MILNER, GEORGIA, AND BALTIMORE, MARYLAND —
In rural central Georgia, one religious community has been feeling its way of life is under threat, but many of the mainly white congregants at the Rock Springs Church have found new hope since the presidential election.
Across the U.S. this week, conservative Christians are celebrating the November 8 victory of Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Members of Rock Springs in Milner, Georgia, are no exception. "I think the mood of the people is optimistic," said Dr. Benny Tate, the pastor of the Methodist church, which traces its history back to the 1850s.
Rock Springs lies deep in the heart of Trump country, where rebel flags adorn many front porches and cars. Lamar County, where the church is located, went for Trump by a margin of almost 40 percentage points.
FILE - Republican President-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City, Nov. 9, 2016.
"[We avoided] a huge disaster," Misty Ard from nearby McDonough said after the service. "I think God definitely had his hands on this whole election."
Against both abortion and gay marriage, Ard feared that if Clinton were elected, her freedom would have been curtailed.
"If Hillary would have gotten in there, we would have some very liberal Supreme Court justices and I think our rights and religious freedom as Christians would have definitely been diminished," Ard said.
It's a fear often expressed by conservative evangelicals, many of whom feel they are being left behind in a culture that has largely accepted ideas they deem anti-Biblical.
‘Everything to lose’
A few hundred kilometers away in Baltimore, MD, the mood of the prayer vigil was somber from the start. During an opening prayer, a church leader thanked God for bringing the congregation through a week "filled with hatred, bigotry and heartache." The songs in this predominantly African-American church focused on trusting in God through difficult times. One pastor pondered whether "white male privilege and supremacy" had won the day. The assumption was that it had.
The weekly gathering of the Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church was in a state of near mourning.
"A lot of us woke up Wednesday morning with a heavy sense of some form of impending doom," said Tembe Sibiya, one of several hundred people who attended the Saturday prayer vigil. Though Sibiya seems to wear a permanent smile and projects a cheery, hopeful demeanor, she doesn't have many nice things to say about Trump.
She's not alone. According to exit polls, Trump won just 8 percent of the African-American vote. That was despite his efforts to reach out to the black community, particularly toward the end of his campaign. But even when he did, many found the attempts offensive, such as when he repeatedly linked African-Americans to "inner-city" slums and said black voters face situations so desperate that they have "nothing to lose" by voting for him.
"We have everything to lose," Sibiya said. "These are our lives. We do not live in blighted communities. We are not a hopeless people. He needs to get to know us better."
Rocky Twyman solicits signatures on a card that reads: "By signing, I agree to pray without ceasing that God will touch the heart of President-elect Trump with LOVE," at Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. (A. Arabasadi/VOA)
Sowing 'seeds of love'
Outside the church, Rocky Twyman, a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, solicits signatures on a giant, handwritten card that reads: "By signing, I agree to pray without ceasing that God will touch the heart of President-elect Trump with LOVE."
"We're just trying to sow seeds of love," explained Twyman, who helped organize and publicize the prayer vigil.
Twyman is cautiously optimistic about the billionaire businessman, whom he describes as "apolitical." He admits he has deep concerns, especially about the fact that Trump spent years as one of the central figures of the "birther" movement, which questioned whether Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, was born in the U.S.
"We would hope that in the interest of bringing the country together ... that he would apologize first of all to Mr. Obama, and then also to the groups that he has offended," Twyman said.
Click on the map icons to watch a video from each congregation
Trump has made some gestures toward unity since his November 8 win, vowing to be a "president for all Americans." But the country has seen a wave of racist incidents since the election.
"We're just going to have to pray without ceasing for him that God would touch his heart," Twyman said. "We really need divine intervention at this point."
'We need each other'
When asked what he would tell those in the Baltimore community who are fearful of Trump and concerned about their immediate future, Pastor Tate in Georgia said he would have them know that "we need each other, and that God's created all of us equal."
"Every person should have their dignity," he said. "Even though we disagree, I don't think we need to be angry. So I would let those people know that we love them."
Sibiya, who attended the Baltimore prayer vigil, is also optimistic about how her community will handle the challenges ahead.
"We are part of a community that has weathered many, many storms," Sibiya said. "We are determined to survive.""