It was like a scene from Robert Duvall’s movie The Apostle. A white pastor was preaching the Gospel to a southern audience that was about three-quarters black and one-fourth white, all united in faith, all getting along marvelously, all gathered in common purpose. Supercilious liberal bi-coastal elites have no clue that such comity exists, but it does, yes it does, oh Lord, yes it does.
The scene occurred this past Sunday evening, in a candlelight vigil at Lyons Park in Mobile, Alabama. The occasion involved a poignant, life-or-death struggle. And the subject of the event is a true little heroine, as much an inspiration as a victim.
The story of Starla Eve Chapman, now barely three years old, gained national prominence when Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron wore her name on his wristband during the BCS Championship game. Mobile native McCarron, who is white, had taken up the cause of Starla, who is black, through volunteer visits to her hospital. Starla suffers from acute myeloid leukemia, an often fatal disease that strikes only about 500 children per year in the United States.
With a simple sentence that now provides the watchwords for Team Starla’s efforts to save the girl’s life, Starla captured the essence of her situation on the day before her first treatments began, when she looked at her parents and said, “Just trust.” As a simple Google search will confirm, her plight and her courage have inspired a large national following. Chemotherapy treatments seemed to be working, but apparently one of the drugs damaged her heart, and on Jan. 3 she suffered a seizure and cardiac arrest, and was put on life support. As of Jan. 16, though, her heart functionality had improved from 6 percent (below 10 percent is usually considered irreversible) to 21 percent, and she had opened her eyes. McCarron visited her again that day, by the way, and the word as of the night of the vigil was that she continued to improve and to be weaned off medication.
“God continues to heal and we continue to pray for Starla Eve Chapman,” read the summary in the small mimeographed program sheet handed out at the prayer vigil Sunday night. “A daughter, a grand-daughter, a niece, a cousin, a fighter, a witness, an inspiration, A Child of God!“
Here’s what the sneering elites don’t understand: Out here in flyover land, people believe. We really believe. That’s why several hundred people would gather on a dreary winter night, trying to keep the breeze from extinguishing our candles, listening to prayers, and to live singers with lovely voices lifting songs written especially for Starla, and to a motivational lay speaker, and to a pastor’s stem-winding call to faith, and to more songs, and again to more prayers. Dozens of black pre-schoolers stood there under the oaks, perfectly well behaved for nearly two full hours. So did an octogenarian white factory owner, and so did people of just about every imaginable time and culture and stratum of life in between. College-age folks wore brightly colored homemade t-shirts bearing Starla’s “Just Trust” message; a black homeless guy walked up and said he usually sleeps in the park and wondered what it was all about.
After taking in the prayers for a few minutes, he said, “Today’s my 47th birthday. This is nice.” After a few more, he added, “I can tell, that little girl is already healing. She’s right over at that hospital [just down the street from Lyons Park] and she can feel these prayers, and she’s already better than she was before this started. I can tell it.”
Starla’s family — her uncle, Willie Harris Jr., is himself a preacher — believes that Starla’s “Just Trust” saying was an echo of Jeremiah 17:7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” Jeremiah continues in verse 8: “He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Surely some of the community’s response to the Chapman family is partly the fruit of the work of Starla’s mother, DeAndra. For more than a year before Starla took ill, with no idea that her own family would ever be in need of their services, DeAndra had done volunteer work for the American Cancer Society and for the Ronald McDonald House. Her roots already were out, and she has been nourished in return.
As of early afternoon on Wednesday, Starla’s heart functionality had increased still further, to 25 percent, and Starla’s mother DeAndra said they expected a new, even better reading within hours. Starla is now breathing on her own, alert, looking around, drinking on her own (through a straw) rather than solely intravenously — and again is talking a little, although it hurts to talk much because her throat is sore from all the tubes that were in it.
Speaking of the vigil three nights before, DeAndra told me: “It just really goes to show the outpouring of love and support we have received. It was an awesome experience to be a part of a group of people of different ages, races, sexes, all coming together, touching, agreeing, believing — believing in a miracle.”