During this year’s 40 Days for Life campaign, I looked for chances to stand vigil on the sidewalk at times we could be a bold witness. Thinking a Friday night might bring an optimal opportunity, I noticed an uncovered hour calling my name, and summoned a prayer partner to join me downtown in the dark, misty night.
At first, it was just the two of us with a single sign calling people to pray and fast for an end to abortion. It’s surprising what a simple sign and one’s quiet presence can evoke.
“I’m agnostic!” the first passerby shouted at us. It must have been the word “pray” that reached her conscience, compelling her to announce her soul’s position.
The next to yell was a woman who turned to us as she walked past on the way to a nearby eatery. “That clinic saved my life!” she said. “But it didn’t save your baby’s,” I said in response. “My baby was dead,” she said defiantly, still walking and further from us now. “You are a grieving mother,” I responded after a brief pause. “I’m so sorry. We are praying for you.”
More people came by, anxious to be filled up with food on National Taco Day at the popular taco restaurant two doors down from our state’s only abortion facility. One man just shook his head at us in disgust. Others seemed to purposefully avoid meeting our eyes as they passed.
Toward the end of our shift, a car zoomed past. “Jesus loves abortion!” yelled the woman from the passenger side’s open window. This drive-by pronouncement reminded me of people on social media who feel they can say whatever they want behind the safety of their screens, unwilling to actually engage in thoughtful conversation, only “vomiting on the keyboard,” as some describe it.
Pondering these verbal provocations, brought on, again, by our simple presence and a single sign, the thought came to me that the conscience is compelled to cry out. It cannot help itself. The conscience was made for truth and justice, and in absence of these, it must release the disorder within. The pain of those who yell out so spontaneously, with such indignation, is revealed; the wounds of the soul are made visible.
At the end of our shift, another man came from an hour away with his young daughter. I decided to stay longer as he set up a little display with a statue of St. Michael, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and a depiction of the Madonna and Child, lit in the black night by a little string of lights.
He had many gifts in his bag—a rosary for each of us, prayer cards, some beef jerky, and tree twigs in the shape of the cross. As he handed them out, he said if we look carefully, we can see God in everything. He then pulled out a bunch of tiny crosses cut out from pennies and went about sprinkling them on the sidewalk. They glistened from the neon lights from the nearby restaurants, speaking love to a world growing increasingly pagan and hopeless.
As we chatted and prayed, the man, noting he’s an electrician by trade, took out some needle-nose pliers and wire. As we sang “Amazing Grace” together, he fashioned the word “Jesus” with the wire, then a wire cross with a heart in its center—works of art made there on the sidewalk, given to us and passersby.
He told us how he sometimes brings his Divine Mercy prayer cards to Wal-Mart and places them in random spots for people to discover. He brings Jesus in these small, hidden ways wherever he goes, and tries to stay alert to the many ways Jesus appears on his path.
Then he shared of his own brokenness, of how addiction nearly destroyed him, yet God reached into his life and changed everything. Now, he lives to honor God in every way possible. As he spoke, I realized again, but in a different way this time, that the conscience indeed cries out. We can allow our brokenness to keep us stuck in our pain, or seek healing, and use it to proclaim the glory of our good God.
“No one can serve two masters,” we read in Matthew 6:24. “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Every soul on the sidewalk came from God. It is our choice to live or be wooed away into the deadened world.
No matter which, eventually the conscience will be compelled to cry out—either in tormented pain or sweet, burning love.
[Note: I write about my experiences on the sidewalk Downtown Fargo on Wednesday, the day abortions happen at our state’s only abortion facility, for New Earth magazine — the official news publication of the Fargo Diocese. I hope you find “Sidewalk Stories” helpful in understanding the truth about abortion and how it plays out tragically each week here in Fargo, N.D. The preceding ran in New Earth’s December 2019 issue.]