Judy Bonds: A Mother of Our Movement

Judy Bonds LeadershipTwo images of Judy Bonds flash through my mind as I try to pray.  Judy, as many readers will know, is battling against cancer. I write this asking you to pray for her life.  And while you are at it, to pray for those of us who love and admire Judy, and who draw from her vision, courage, and passion for justice.

Judy Bonds ActivistOne image is that of Judy the fiery activist.  Short in stature, Judy is like the shepherd-boy David armed with 5 smooth stones and a sling. Her face is set like flint, jaw set, eyes glistening, eager to battle the coal company Goliath that dares destroy her beloved mountains and abuse her community. Judy whirls  and slings her stones as hammer-shot words of sorrows and angers and facts and truths.  Like the biblical Deborah, Judy’s inspiring courage leads the charge. Deborah, a mother of Israel; Judy, a mother of the mountains and its inhabitants, a keeper of the covenant, a lover of God and God’s people (Judges 5).

The other image is that of Judy, eyes twinkling with joy and laughter, arms embracing and hugging,  words consoling  and inspiring.  I have never spent any time with Judy that I haven’t been freshly inspired, envisioned, emboldened, encouraged, and appreciated.  To be with Judy is to feel valued.  Judy Bonds is other-centered, non-egocentric, honest, and generous of heart.

Judy Bonds is a leader in the fight against mountaintop removal. She lived in Marfork Hollow in the Coal River valley, as her ancestors had lived for seven generations (many of them underground coal miners).  The heavy foot of Massey Energy Coal Company blasted her surrounding mountains, bled out its waters and suffocated its trees. Judy finally evacuated in the face of polluting dust, foul water, and incessant noise from the coal operations. She continued to fight MTR, organizing and leading Coal River Mountain Watch. In 2003 Judy Bonds received the Goldman Prize, the world environmental equivalent of the Nobel Prize, for her community organizing and unwavering battle against coal industry abuse.

Judy Bonds FaithLike other outspoken anti-MTR activists in the coalfields, Judy Bonds has received innumerable threats, taunts, personal assaults, and has faced bullying coal trucks.  Judy refuses to flinch, recognizing that to give in to the coal terrorists is to capitulate to their nefarious strategy.  Truth must prevail, but truth requires courage and perseverance.

Judy is a woman of deep faith in God.  She is not a “churchy person” nor does she wrap herself up in pieties or heavenly chatter. Judy’s earthy, robust faith places her feet on the ground, her sleeves rolled up, her hands working the ground for God’s truth and justice.  She openly loves God by decrying the despoliation of creation, in God’s name.  She trusts God for strength, for truth to prevail, for “justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  Judy Bonds is a prophet of our time.  To use Walter Bruggemann’s theme in his work, “The Prophetic Imagination,” Judy calls people out of spiritual numbness and hopelessness at their plight in the face of coal industry abuse.  And then, she envisions the people to fight injustice for the promise of a renewed land of peace and wholeness.

Let us now pick up Judy's mantle and carry it onward.

Judy is now battling a horrific attack of cancer.  Let us pray for her, that God draw close with God’s healing, strengthening, loving presence.

---Allen Johnson (November 2010)
Christians For The Mountains