40 Days for Life 12-Hour Vigil
Yesterday I spent the day standing outside of the Planned Parenthood at 201 N. Hamilton Avenue in Richmond, VA. This was my first time doing pro-life outreach at this location.
There were no abortions on Saturday. Praise God!
My purpose there yesterday was not actually motivated because I thought Planned Parenthood was going to be doing abortions, I actually went there to pray as part of the 40 Days for Life campaign.
40 Days for Life is an international movement of pro-life people who join together in standing in prayer and peaceful vigil for the end of abortion. In front of abortion clinics across the globe, pro-life people will stand united in prayer for abortion to end. They hold hundreds of these vigils across the globe. The vigils continue for 40 days.
So I was signed up to cover the Saturday hours of the vigil from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. I was joined by over a dozen others who prayed with me throughout the day. Here are some of the pictures and some short stories of things that happened throughout the day.
The day was gorgeous! I arrived just before 7:00 a.m. and it was still dark outside. The street lights were on, illuminating the street. I spent the first hour alone in prayer and praise. No one was there, yet, so I was singing pretty loudly.
When the sun did come out, I took the chance to read from my waterproof Bible. I read Psalm 119 aloud. It has been some time since I have done that.
It was supposed to be rainy all day, and people had actually already cancelled events based on that weather prediction. My friends prayed for me that the weather would be clear, and it was clear. The trees around were beautiful as the leaves changed color from green to yellow, orange, and red.
Staff and volunteers did begin arriving around 8. Some were coming to do political campaigns and to get canvasing instructions. So they did not stay long.
Two couples came early, and went into the building after the staff arrived. I don't know what they came for, but among the possibilities are: Abortion counseling (a requirement before the actual abortion), Ultrasound (another pre-abortion requirement), Contraception, STD/STI Testing, Hormone Treatments.
That last one is the only confirmed action taken at Planned Parenthood yesterday. I'll tell you more below.
A total of 37 vehicles went in and out of Planned Parenthood's parking lot in those twelve hours. I don't know for sure how many were staff/volunteers/political activists and how many were there to get services.
I didn't spend more than three hours of the twelve praying on my own. Most of the time I was surrounded by others who were there to pray with 40 Days for Life.
The prayers were passionate and filled with conviction.
Thank you to everyone who joined me in prayer. Thank you especially to my friends from Stony Point Church who came out to pray in front of an abortion facility for the first time.
Here is one model of prayer that I used throughout the day: Praise. Start off with praising God, for he is good. Repentance. Ask God to forgive you for your sin. Adoration. Thanking God for his mercy. Intercession. Asking God for his mercy on others. Supplication. Asking God to help you and your friends in need. Encore or End. Repeat the prayer process again, or conclude.
Some of the people we interceded for included everyone visiting Planned Parenthood for whatever it was that brought them there. We asked for God to open their eyes to the way of life and to the better health options that are available to them (often for free) through Pregnancy Help Centers and Federally Qualified Health Clinics.
We prayed for all of the staff, that they would no longer take part in the work of Planned Parenthood (which kills unborn children, in case you were wondering why we wouldn't want anyone to work there). We prayed for them all to find the true peace of Christ Jesus.
Like I said above, it was a beautiful day! This tree was so gorgeous, and I wasn't the only one who enjoyed its beauty. While I was standing there, I saw three drivers stop, pull out their phones, and snap photos of this glorious tree.
The only way I confirmed that hormone treatments were being done at Planned Parenthood yesterday is because one of the people who went in for one told me about it.
One person drove into Planned Parenthood in a scary way. I was only a few feet from the car when they drove in. I had my back to the entrance, praying with a group. I felt a little unsafe about how close they were and how fast they were going.
They were driving fast on the way in, and they drove out in a similar fashion. I would call it aggressive driving.
We all prayed for the person, knowing nothing about what brought them into Planned Parenthood that day for the forty-five minutes or so that they were there.
Then the person came back after the rest of the prayer group had gone. I was standing in prayer on my own when the driver came back.
This time they drove into the parking lot so fast that they scraped the bottom of the front of their car on the slight incline in the sidewalk!
I was a little bit nervous to see someone coming back so quickly and with so much apparent resolve.
When the driver got out and pulled two objects from the car, I was getting a bit more nervous. This isn't typical behavior.
Then they started walking towards me. I realized that the objects being held were two disposable coffee cups. The driver got close enough to talk and said to me, "I brought you some coffee."
