The Words of the Higashibaba Family

Memphis Prayer of Reconciliation

Andrea Higashibaba
October 31, 1987
State leader of Tennessee

An altar set up by members in the motel room in Memphis where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot.

On October 31, 1987, a brother who had been working for the ICC providence in Georgia received a message from Heung Jin Nim. This message began a process of events that brought a new phase of history to the Southeast region.

The brother had asked Heung Jin Nim in his prayer why it was so difficult to reach ministers in this region, even though it seemed that brothers and sisters were working very hard. Heung Jin Nim told him that we needed to look deeper than our visible efforts to find the answer. Heung Jin Nim explained that because of the history of slavery, Satan has a strong claim on this region. This region is not only the Bible Belt but also the Slavery Belt, and Christianity has not been able to resolve the problem of resentment between the races. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had this mission and worked all throughout the Southeast to accomplish it, but he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Heung Jin Nim said we could help solve this problem through having a prayer condition in Memphis where Dr. King was shot. He said one white person and one black person should pray together -- the white to repent and the black to forgive -- and then they should together repent that Dr. King had been unable to totally accomplish his mission.

The Barrier of Racism

Right away the brother told our regional coordinator, Rev. Soichiro Nakamura, the contents of the message. Rev. Nakamura had come to America only a few years before. Having lived most of his life in the Orient, he had had little experience with the racial problem in America. It seemed, however, that at the same time Heung Jin Nim's message came to the brother in Georgia, many matters concerning racism had come to Rev. Nakamura's attention. At a recent regional workshop that was held in a non-church facility, a small race-centered incident had occurred. A white person on the facility's staff had obvious problems accepting a black sister, Carrie Phalo, on the premises, which of course dampened the workshop experience for her. In addition to this, through his relationship with ICC alumni, Rev. Nakamura could begin to understand the depth of the impact that this historical problem has had on American society, affecting all areas of life.

The next day in Dallas, Texas, Rev. Nakamura witnessed another incident while attending a meeting with members, which revealed to him the struggle among even our members concerning this issue. He could see even more clearly how this barrier deeply affected the relationships among brothers and sisters. After returning to the regional headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, he then asked Carrie how she felt about participating in a prayer condition. Carrie responded willingly. It seemed more and more that God was guiding this course of events. Rev. Nakamura then asked Mrs. Lee, the wife of our regional director, Rev. Chae Hee Lee, what her feelings were concerning all of these events, and she suggested that a prayer service be held in Memphis not only once, but three times. And so it was organized. Prayer services were to take place in Memphis on November 16 and December 22, 1987, and on January 11, 1988.

For the first ceremony, Carrie Phalo, representing the black race, and I, representing the white race, went to Memphis. We gathered with the members of the Memphis center at 8:00 am in the actual motel room where Dr. King had been staying at the time of his fatal shooting. Dr. King had stepped outside of his room to the balcony to greet the people who had gathered below for a march when a shot came from a building across the street. The room, located in the Lorraine Motel, had been kept as a public memorial to Dr. King and was filled with pictures and articles about him, especially concerning his death.

The first day of the prayer condition. "Carrie saved the day by throwing her arms around me after our prayer, while I sat in rather numbed disbelief."

A Sad and Heavy Atmosphere

The members in Memphis had visited this room frequently and had taken me to see it when I first came to Tennessee. My first impression was one of deep shock. The whole motel had been neglected and was in great disrepair. The atmosphere was heavy and sad. I felt the entire city of Memphis carried this spirit as well. Rather than being a proud memorial to a great hero who had been martyred for a righteous cause, it had become a place of bitter memories. The motel room was very dark, centering mostly on the tragedy of Dr. King's death and very little on Dr. King's dream. Dr. King's room was cared for by prostitutes, who used the rest of the motel for their other activities. One couldn't help but be reminded of Jesus, who also was recognized and served only by those rejected by the rest of society. Coming into Memphis for the first ceremony, Carrie experienced great heaviness and the sensation of being choked. I, myself, was more than usually nervous.

