Memoirs of a Sidewalk Counselor

“You’ll probably get arrested!” my pastor warned when he suggested “sidewalk counseling” as a way I could “do something” about abortion. Having experienced the awe and wonder of pregnancy and birth for the first time, and spending a year with my first baby boy, I felt compelled to stand against the atrocity of abortion and try to help women choose life – for their babies and for themselves.

I connected with the people who coordinated the volunteers for sidewalk counseling in front of the abortion clinic, and was scheduled on Thursdays around 11:30 a.m. to be there when the women began arriving. Our group of two or more stayed only until the abortionist arrived, for then he would begin his gruesome task. A stone-faced, hardhearted man, every week he would drive right past us and our poster of a 12-week old unborn baby like those he would, within minutes, dismember and suction from the sanctuary of their mothers’ wombs. I wonder what a stir our prayers for him generated in the spiritual realm…

We were allowed to stand on the grassy area between the curb and the parking lot, a place which to us became holy ground. The evil presence at the clinic was nearly tangible, the clinic workers’ anger acidic, the attitudes of the clients either defensive or bewildered. In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, and believing we were being faithful to God’s call, we counselors quietly and lovingly offered fetal information tracts and free ultrasounds provided by a nearby doctor. We told the girls and women we loved them and wanted to help them. A few responded favorably, most did not.

Because entering that realm of darkness required God’s power, I grew spiritually as I learned to depend on Him, to walk in His power. I absolutely could not have done it on my own. There were many mornings when I felt too weak, too defeated, too sad, to go. One particular morning I remember collapsing in a chair in my living room and closing my eyes with my randomly opened Bible on my lap. I prayed, “Lord, I don’t want to go there today. You’re going to have to give me something. I’m just going to read whatever it’s open to.”  When I opened my eyes and saw my Bible opened to Ezekiel, I questioned skeptically, “What am I going to get from this?” Then I began reading:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.” Ezekiel 3:17-21 NIV

OK, Lord, I’ll go.

Another day, before leaving home I read this passage:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Matthew 10:16-20 NIV

As I approached the clinic that day, there were no governors nor kings, but there sat a news truck and crew from a local TV station. The first counselor to arrive, I desperately prayed, “OK, Lord, you said you would tell me what to say!” The moment I stepped out of my car, the cameraman aimed his lens at me and the reporter stuck the microphone in my face. She informed me the clinic had been vandalized during the night and began questioning me about it, as well as about what we counselors did there. I would have to view the old VHS tape to know what was actually said because I know that God carried me through that interview, that His words flowed from my mouth. It was almost like it wasn’t even me…

“A gentle answer turns away wrath” was a proverb I was privileged to test often. This approach usually worked because the clients, not knowing how to respond to gentleness in such a place of brutality, would just shake their heads and continue walking. But one particular occasion stands out in my mind when I received an enraged tongue-lashing from a man who sat atop his trunk lid smoking a cigarette while his child was about to be ripped apart inside the clinic. To his wrath I replied quietly, “I love you.” In response, he spat, “Well, I hate you, you stupid —–.” Knowing that his words came from the enemy and that this man didn’t know me well enough to hate me enabled me to separate the man from the words and feel pity for him rather than anger.

Many of my drives home were filled with intense prayer and fending off the lies of the enemy who taunted, “You didn’t do any good. What’s the point? No one listens.” But the Lord reassured me that I was simply responsible to tell them, and that it was up to them how they responded. And the enemy was wrong about at least one woman. She did listen and she did change her mind. However, I didn’t know about it until six months later when I heard that she had successfully delivered a healthy baby girl. I praise God that He rescued them from that place of death and that there is a young lady alive and well today because of the right choice her parents made that day.

Knowing that God, through me, made an eternal difference in their lives, helped me continue standing in front of that clinic. The verses in Ezekiel, along with many others, also empowered me to do what God called me to do in that season. But after I suffered a miscarriage, I found I could not lovingly face those who were willfully killing their children. So after sidewalk counseling on and off for five years as caring for my then three children allowed, I felt the Lord release me from that assignment.

Those five years were life-changing for me. Along with growing my faith and increasing my dependence on my Savior, my time spent on that patch of holy ground helped me learn to minister with an attitude of humility, knowing without a doubt that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” I realized that had I taken another wrong turn or two in my younger years, and had God not graciously intervened in my life, I could have been one of those blindly entering those doors thinking for all the world that “terminating the pregnancy” was the right solution.

Thank you, God, for saving me from such a deadly mistake, and for pouring out your grace in my life that I might share it with others. You know every person I encountered at the clinic. Even after all these years, please forgive them and bring them healing in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Janice Powell 2013

Dear Reader,

If you have had an abortion, I am truly sorry for your loss. I don’t know who you are, but Jesus does, and He is ready to forgive you and set you free. I ask that He meet you where you are, heal your mind, and fill the empty places of your heart with His perfect love.

In His grace,

Janice

For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You. Psalm 86:5 NAS

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2 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Sidewalk Counselor

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what you have gleaned from God’s word. We know that there are many women who are dealing with the effects of a past abortion – something many don’t feel they can share with others. Hope Pregnancy Center offers Abortion Recovery where women can receive help and healing. Call (918) 622-3325 to find out more and schedule a time to talk with someone.

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