Many of us as CCBR staff have had people say to us: “I think what you’re doing is great, but I could never do it.” Perhaps some people wonder who we actually are and how we started doing pro-life work. For most of us, being a full or part-time pro-life advocate was never our intention. Each of us came to this work from a different background. This next series is meant to show that you don’t have to have special gifts or talents to do this work: you just have to care.
~ Justina Van Manen
I still have a hard time calling myself a pro-life activist. I look at my colleagues’ gifts, the confidence they have, and the successful work that they do, and wonder if I really belong in full-time pro-life work.
I was raised in a small town in Southwestern Ontario, in a family that didn’t get very involved in political or social issues. My first memory related to abortion was before age 10, walking in some sort of local March for Life with my mom and siblings, and sometime after that participating in a Life Chain while holding signs stating: “Abortion Kills Children.” I knew that abortion is wrong, but it was quite a vague concept in my mind. While at my Christian high school, I told a few friends that abortion is not right, but I felt that this issue was far removed from affecting anyone in my circles.
Right after high school I began studying at Redeemer University College. Many people begin their involvement in the abortion debate in college or university, a turning point in life where fellow students and pro-life organizations offer open doors and encourage involvement in social issues—especially at a Christian university. Personally, I never gave a thought to joining my school’s pro-life club. I did become very aware of global injustices in my second year of studies, and regularly participated in clubs addressing environmental concerns and global slavery, but abortion was very far off my radar, and seemed insignificant in comparison to other cultural problems. Only once during university did I see photos of aborted children on the internet. I was a bit bothered, and shared them on social media, but abortion soon left my mind once again.
After finishing my studies with a Bachelor of Arts in religion and theology, I attended a small school near Denver, Colorado, for more Christian ministry training. While there, some students regularly went to a nearby Planned Parenthood facility to pray against abortion and offer help to women walking into the building. My first time there, I was stunned as I awoke to the fact that the victims of abortion were right in front of me. At age 23, I finally recognized that this was not a far-off injustice; I was in front of a building where babies were actually taken to die. My heart at last began to break for the pre-born as I learned about the hundreds of daily deaths of helpless pre-born children, and I began to commit this injustice to prayer as I saw how important it was.
A couple of months later our school was visited by the American pro-life group, Justice for All, who trained us in using pro-life apologetics and abortion victim photography so that we could join them for a day of reaching out to college students. During our activism I only mounted the courage to talk to two students, being scared to approach anyone and feeling the hostility of abortion supporters who opposed our display. I remember feeling afraid as I recognized what a large battle surrounds the abortion issue.
After I returned to Canada, I became busy with job-searching and other commitments, and hardly thought about abortion outside of my personal prayer time. I switched jobs four times in two years,—trying out positions as a natural gas labourer, wind-turbine manufacturer, renovations assistant, and restaurant waiter—wondering what kind of vocational path the Lord had in store for me. Late in 2014, I ran into a couple of CCBR staff members, and realized that people were opposing abortion in my own country. A few months later, in March of 2015, I heard a CCBR speaker present on the abortion crisis in Canada and how we could address it, where I saw a video of abortion victims that again stirred my heart in care for the pre-born. I felt that I should do something more about their plight.
I learned of the upcoming summer internship with CCBR, and since I was applying for many job opportunities at the time, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to apply for this one. I was quickly offered a position, and after some hesitation, I accepted, and headed into what I perceived as a temporary summer job that would prepare me for other avenues in life.
I didn’t fit in right away. Many of my fellow interns that summer had been to many pro-life events and had much activism experience, and I felt quite inexperienced. It took me a while to learn to speak persuasively and compassionately for the rights of the pre-born, yet I knew it was important and wanted to finish out the summer, all the while looking for future school and work opportunities.
It was a hot July day in 2015 that changed me. I was reaching out to pedestrians at a busy intersection in downtown Toronto, holding a picture of an aborted child. Normally, I had many good conversations about abortion with passers-by, but on this day I was largely ignored, and the apathy seemed heavy in the air. Several people seemed to smile in pity for me not having something better to do with my time. One man stopped long enough to say that what is worse than the picture I was showing is taking away someone else’s right to choose abortion. I became overwhelmed at the indifference, and knew I needed time alone. I gave my sign to my team leader and walked down the street out of sight from my team as my emotions welled up. I sat down on the curb, and I cried.
I wept as I was struck with the reality that 300 helpless children were being killed every day in Canada, including in Toronto. But it was so hidden that government, business, entertainment, tourism, and daily life could go on with so few people doing anything to spare these little lives. I was very bothered by this, and it spurred me on to continue the internship.
As I finished out that day, and the rest of the summer, I was convicted by another reality: I had been one of those people who did nothing about abortion. I knew it was wrong on many grounds, I had seen what it does to the youngest humans, and yet for so long I was that apathetic person, and could still be that person who hoped that someone else, somewhere else was doing something about abortion . . . so that maybe I didn’t have to.
The internship ended. I returned to school briefly and became engaged to the woman who is now my wife. As we prepared for marriage and I considered how I would work to provide for my family, I joined CCBR’s Abortion Awareness Project in Florida in the February of 2016 as a sort of test. I knew of the great need for more full-time pro-life workers, and that there was an opening to continue working for CCBR, and so I used this experience to pray and discern whether to go in that direction.
On the long drive to Florida, and throughout my two weeks of outreach on university campuses there, I wrestled internally a great deal. I saw many eyes opened to the truth of abortion. I saw people’s minds changed on abortion after conversations with me. I saw mothers walk into an abortion clinic to have their pre-born children dismembered . . . and I saw such children spared from the abortion clinic when their mothers received truth and love.
Yet I thought, I’m not an eloquent speaker. I’m definitely not the best activist on our team. Pro-life work is never what I planned for my job. People are telling me this is a job for single people or young students. Can I really provide for my family with this kind of work?
But I again came back to the reality of how many children were dying, how hidden they were, and how few were speaking out for them. I couldn’t hope that someone else, somewhere else would do this.
I knew I could never do this in my own strength, that I could never have an impact without the Lord. But the need was great. My heart was moved. The door was open.
So I took it. Now I’m a professional, full-time pro-life activist.
I still don’t feel like an activist. I still struggle with the weight of Canada’s abortion status quo and whether I am making a difference. But because I’m here, abortion is being exposed. Truth is being spoken. Hearts are being moved. Pro-lifers are being equipped and inspired. Canada is seeing and talking about abortion. Precious lives are being spared.
It is not easy, but the Lord gives me what I need to continue each day.