Brothers and sisters did a simultaneous prayer in Atlanta while we prayed in Memphis. After our prayer, we realized the wisdom of holding the ceremony three times. Our experience was strong and tearful but left us both with a sense of only having scratched the surface. I believed the ceremony was important because Heung Jin Nim had asked us to do it, but I had no personal feeling of confidence, qualification, or accomplishment while doing it. On the contrary, I had a sense of enormous inadequacy and failure. Carrie saved the day by throwing her arms around me after our prayer, while I sat in rather numbed disbelief. My mind woke up enough to sense the irony of my having come to repent and ask forgiveness of a race of people who had actually cared for and served my race all along and even now continued to comfort me, whereas at this time I should be the one to care for and serve them. To add to the drama, it poured rain in torrents all morning. It was soon after that that I attended a conference with Heung Jin Nim and heard testimonies about the storms that had followed him. I thought that probably Heung Jin Nim had been with us in Memphis, too.

For the second ceremony, on December 22, Rev. Nakamura was also able to attend, as well as the Mississippi state leader Kizashi Takemura and his wife Maria. I entered stage two with a little more confidence. Already we were in a new era. Father had been to Atlanta for the ICUS, Heung Jin Nim had held several conferences around the country, and one of our brothers, Dennis Feinman, had died in the region. Initially Dennis' death had added to my over- whelming sense of inadequacy, but whether because of the spirit of this new era or because of Rev. Nakamura's strong leadership, the second ceremony was less dramatic but more powerful than the first ceremony. After the ceremony, Maria Takemura had a vision of Dr. King sitting down, looking dejected, not being able to see through the heavy spiritual atmosphere around him.

In her vision she encouraged him to get up and dance, which he did, and they danced around together.

Andrea and Carrie praying on the second day of the condition, December 22, 1987.

Long and Tearful Prayers

When I arrived the evening before for the third ceremony, I was greeted with the news that the Lorraine Motel had been closed to the public. After our first ceremony, Maria Wockinger, the Memphis city leader, had visited the motel room almost every day, bringing flowers and praying, sometimes going with one of the ICC alumni or another member. She had made friends with the woman who managed the motel. Maria had called her to let her know we were coming for another prayer meeting only to find out that the city had taken over the property and would not allow anyone on the premises. A few months before, the city had already decided to buy the motel and make it into a civil rights museum. That we knew, but the timing was interesting. It was the day before our final ceremony and only a few days before Dr. King's birthday. We decided to hold the prayer service at the Memphis center and then gather and pray in the parking lot of the motel after the service.

Mrs. Lee attended this final ceremony, as well as Richard Wiltermood, the state leader of Alabama, and his wife, so that this time the state leaders from all the major states in which the Civil Rights Movement took place were present. We also invited three ministers. This time prayers could be offered from a sister, a brother, and a minister of each race. At the first ceremony in November, a Japanese sister had also prayed with us, representing our True Parents and the yellow race as a hole, which Father said could be the bridge between the warring black and white races. At the second ceremony, Rev. Nakamura prayed the representative prayer, and the third time Mrs. Lee prayed.

In this final ceremony, amid the brightness of the church center and with such powerful representation, there seemed to be a joyful and victorious spirit throughout the whole service. The singing was bright and strong; the prayers were long, deep, and tearful. I am sure our minister friends will never forget the experience. As Carrie and I had done in the other ceremonies, the black and white members bowed to each other at the beginning and embraced at the end. The ministers followed suit in embracing each other, too. This time Carrie had two visions: In the first one she saw the dim form of Dr. King standing as if he had just been born, and in the second she saw him put on a Korean robe of purple colors and bow to our True Parents. At the conclusion of this ceremony we received messages from both Heung Jin Nim and Dr. King that the prayer condition had been successful.

Rev. Allen and Rev. Hawkins embrace on the third day of the prayer condition, January 11, 1988.

No More Room for Divisions

In the week before, the Southeast had had a snowstorm blanketing Tennessee with 8 to 12 inches of snow and immobilizing Memphis for almost a week. Snow is a rare thing down here. One of the things Heung Jin Nim told us in his message was that we had it, made a snowball that had begun to roll and it was up to us to keep it rolling so it could get bigger and bigger. He asked us to no longer use the terms black and white and to know each other only as brothers and sisters. I use them here only to tell you the story.

All of this comes, of course, on the foundation of many sacrifices: sacrifices of martyrs throughout black American history, as well as the sacrifices of our True Parents, Heung Jin Nim, and our brothers and sisters. Our Father has taught us that there is only one race, the love race. He has also said that God had to create many diverse kinds of people because there is no way He can express Himself through only one race or people. But historically we have used our differences as excuses for division and comparison. As we shared our reflections after the third ceremony, I felt that this kind of thinking had no more place in our lives at all. Heung Jin Nim has taught us to live inside Father's Kingdom regardless of the condition of the world around us, and in that Kingdom such divisions do not exist.

