“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” 1 Peter 3:15-16
There have been countless times in social situations, especially when someone first meets me, that I have been asked, “So, what do you do?”
The ministry in front of abortion centers is highly controversial. Most people have strongly polarized views on the topic of abortion, and even vehement feelings about whether someone should be counseling women as they go in to abort. Misconceptions abound, but that doesn’t stop people from holding tightly to their often negative opinion of this type of ministry.
I always take a deep breath and wrestle with how to graciously respond to the question. I admit sometimes I just want to deflect the question Especially in social gatherings with people I don’t know, that question is a landmine.
“I try to convince women entering abortion centers not to abort.”
The response is predictable: Blank, non-committal stares. Silence. Averted eyes. Clearing of throats. Awkward excuses to rush off.
I have learned over the years that it is important to not just give that brief answer. It is an opportunity before God to share the hope I have and WHY I have it. This situation happened recently and I wrote about it:
I was at the eye doc today for a yearly exam (cataracts starting … ugh …) and new glasses, as my prescription needed updating. I was the last client of the day and told the staff I had NO idea what glasses to get, what would look good…or what ANYTHING. All of the other customers were gone. FIVE employees suddenly converged, picking out glasses for me to try on. I must’ve fielded 50 different frames.
I’ve had tons of great talks over the years with the lady who does the pre-exam testing, and she knows what I do in the ministry I work with. She is a Christian and very supportive. As she handed me some pretty wild glasses (which I loved) she said, “These might be too wild for your work.” The other four people, including the optometrist paused.
“What is your work?” they asked.
Such a tricky question, I thought.
You come to expect that others’ responses will be instant hatred or disdain. Almost always there will be misunderstanding. On a RARE occasion, someone will be enthusiastic. I often battle with deflection, and avoid the recriminations and misconceptions. This time, I took a deep breath and dove into it:
“I work on the sidewalk in front of an abortion center and urge the women to choose life.”
Two of the assistants’ faces fell, glances averted. I knew instantly they had both had abortions. An uncomfortable silence ensued. It ALWAYS does.
“No one WANTS an abortion,” I soldiered on. “So we try to find out what the issues are fueling the abortion and we try to link them with help and resources so they feel they can choose life. Like we offer baby showers that provide two years of the baby’s needs, we help with food, clothing, medical issues, housing…whatever they list as an obstacle, we appoint a mentor with the backing of a church who will walk alongside them for a full year trying to connect them with what they need to address each obstacle.”
The two who had avoided looking at me now looked up. The optician said, “You don’t just say ‘don’t do it’…you say ‘don’t do it and we will help you.’ ”
“That’s right,” I said. “Our ministry is based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. When the man is robbed and left to die in the ditch, Jesus tells us we are not to just pray and pass him by. We are to bind his wounds, not scream at him or condemn him for getting robbed in the first place. We are to help him out of the ditch, put him on our donkey, and take him to an inn where we will help with his ongoing needs. If we love Jesus, we are to love him as ourselves and help him.
“I follow a lot of women whom we have helped over the years. Almost every day, I get texts from someone thanking our ministry for preventing them from making the biggest mistake of their life. A few weeks ago, a grandmother drove up with an 8-year-old child in the backseat. She stopped and told us that, 8 years ago, her daughter had chosen life over abortion because we were there. She told us her grandson was the light of her life, and she just wanted us to see him … and to thank us.”
The one who had most been avoiding my eyes now handed me a lovely pair of glasses. “Try these,” she said.
This situation ended well and I think brought some skeptics to a greater understanding and maybe even acceptance of the validity of our ministry. I think there are some key points that should be mentioned in sharing our work with others to help them come to a clearer vision of sidewalk ministry.
- Be bold and confident that what you do is not only valuable but essential.
- Be careful in the choice of words. Avoid inflammatory words (murder)
- Explain while abortion is supposedly a “choice,” it is not desired by anyone
- Explain a little of the process of understanding the woman’s obstacles
- Explain specifics of how we help
- Use biblical support (such as Good Samaritan parable) to provide Gospel framework for our work
- Give specific stories that show the positive impact of our work
- Understand that a quarter of the audience is post-abortive, so speak with hope for healing and gentleness