"Wow! That is such a generous thing to do. Thank you." I said. I took the coffee that was proffered to me. It was a tall plain coffee from Starbucks. It was in the green cup, and the driver kept the red cup. I took a drink, and enjoyed the warmth of the hot coffee.
"My name is Sean." I said, extending my hand after taking off my glove. (I never shake people's hands while wearing a glove. I always take them off, first. Does anyone else do that?)
"I'm Wesley." Wesley told me. "That is a great name!" I said. "It reminds me of The Princess Bride." "Actually," Wesley said, smiling broadly, "that's what I'm named after." "Really?!" I exclaimed, "Your parents are so cool."
Wesley laughed and agreed.
"I wanted to ask you about what your sign means." Wesley said.
I was holding the "All People are Created in the Image of God" sign pictured above. It was getting a bit worse for wear. Corrugated plastic signs deteriorate after being out in the sun for months, and then when they are being handled the parts start falling out. It could still be read, though, and Wesley must have read it on the way in and or out of Planned Parenthood that day.
"Oh," I answered. "This sign is just a clear statement of my belief that all human beings are equally valuable because they are all made in the image of God. It doesn't matter about their pigmentation, their ethnicity, their sex, their gender, or their age. Everyone is equally valuable. That is the Christian ethic."
"Wow. I agree." Wesley said. "So, what are you doing in front of Planned Parenthood?"
"I am here because human beings are being killed. The unborn are equally valuable to all other human beings. They should not be killed just because they are younger than we are."
"Tell me," Wesley said, beginning a genuine question, "what do you know about Planned Parenthood?" "I know a lot." I started to answer. "I know that it was founded in the 1920's (1930's?) by Margaret Sanger in New York as the American Birth Control League and later changed its name to Planned Parenthood to avoid the connotation of eugenics. I know that their new CEO replacing Cecile Richards is a medical doctor and is originally from China, but I've forgotten her name. [It is Dr. Leanna Wen. I looked it up just now.] I know that Planned Parenthood does more than 300,000 abortions every year. I know that they are funded with over $500,000,000 in taxpayer dollars every year. I know that the Executive Director of the Richmond Planned Parenthood is name Paulette."
I rattled off all of these facts pretty quickly.
"Wow. Ok." Wesley said. "You know a lot more about the nitty-gritty than I do. Did you know that not everyone who comes here is coming to have their babies taken care of?"
I stopped at the harsh euphemism that I heard.
I looked at my conversation partner and said, "Oh Wesley, that is quite the euphemism you just used. Babies are 'being taken care of' here, is that it?" I tried to stress in my inflection how much that term sounds like someone describing a mob hit that might be taken out on an enemy.
"Yeah, it is a euphemism." Wesley agreed. "But I was wondering if you knew about the other services that Planned Parenthood provides." I was getting ready to debunk the silly claim that Planned Parenthood provides mammograms, but Wesley went in a completely different direction.
"For instance, I am Transgender, and I depend on Planned Parenthood for my care."
"Yeah, I'm aware that Planned Parenthood provides other services." I said. "But I am going to continue to protest them because they kill human beings. I don't care how much other good they do, they are killing human beings and I will never stop protesting that." "There are also other places that people can go to get the health services that they need." I continued. "Including Pregnancy Resource Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers."
"Not for me." Wesley said.
I didn't know if that was precisely true, but I didn't fight on it. I wanted to say how sorry I felt that Wesley was going to be under medical care for the rest of their life because of the transition they were undertaking. Wesley will always need hormone treatment. It will never stop, even if they "de-transition" and return to the normal expressions of their biological sex, hormone treatment will still be necessary. At least, that's my layman understanding of the medical reality.
Wesley didn't pause long, though, and pressed on, "Because I'm Transgender, I have never gotten pregnant and don't intend to."
I took another sip of coffee. What could I say to that?
Wesley pressed me about how effective I was being. I answered that I have seen lives saved from abortion because of people like me standing there. That is effective. Lives have been saved. Wesley argued that abortion wasn't the thing I should be focused on. "There are a lot better ways to serve the community of Richmond that what you're doing." Wesley said. (I was glad that Wesley acknowledged that my work was serving the community of Richmond! That is huge!) "Really?" I asked, probably more incredulously than I should have been, "What would you say is a bigger problem than the thousands of children being aborted every day? What is a bigger problem than abortion?" I asked. "Childhood illiteracy." Wesley answered with a straight face. I am pretty sure I did laugh out loud at some point at how absurd such a claim was. I even asked to clarify if Wesley really believes more children die from illiteracy than from abortion. "Yes." was the answer that I got.
