They didn’t know each other. Yet something (or Someone) orchestrated their actions – cutting across thousands of miles, denominational lines, and different backgrounds.
The origins story of 40 Days for Life, Stand True and Bound4LIFE recently emerged: how all three launched prayer initiatives at the same time, in different parts of the United States one decade ago. Since then, prayer has been a vital and ongoing element of the pro-life movement.
Now these three leaders – David Bereit of 40 Days for Life, Bryan Kemper of Stand True and Matt Lockett of Bound4LIFE – share what sustains their prayers and compassionate action in the midst of heart-rending situations.
David Bereit and other leaders pray for a culture of life at OneVoiceDC (Photo: Aaron Wong)
Marisa Kwaning: These groups are known for a public witness of prayer, yet each goes about it a little differently. How do you approach it?
Bryan Kemper: Stand True began when we were bringing young people together and going weekly to an abortion center in Richmond, Virginia.
We encountered people there who were raising their voices, yelling in frustration. They had forgotten that God is in charge of the results. They take it upon themselves and they feel like they have to scream.
Instead of confronting them, we decided we were just going to stand and pray the Psalms. We were a mixed group, both Catholic and Protestants. What could we do together? Praying the Psalms is such a beautiful thing.
We split up into five groups. Over the course of an hour, we were able to pray all 150 psalms in front of that abortion center. What is more powerful than the actual Word of God?
As we kept doing that, we found we had more opportunities to sidewalk counsel. The folks who screamed or protested just faded away.
Bryan Kemper joins the interview via Skype from Dayton, Ohio (Photo: Josh Shepherd)
Matt Lockett: We’ve seen a similar scene play out at the U.S. Supreme Court, for over a decade now. The day a group of young people arrived in Washington to pray, it was October 4, 2004: the first Monday of October, the opening day of the court. We didn’t plan that.
Because there was so much attention on the election – this was only 31 days before the election – there was a circus in front of the Supreme Court.
Abortion advocates were there, chanting Keep your rosaries off our ovaries and all that gnarly stuff. They were screaming and yelling. Lou Engle and our team showed up, unsure what to do. So he said, “Let’s just do the dream!” We had some red duct tape in the car. We wrote the word “LIFE” on pieces of tape.
It became this stark contrast: one group standing in silent prayer, alongside people screaming and yelling into megaphones.
It was so weak, and it felt so stupid. The young people who were there felt so disarmed by the whole thing. They couldn’t respond to people who were screaming at them, they couldn’t say anything: all they could do was pray.
Then one of the leaders of a national pro-abortion organization came over and spoke with one of our leaders. “We haven’t seen this before, what are you guys doing?” she asked. They explained it.
“Well, I don’t know if you realize it, but this is brilliant strategy,” she replied and walked away. Today, Bound4LIFE continues to pray in front of courthouses and abortion centers across America.
Bound4LIFE Silent Siege at March for Life 2015 (Photo: Matt Lockett)
David Bereit: In a focused hour of prayer, my team and I in Texas were given a clarion call from God: the 40-day timeframe — a spiritually significant time period, we know from scripture — as well as three activities that ultimately became 40 Days for Life.
Prayer and fasting is the central focal point, because “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Second, a constant prayer vigil outside an abortion facility is vital because “wherever two or more are gathered, the Lord is present with us in our midst.” We stand in prayer as a sign of hope and help to the mothers.
The third thing is community outreach, because a lot of people are unaware that abortion is happening in their town or are trying to avoid it because they don’t want to face the reality. We do outreach to awaken communities to the harm that is happening, and invite people to be part of the solution.
When I talk to people who participate in 40 Days for Life, at the end I ask, “What was the greatest blessing?” Almost every time they say, “It wasn’t so much what God did around me, it was what He did inside of me.” Forty days of prayer and fasting has a way of rocking your world like that.
Marisa Kwaning: How do each of you keep a heart for the individual while addressing what is seen as a contentious battle in today’s society?
David Bereit: The key is to keep in mind that this is an individual; it’s not this “societal crisis.” Yes, abortion has these wide, sweeping numbers of impact. But it’s a mother and a child.
What helps me is going to the places where it happens to continually allow my heart to be broken. What I see outside abortion facilities – mothers going in, destitute, feeling pressure, people trying to reach out and help, those cries falling on deaf ears… then those mothers coming out as a shell of the person who went in, in desperate need of healing.
Seeing that happen continues to pull me back to: We cannot stop. We have to be there for her – early in the process to prevent this, or later for her healing that she will recognize the need for.
At OneLifeLA 2015, David Bereit introduces a girl whose life was saved by prayer (Photo: YouTube)
We go there to see what is really happening. If ever we become ‘ivory tower’ and sit in our offices, while other people go do the work, I don’t think our hearts will continually be broken to realize the need.
In our work, unlike in pregnancy care centers, we rarely get to directly meet the lives saved. Bryan and Matt, you hear stories – I’ve heard lots of these testimonies, but I’ve only met five of the 10,000 children saved by 40 Days for Life campaigns (that we know of). Each of them were years apart, each was at a time when I needed that affirmation this is making an impact.
To be able to see that child means so much. I was recently in Los Angeles, where I saw a four year-old girl. I first met her when she was a baby, and now I got to introduce her to 15,000 people at OneLifeLA. She was wearing a shirt that said Your Prayers Saved Me. Her mom is now engaged to the girl’s dad because this beautiful girl Leah has brought so much joy to their lives.
Seeing the positive fruit of people’s prayers, of what God can do, and also continually allowing our hearts to be broken – those two things keep me engaged with the individual and the need.
Bryan Kemper: Being boots on the ground is, for me, very important. I drive in the van with our team members to these events across America – and I’ve slept more nights on that van bench than probably anyone on the team! It’s not about me or any organization.
I agree that hearing and sharing the stories is vital. A recent one from the Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity stands out to me, when a high school student chose to be silent in solidarity with those silenced by abortion.
This girl was in class, wearing Life Tape and silent. She handed the teacher the flyer, who told her, “You can do this, but I’m going to give you a zero today.” The teacher went on to say all this negative stuff about her. The girl sat there silently, being mocked.
She went into the bathroom after class, crying. She prayed, God, give me the strength to make it through the rest of the day.
At that moment, another student walked into the bathroom and asked, “Why are you doing this? Why take a zero and let that teacher mock you?” The girl felt the Lord told her to break her silence. She took her tape off and told her classmate why she was being silent.
The classmate told her, “I’m supposed to have an abortion tomorrow. But I don’t want to now. Can you help me?” This girl I know was able to help her classmate keep her baby – because of that silence and those prayers.
Photo for illustration only: Chapendra Smith / Flickr
Every time a story like this happens, I’m blown away. God, why me? Why do I get to see this? But God likes to use bumbling fools.
Matt Lockett: As Bryan said earlier, you have to trust the results to the Lord. If you don’t, you’ll get hard and jaded really quick.
I believe being a person of prayer is the key. If you have an ongoing conversation with the Lord, He will be talking about national issues – God has a heart for the nations – but He is always going to be talking about people.
In a conversation with the Lord, He is the one who will always bring it back to the most important things. That keeps your heart soft and tender.
Don’t miss Part 1 of this interview, and stay tuned for the final part where the leaders address their critics.