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The Weekend I'll Never Forget

I gripped the steering wheel with sweaty palms as I drove north of San Francisco to the Santa Sabina Retreat Center. As a prolife activist whose heart had been changed by Christ after my own abortion nine years ago, I nervously headed toward an untried social experiment—a weekend retreat called "Common Ground." The brainchild of abortion rights activist Peggy Green, who had become weary of what she called the "abortion wars," Common Ground was to provide a place where both sides could communicate respectfully with each other.

Twenty-nine other prochoice and prolife women were also on their way to the retreat center to discover if we could stow away rhetoric and hostility for a weekend and listen to each other. Considering my conviction that abortion kills a child, what could I possibly hope to agree on?

As I walked into the meeting room Friday night, I recognized no one. Each of us looked warily at the others, wondering who represented prochoice and who prolife. Peggy Green opened the meeting with a nervous smile. "What's your wildest dream for the weekend? What do you hope will happen?"

"That you'll all agree with me," I quipped. Although the room erupted in laughter, my mind replayed my real hope. My own abortion had taught me that such a choice causes death, grief, guilt, and despair. How I longed to warn women about Post-Abortion Syndrome and explain that God's love can bring healing to wounded hearts!

Just then, a woman with blond, short-cropped hair and baggy clothes rushed in late. She riveted my attention as she sat down in a flurry of nervousness. I later learned her name was Susan* and she's brought her lesbian lover to the retreat.

Although everyone was on their best behavior, when we broke into small groups to share why we had become activists, the room filled with animated noise. The next morning after breakfast, we gathered in one group to share the hateful names hurled at us on the front lines.

Peggy drew a line down the middle of a chalkboard. She quickly scribbled as women randomly shouted out the names they'd been called. Names on the proabortion side included "murderers," "dykes," "baby-killers," and "Nazis." The prolife side of the paper recorded similar words: "bigots," "mindless sheep," "woman-haters," and "Nazis."

For a moment we contemplated the malicious names in silence. Then from the back of the room, Susan spoke up, her voice edged with tears. "One of the reasons these names hurt so much is that there's truth in them." The previous evening the prolife group leader had confided in me that Susan worked for one of the country's most militant abortion rights groups, whose members muscle through crowds to escort women into abortion clinics. Now I turned to look at her and caught her wiping away a tear.

"Let's take a break," Peggy said. The room's silence was broken as women got up to stretch and grab a cup of coffee. I admired Susan's honesty, and it drew me toward her. Before I knew it, I was sitting down next to her.

"Susan, I want to apologize for any Christian who's ever called your one of those names. It isn't right, and I'm sorry."

She looked surprised, then her sky-blue eyes warmed. Feeling awkward but glad we'd connected, I hurried away for coffee.

As Peggy called us back to group and told us to choose a person from the opposite camp for the next activity, Susan came hurrying across the room.

"I choose you," she said with a smile. This was the third time we had paired up with a woman of the opposite camp to do an activity designed to break down barriers. I felt comfortable with my new partner until Peggy gave us our instructions.

"Sit knee to knee with your partner and stare into each other's eyes for the next five minutes without flinching." An audible groan went up from the group, but Peggy started the stop watch. I licked my lips nervously and immediately sought refuge in prayer. God, I prayed urgently, please be here with us. Help me know what to pray.

Susan's eyes darted over my face and then flitted around the room. I could see she felt as uncomfortable as I did. But after praying for a few seconds, peace filled me and I could now look into her eyes.

Earlier Susan had shared that she'd gotten pregnant as an unwed teenager. Living in a small town, she'd been humiliated and mercilessly teased. Yet she kept the baby, a child now six years old. But humiliation had motivated her prochoice commitment.

Bless Susan with your love. Meet all her needs, I prayed. Staring into her eyes grew easier with each silent prayer. And the longer I looked, the more I saw a wounded soul. My heart swelled with compassion for her. Please heal all her hidden wounds, I silently pleaded.

Suddenly Susan's eyes flooded with tears. Tears spilled out over her lower lashes and trickled down her cheeks. Instinctively, our hands reached out and clasped.

I continued praying for healing, and Susan's tears turned to sobs. Gasping for air, her nose beginning to run, she broke the silence in the room. I could feel Peggy's eyes on us. Another minute passed. Finally Peggy called, "Time!"

Every face instantly turned our way. Someone handed Susan a tissue box. Peggy's amazed stare rested on Susan as she spoke the question on each mind. "Susan, what was going on for you just now?"

Susan tried to compose herself. She wiped her tears and blew her nose. "I just looked into this ordinary face, but I've never seen so much kindness come out of anyone's eyes before."

I had seen in the eyes of my adversary a person of precious significance.

God's kindness had poured through me, I realized. I'd simply been a conduit for the flood he'd released on her. When the media, who had not been allowed to the retreat, requested numerous interviews afterward, many interviewees said the most powerful moment of the conference had been those five minutes between Susan and me. The story ran in our local paper, and when a nationally known magazine met us at a restaurant for our story, Susan wept again.

Seeing this "radical abortion rights activist" so openly moved by her memory of that day reminded me that God had been in the midst of us. He had reached out to someone who, days earlier, I might easily have judged and walked away from. But I could no longer afford the luxury of categorizing anyone. God's river of love washed away that arrogance. I had seen in the eyes of my adversary a person of precious significance.

For a year and a half, Susan and I kept in touch long-distance by phone and letter. Susan heard about Jesus during Common Ground when I shared my testimony and the gospel with the entire group, but when I later wrote her, I had more opportunities to witness and include Bible verses. We had some good talks on the phone about abortion, relationships, and faith.

I learned that immediately after Common Ground, Susan's radical abortion rights group expelled her and her lover for fraternizing with the "enemy." She shared the pain of that rejection with me.

Unfortunately, six months after Common Ground, my six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a disorder requiring leg braces, which we were told would be permanent. I was devastated. Six months after that, my husband discovered a large cancerous tumor that required surgery and five weeks of radiation treatments. Our baby went through a round of illnesses that kept me housebound, and my extracurricular ministries diminished while I tried to keep my family together. In my last conversation with Susan, she said she wanted me to visit her at the church she infrequently attended. I was so overwhelmed with life, I didn't reach out to her again for some time. By then, both her work and home numbers had been disconnected.

I still pray passionately for Susan and her child. Although at last contact Susan was still a prochoice lesbian, she had become my friend. And although I stayed a prolife Christian, I gained a love for her that still moves me to tears. This is really the miracle of that weekend retreat.

After Common Ground, I became motivated to hold Bible studies on helping women heal from abortion. Meeting face-to-face with post-abortive women gave me a deeper understanding and compassion for women in crisis—and women without Christ.

Many prochoice women find their identity in fighting for abortion rights. At Common Ground, I heard several share their experience of childhood sexual abuse and incest. One woman declared, "No one will ever control my body again!" In a convoluted way, they saw abortion as freedom from being controlled. What they fail to see is that through abortion they perpetrate violence on their children as their own fathers or other men did!

Common Ground taught me to look not at the outer person, but at the inner, where each of us hungers for love and acceptance. Maybe that's why Jesus told us, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink" (Rom. 12:20). He knew that if I shared a plateful of listening, a bushel of prayers, or a cupful of love, it would not only touch my adversary, it would change me forever.

* Not her real name

Pamela Wells is a freelance writer who also speaks on the topic of Post-Abortion Syndrome. She and her family live in California.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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