Her voice echoed over the sound system and pierced my heart as she quoted Jesus asking His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?”
The voice coming through the soundwaves was the voice of Heather Gardner, Executive Director of the Central Texas Coalition For Life, encouraging and challenging people in the audience to sign up and pray for one committed hour once a week during their 40 Days For Life campaign. I was attending the kick-off event held in front of one of the local Austin abortion facilities and had not at that point been willing to sign up to pray during the 40 Days For Life.
A few months prior, another voice had convicted my heart: the voice of Jennifer Fulwiler, ex-pro-choice Atheist and author, informing a group of ladies at a pro-life brunch of the need for sidewalk counselors and challenging us to prayerfully consider volunteering.
After hearing Jennifer, I tentatively e-mailed Heather asking if I could participate in the next sidewalk counselor training, making sure I expressed I was not yet ready to commit to sidewalk counseling. I just wanted to attend the training to understand what a woman is going through when she has made the choice to have an abortion.
When the training ended, Heather passed around a sign-up sheet that included spaces to write your name, the hour and day you would commit to sidewalk counsel. When the sheet was passed to me, I was too embarrassed not to write my name down. As the Lord would have it, I signed up to pray and sidewalk counsel at the same abortion facility my dad used to go to in the mid 90’s to pass out resources to women entering the facility.
I was timid at first on the sidewalk to chat with anyone but my conversation skills quickly kicked in. The Coalition For Life has a friendly approach to sidewalk counseling. We smile at people driving in and as they walk past us. We pray that people will know that we are there in peace. I believe this is why clients are more likely to chat with us as they realize we are not there to condemn.
As clients walk past me in the parking lot, I introduce myself and ask if I can give them some information about resources in the community. As they approach me, I share that the abortion facility has failed numerous state health inspections and ask if they would be comfortable sharing with me what services they are there for that day. Some just want a pregnancy test, so I point them to the many local pregnancy resource centers that give free pregnancy tests. Some are there for a well-woman’s exam, so I give them a list of life-affirming doctors in the Austin area who are safe and affordable. If they are there for STD testing, I point them to Trucare Clinic which offers low-cost STD testing among other services. If they are there for an abortion, I show them the development timeline of the baby they are carrying.
Many times, people who approach me coming out of the abortion facility are the friends, family members or loved ones that came with the woman for her appointment. I have talked to many men who say their wife/girlfriend/friend is already having the abortion procedure as we speak. I ask if I can pray for her (and him). Surprisingly no one has turned down my offer to pray with them. I encourage the man or friend or loved one to ask the woman to reconsider the abortion procedure. People have walked back into the facility or walked to their car to wait. I give many post-abortive healing pamphlets away.
When it is quiet and no clients are around, I pray and ask the Lord: “Would You move in this place today and soften hearts to want to keep their child today? Would You fill their mind and hearts with Your truth and expose any lies they are believing about their situation that Satan has told them? I pray that they would see that we are here in peace and that Your love and hope would exude from our presence. I pray that family members and friends would call them to tell them they have support if they choose to keep their baby. Would You open the minds, eyes, and hearts of the abortion facility workers showing them the true nature of abortion? I pray that more free/low-cost life-affirming clinics would open up in Austin to give well-woman services to women. Lord, would You change the next generation’s hearts and minds to value life among their peers and value human development and life inside a woman’s womb? Would You give boldness to men and women who wished they had not had an abortion or supported one to share their abortion stories? Would You challenge Christians in Austin to minister to and disciple people in their lives toward the knowledge of Your truth, love, and hope so that the thought of abortion would not enter a person’s mind because they are aware of the truths You speak in Scripture?”
I pray also for the couples I see arguing outside the facility about whether they should go through with the abortion praying that they would choose life instead of death that day. I pray for the numerous women I see throwing up after their abortion into potted plants and over the balcony of the abortion facility’s entrance and behind the facility’s staircase. I pray for the women and loved ones as the woman walks slowly and gingerly away from the facility with marked pain etched into her face that she and her partner would find healing from the abortion.
I believe that as a child of God, adopted into His kingdom, God has called me to be faithful on the sidewalk and minister to those who don’t know what is to come: the sadness, depression, anger, anxiety, numbness that comes from experiencing abortion.
When Heather finished her speech, I went over to the table and signed up to pray once a week for one hour for the next 40 days. I had already been serving for a few months two Saturdays a month as a sidewalk counselor. Before that moment, I had not been willing to sacrifice additional personal time on Saturdays. That day the Lord spoke to my heart and asked if I would commit to stand with him and pray just as he asked his disciples. I said “yes” to the Lord that day.
I once heard a story that a man in church felt a nudge from God telling him to walk toward a father and his son with special needs to place his hands over them and pray for them. God nudged him several times during that service but the man was afraid and told God “I don’t want to” each time. After that, out of the corner of his eye, the man saw someone else going up to the father and child to place their hands over them and pray for them. That other person had said “yes” to God and obeyed. This experience changed the man and he never wanted to say “no” to God again.
What have you said “yes, no or later” to that God has called you to get involved in? Can you meet a need somewhere? As someone who has said “maybe” and “no” to God many times, I can attest that the rewards of obeying the Lord and seeing His transformation in people’s lives are greater than I could have imagined. The stories that have come in over the years for the 40 Days For Life have been amazing, and God has moved in tremendous ways on the sidewalk.
Would you join me in praying for the world’s issues that you and I are passionate about? In particular, for the Lord to bring His healing, restoration, hope, and love?
I leave you with a few verses on God’s view regarding life, a resource from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and a link to an upcoming movie about one woman’s story of healing and restoration after her abortions.
Psalm 139: 13-16
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (NIV)
Proverbs 24:11-12 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? (ESV)
Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” (NIV)
Psalm 82:3-4 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy… (ESV)