This small prayer condition has been God's great grace and a chance for a new era to begin in our centers, in our region, and in our ICC work here in the Southeast. Even during the time of our prayer service, break-throughs were happening in Atlanta in circles we could never enter before. Now, as I visit both black and white ministers from various denominations, many of them tell me that they have spoken openly to their congregations about the importance of not only equality but reconciliation.

The snowball is rolling. We are deeply grateful to God, our True Parents, Heung Jin Nim, and Jesus, who all clearly carried us to this point. Now together with Dr. King we will take up the banner of God's original ideal as was so powerfully depicted in Dr. King's dream, and make the dream come true.

Testimony of the Memphis Prayer Condition
Carrie Phalo

At the Memphis center after the completion of the condition. Back row, left to right: Kizashi Takemura, Maria Takemura, Tetsuyo Ushida, Rev. Soichiro Nakamura, Frank McGowan, Adrian House. Middle row, left to right: Rev. William Allen, Mrs. Allen, Rev. Charles Hawkins, Rev. George McGlown. Front row, left to right: Kazue Wiltermood, Maria Wockinger, Mrs. Lee, Carrie Phalo, and Andrea Higashibaba.

One day in November 1987, Rev. Nakamura and I were discussing an experience I had had at a recent three-day regional workshop. I had to tell him that my feelings had not been good because of a racial barrier that existed between the mother of the camp owner and myself. Rev. Nakamura then explained to me that God had been showing him many things recently concerning the racial situation in America. Next he shared with me the message from Heung Jin Nim about Dr. Martin Luther King. He asked if I would like to participate in a special forgiveness ceremony in Memphis. I agreed.

After Sunday service on November 15, I left Atlanta by car and headed to Memphis by way of Nashville, a journey of about 420 miles. I felt nothing particular at the beginning of the journey. However, I did feel as if everything were being prolonged in time. I was supposed to have left at noon but couldn't get out of the house until 2:30. After I had driven 21 miles I began to sing, and a voice asked me where I was going. I realized I was going the wrong way! I was supposed to be going toward Chattanooga, Tennessee. This may seem like a simple mistake, but I had driven to Chattanooga many times. This time everything seemed confused. I began thinking about the times I had driven our former regional director, Mrs. Gil Ja Sa Eu, to many cities in the Southeast, but I realized that I had never driven her to Memphis. I began to feel that my driving with Mrs. Eu had been preparation for this prayer condition, to re- "walk" the steps of Dr. King, from his birthplace in Atlanta to his place of death. I kept asking God, "Why me?" But I didn't really care at this point. It was just another trip -- I was going to Memphis.

Then suddenly I saw a vision. Bright lights like arrows were spreading like lightning rods out of Memphis to other parts of the Southeast. It was like a new spark. I didn't really understand what it meant.

The Forces of Hatred

I finally arrived in Nashville after 7 pm. Andrea, whom I was picking up there, asked me if I wanted her to drive, but I was used to driving so I said no. Now I realize I should have let Andrea drive. While on the way we began to talk about how we had been put together, first driving back from that workshop where the racial incident had occurred, and now for this. I began to share with her my first encounter with absolute hatred, which I had experienced in 1986 during the CAUSA signature campaign, when I had gone to Forsythe County, Georgia. I had been warned not to go there, but I had felt pushed to go. As I was driving to Forsythe County for the day to collect signatures there, I felt as if the forces of hell were coming against me -- as if I were going into a lion's den.

In the morning the people in Forsythe County -- a totally white area notorious as one of the most racially exclusive counties in America -- had been nice and polite, but in the afternoon a woman of the county came up and began criticizing me for doing the signatures there. It was a very ugly situation because of the deep racial implications of her remarks. Not thinking of the danger of challenging a white person in that area, I made some remark back to her. Suddenly the spiritual world became changed. The person I was asking to sign the petition signed, but a voice told me, "Leave this place." I then had the feeling of pressure all over my body like lead weights. My speech became heavy and slurred. It began to get very cold outside. I went to buy some gloves, and when I came out of the store I started to get the sensation that someone was stabbing me in the back. There were several more bad incidences that day, and when I did finally get out of the county, it was with the feeling of imminent danger all around me.

