. I quickly excused myself and called after her. When I jogged over to her I asked, “Do you mind if I pray with you?” A smile instantly graced her face. “Yes!” she exclaimed. She went on to tell me that she had just recently given her life to God.

…people from different backgrounds, ages and experiences expressed the same intense longing and attraction to Love.

That moment I prayed with MJ was one of many throughout the week that reminded me why I was present on this campus doing The Solidarity Project. It was intimidating to return to a school I recently graduated from, and to present the gospel to a widely secular campus. I was nervous to be seen by people I may know and most certainly to pray with strangers. However, nothing could have prepared me for the blessing God had in store for me by my participation in this project.

I am thankful that God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. I am learning that doing God’s work often feels like playing the fool in this world. There were times I felt anxious about approaching students to hand them an invitation to the wall and a Love Letter. I did deal with rejection, and even strange looks. However, what kept me going was the remembrance of the caliber of the content I was sharing—“God is love.” In the end, the most beautiful thing about this project was witnessing that people from different backgrounds, ages and experiences expressed the same intense longing and attraction to Love.

Reading the wall (The Solidarity Project)

A student pauses to read the messages on The Solidarity Wall

Esther Hardy is a graduate University of Oregon. She graduated from ARISE in 2015 and is currently continuing ministry as an ARISE Intern.

Esther Hardy