Well, I disagreed with that assessment. I went on to describe how vital the pro-life work is. How lives have been saved in my own experience. How post-abortive women have found healing. And how we have shared books with the children of one woman we met and helped after her own abortion some years ago. (See! I helped prevent childhood illiteracy!)
Wesley told me about the volunteer work they do reading to children at a local elementary school. Their church leads that effort. (Yes, Wesley was a member at a local mainline protestant church.)
We continued talking for a while, I thanked Wesley again for the coffee and the conversation, and they wheeled around and stalked off to the car and drove away in the same manner as they had before. Maybe that's just the way that Wesley drives. It just comes across as incredibly aggressive.
Throughout the day I had others pray with me in front of Planned Parenthood. The neighbors took notice. Everyone who drove in and out saw us and heard at least a brief message of love. "You are made in the image of God!" I would say to everyone leaving. "Have a safe day!"
One couple who came had a Venezuelan flag decal hanging from their rear-view mirror. "Are you from Venezuela?" I asked as they prepared to turn out of the parking lot. "Yea!" the male drive said with a broad grin. "Cool!" I said. "She's from Columbia." He said, gesturing to the female passenger with his thumb. They were both smiling broadly. "Great!" I said, "I've been to Bogota." "Si!" she exclaimed, "I'm from ... " (I couldn't make out the name of the place before they drove out.) I then called out for them to stop before they pulled out into another car, and they thanked me from protecting them from an accident. Those are some of the really brief interactions I had. I don't know how effective I could be there.
But it wasn't about me and my words. The day was focused on prayer, and prayer is powerful.
Perhaps my favorite visitor was Rowdy, the dog. He was so energetic, and gave me a huge boost in resolve as I got to play
with him and walk him. (He was distracting his owner from prayer.) I wasn't praying very well as I walked Rowdy, but it was great to just enjoy the life that God has given.
Life is such a beautiful gift.
I was moved to tears while praying with another prayer volunteer. We were both filled with sorrow over all of the lives being snuffed out by abortion day after day. It is a tragedy that is so heavy to even think about.
Another thing that is heavy for some is the way those driving by respond to us. There were several occasions of middle-fingers (one-finger salutes, as my friend put it), thumbs down, f-bombs shouted from car windows, and loud horns blared in opposition.
One man also slowed down to a crawl, pulled out his phone, and filmed me as he drove by slowly. He shouted out a slur as he passed, and I just waved hello to the camera showing them my sign and the message that "All People are Created in the Image of God."
Just this afternoon I was driving in my neighborhood when a neighbor noticed my front "Choose Life" license plate. Instead of the cheery, "Good afternoon, neighbor" with a slight wave that should be expected, this man sneered at me and said, "Hey, faggot." as I drove by and waved.
I just wave at people when they behave this way. One finger salutes? Oh, they're just pointing us to Christ and reminding us that he is there with us. Slurs and thumbs down? Oh, those are actually directed at Planned Parenthood, we just happen to be in the way.
Of course I can't pretend that all of this is true, but it's funny to laugh about it.
What is really true is that people are hurting. They have seen that our message is one of life, and they don't accept it. Why not? Perhaps it is because 1 out of 4 women in this country has had an abortion. So it is statistically guaranteed that they have either directly or indirectly been involved in an abortion. That comes with a load of guilt.
My message is then heard not as "life is beautiful!" but it is heard as, "You/your wife/your sister/your friend/your mother is a murderer!"
That is a terrible message to hear. My very presence and position shouts that loud and clear to those who are in that position. I do pray that they hear my other message, that I am always trying to proclaim just as loudly, "Jesus forgives all sin!"
Yesterday I continued to pray at Planned Parenthood even after all of the staff, volunteers, and clients were gone. They all left around 5:00 p.m., but one guy did come back near 6:30 to get something that he either forgot or to take care of something urgent.
It was so sweet to pray with everyone else who came. From the first to the very last group.
I enjoyed every minute of my time out there. It was a refreshing time with God's Word and in prayer and praise. I am so thankful that God gave me the opportunity, and that I had so many good friends join me in the prayers.
I'm looking forward to doing it again. I don't know when I will do a 12 hour shift again, but I should be at Boulevard and Grove next Saturday to pray and sidewalk counsel for at least a fraction of that time. It would always be an encouragement to have you join me.