Run or stay?

By Maria McCann

“I need you to be the rock that sinks to the bottom of the ocean and stays there.” Enza Rattenni was speaking to the interns about her work as a sidewalk counsellor outside of an abortion clinic, and she told us that she would say those words to any eager new volunteers. Sidewalk counselling is emotionally and spiritually intense, and the volunteers have to commit. They must be willing to stick it out in the challenging situation of trying to persuade women against choosing abortion. Enza can’t afford to spend valuable time training volunteers if they are not willing to stay.

While CCBR’s activism differs greatly from sidewalk counselling, the emotional and spiritual challenges are similar. Activism can be one of the most rewarding things in the pro-life movement—we see people change their minds about abortion right in front of us. Exhilaration and thankfulness to the Holy Spirit bubble up in me often, as I see countless hearts softened for the plight of pre-born children. But the desire to simply run away, to let someone else handle a tough conversation, also bubbles up in me often. Especially during “Choice” Chain.

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My ‘flight-response’ kicked in during my second “Choice” Chain of the internship, when we brought the truth about abortion to a local high school. Before we had even opened our signs depicting dismembered pre-born children, the high school students recognized who we were, and their agitation was immediate. The angry chants of “My body, my choice!” did not faze me, though—had I not heard those same chants so often during activism on college campuses? (And often more, er, colourfully worded.) I was a bit nervous but felt ready to have conversations with the students. 

The first girl I spoke with was initially calm. She supported abortion, but she seemed perplexed by our presence, rather than angry. We talked for a bit about human rights and embryology, then she left and I spoke with other students in the interim. She returned, but something changed. Huge crowds of angry students gathered around me and the other interns, and a “mob mentality” developed. The girl who had been so reasonable before now joined in the outrage of her friends. She shouted mockery and arguments at me for what seemed like an eternity (though it was probably more like 10 minutes). I tried to respond to her outbursts, but at that moment, she was not interested in a dialogue. More and more students started shouting, and hangers were being used to scratch my sign (who brings a clothes hanger to school?) while my friend Oriyana got a free bath by being doused with various beverages. I could not handle it. I mentally shut down for about a minute, and simply stood silently as the crowd jeered. I wanted to cry, I wanted to run, I wanted to be anywhere but there

Finally, the mob’s energy died down, and I was able to have some short conversations with students. One of them apologized to me for the antics of his peers, and the girl who had yelled endlessly actually apologized as well. I offered her a shaky smile and wished her a good day. 

I returned to our van and sat there, blinking back tears. I was angry with myself for shutting down in the middle of the mob, for not knowing how to speak truth into that situation. I felt emotionally drained from trying to persuade students who were seeing red to see logic. What was the point of staying in a situation like that? See, I like the calm and easy conversations during “Choice” Chain. I like talking to the reasonable people who have a lightbulb moment at the realization that pre-born humans should have human rights. But I don’t like the messy conversations. I shy away from the groups of teenage girls who adamantly defend the lies they have been taught. I don’t like talking to the people who are angry and irrational, even though those people are often the most hurting and the most in need of truth and love.

“I need you to be the rock that sinks to the bottom…”

My conscience whispered back that I knew why we needed to stay. We needed to stay for the same reason that we came. Not because of me, my feelings, my ego. We were there because our culture is reeling from wounds. We were there because 300 tiny children were killed that day, and 300 more would die the next day if we did not intervene. Our silence and absence would cost them dearly.

I and my fellow interns have been privileged to receive dozens of hours of training from the CCBR staff, so that we can be the best pro-life advocates possible. If we take the easy way out and avoid those difficult conversations, then how can we hope to convince our culture that the “easy way out” of a crisis pregnancy is the wrong way out? If we don’t choose to stay, and to love, then how can we inspire other people to do the same? 

We need to be the rocks that sink to the bottom of the ocean. We need to let our love for other human beings outweigh our desire to float placidly on the surface. Our culture tells us to flee from anything that threatens our comfortable existence. The most radical, counter-cultural thing we can do is stay.