As I was relating this story to Andrea, about 46 miles out of Memphis, driving became very difficult. I felt that our car was being pushed into the other lane, where an 18-wheel truck was passing. (Later Andrea said that she felt in that moment as if our car and the truck were competing, and that she was watching me and the truck and trying to keep me focused.) My body became full of feelings of anxiety and fear. Ideas were popping into my mind that I had never had before. I began shaking. It was the same feeling I had had driving home from Forsythe County. I had had a dream that night in which I was shown what would have happened to me had I kept on collecting signatures there. I was being chased by men with dogs and guns. They let the dogs on me, raped me, and finally hung me by the neck. I woke from that dream with what looked like a rope mark on my neck. I had never known what hatred was before going to Forsythe County. Now, while driving, I felt as if that rope were again being tightened around my throat, and it became difficult to breathe. When we reached Memphis, my body was in total pain.

A road sign on a Georgia highway. This photo was taken in 1959.

It Didn't Seem Complete

The next morning when we went to the Lorraine Motel, I was shocked. The place was a dump, and there were prostitutes all around. I felt terrible. When we went inside we were not well prepared. No one really knew how to do this condition. I was stiff as a board, and I felt uncomfortable when the brothers and sisters bowed to me. It didn't seem right. Emiko, a Japanese sister, prayed, then Andrea prayed, and then I prayed, but after our prayers, it didn't seem quite complete.

On our way back to Nashville, Andrea was driving and I was asleep in the back. Suddenly I heard what sounded like someone running. Then I heard the sound of dogs barking and men shouting "Get that nigger!" It woke me right up from sleep. I saw a person running, and I called out to him, "Stop! You're dead!" but he kept on running. Finally he listened to me and stopped and turned around, and then he disappeared. It had been a vision.

It was pouring rain as we left Memphis, so we had to drive very slowly. As we neared Nashville, the rain cleared up. I dropped Andrea off at the Nashville center and continued on alone. When I stopped at a gas station, it began to pour rain again, in such torrents as I had never seen in my life. Rain was going in two different directions. I tried to continue, but the car kept stalling So I turned around and drove back to the Nashville center. The next morning at morning service I was asked to read a passage from God's Will and the World. It was about Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

I began to cry from the first word. I never cried, even before the church, but this time I couldn't stop crying. I left again for Atlanta, but it took many extra hours to drive back. I was uneasy and tearful the whole time.

Four days after the condition, our brother Dennis was fatally struck by a car in Athens, Georgia. I asked why it could not have been me. But then I realized God chooses only those most worthy of the offering. Later I saw Dennis in a dream. He was smiling, and a voice said I shouldn't be sad because it would hold him down. Instead I should be happy and joyful. [Note: A message from Heung Jin Nim later explained that Dennis' death was, at least in part, an offering to help indemnify the racial oppression in the Southeast.]

The Presence of True Parents

The second time we went to Memphis it was easier. I was more at peace. It was after Father had visited Atlanta for the Science Conference.

I also took my two sons with me. I picked up Andrea in Nashville again, and this time Andrea drove. All I could do was sleep, because I felt so tired. This time I got a terrible headache, which made me drift in and out of sleep. It was so painful that I couldn't see out of one eye. We had Father's speech playing in the tape deck, and Father was explaining about the barriers between black and white and how we should be totally united, not one race dominating the other. He explained how God works through both races and why black people are more spiritual and why white people are more practical-minded. It helped me better understand how I should be and how I should feel towards my brothers and sisters.

When we reached Memphis, the pain in my eye stopped, and everything became beautiful and bright. A couple of days before, I had seen In Jin Nim's face like a flash in a dream for a split second. That morning of the second Memphis condition, I saw her face again, looking large and beautiful and peaceful, with a bright moon behind her, glowing and complete. In the vision, we were driving in a car passing many trees. You couldn't see the branches, only the tree trunks, but In Jin Nim's face in the moon stayed with us. I felt that this was going to be a very special time. The presence of True Parents was there.

During this second prayer ceremony I saw the face of Mrs. Corretta King. I also perceived a disappointed feeling around Dr. King, although I didn't know why. It was not a happy atmosphere, but I was relatively calm and peaceful. This time I felt that Andrea was really my sister. Afterwards, when we were walking around the room looking at the pictures of Dr. King, I saw in one picture that Dr. King had been shot in the right eye, and I realized why there had been so much pain in my right eye the night before. This time I felt our prayers were bringing about the beginning of the end of resentment.

I also sensed that the time period following this second condition would be very important, and that we would be tested. Hidden wounds would be revealed that we would have to unite to resolve. I realized that, if it hadn't been for Heung Jin Nim, this whole realm would have never been opened up.

On the third day of the condition, everyone gathered in the parking lot of the Lorraine Motel, below the balcony where Dr. King was shot.

Could I Really Change?

Sure enough, back in Atlanta my spirit was tested many times by brothers and sisters. Also an incident happened at a stand I run where a white man deliberately drove off without paying. This kind of thing had never actually happened to me before. It was an outright e. it act, and it caused a deep struggle within me. I had to really determine that day that I could truly forgive and forget and end this resentment now. I had been praying for the liberation of resentment in that motel in Memphis, but could I really change? It was something I myself had to deal with. It wasn't something that someone else could take responsibility for.

Many tests came before the third prayer condition. I had to change my view of how I looked at others and how I looked at myself. I had always had a fear of speaking out, a fear of being hit for saying the wrong thing. I felt that I had no right to speak because others were better and I should accept whatever comes. It was hard to change this attitude.

For the final trip to Memphis I drove with Mrs. Lee and Rev. Nakamura. The first time it had been only Andrea and I. The second time we had been with Rev. Nakamura and the Mississippi state leader Kizashi Takemura and his wife. Now we were at the completion stage, with a representative from America as the archangel nation, Japan as the Eve nation, and Korea as the Adam nation, united together for this historical event. I was excited. In essence, this was an event to conditionally end, on a world level, the resentment that has persisted between black and white, because Dr. King had never had the chance to say he forgave his enemies and had overcome resentment. Unlike the other trips, everything went smoothly this time. Even though it had snowed, it was a quick trip, whereas usually in the South everything completely closes down when it snows. But God had protected us all, as we came from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. I was at peace. I slept well that night for the first time.

The next morning when the three ministers came for the prayer condition, I had to struggle again to open my heart. I was tested in other ways too, in which I had to just unite. At one point Andrea and I met in the bathroom, where we had both escaped for some privacy. I thought of how different we were and yet how much we had in common. I thought about how amazing it was that God could really use us as His instruments for His will to be done -- even me, who was struggling at that point to even relate to my brothers and sisters. I was trying to deal with all kinds of thoughts going through my mind, and I was particularly thinking about how we all seem to put each other down all the time -- even blacks among blacks and whites among whites, and how we often feel no value even within ourselves.

A Vision of Rebirth

At the prayer, we sang songs, Rev. Nakamura prayed, and then we came up and bowed to each other and prayed. Mrs. Lee prayed in Korean. Although I couldn't understand her, I felt the big heart of Father behind her words. Then as Rev. Allen, representing the black people, prayed, I felt the forces of the spirit world there wanting to embrace everyone in that room. A couple nights before, I'd seen in a dream a black man standing naked with the image of a white figure around him. This scene appeared to me again after Mrs. Lee's prayer and before Rev. Allen's prayer. This time the white figure was dressing the black man from his feet up to his head, dancing around him. The white figure was a person whiter than snow. As I saw the vision, my body was in agony and shaking. Andrea was holding onto my right arm. I was holding on for dear life to the minister on my other side, and he was crying. I wanted to sit down but I couldn't, because we were in a circle, so

I had to persevere. Then I saw that the black person was Dr. Martin Luther King and he was being dressed in beautiful dark purple and beige Korean- style clothes. After being dressed, Dr. King bowed three times before True Parents, who were sitting there in their holy robes. I felt as if I were giving birth to something, and a white figure came out of me. Then the pain stopped, and I felt warm and at ease and at peace. When we finished, the spirit in the room was completely different. We began to sing.

Afterwards we went to the Lorraine Motel and sang more songs in the parking lot. I was aware of the same heavy spirit again, but it was lighter and somehow different, and I felt a sense of happiness and unity. I felt that Andrea was closer to me than anyone I had ever met. Before, I had never trusted anyone further than I could see them. For the first time in my life, God knows, I began to understand what love really was.

The hardest thing is always practicing what we know we have to do. On the way home, I could speak with Mrs. Lee, and I had a rare experience of God's love. She showed me how nothing is in vain if it is done with a heavenly attitude. From now on, I will fight to be more stable within myself and more united with True Parents, always trying to open my heart deeply and widely to forgiveness and understanding and always striving to help build God's Kingdom on this earth. 

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