“I never knew I could feel so free and be locked up!” It was an odd statement, coming from a woman who was in jail and facing a long sentence in a federal penitentiary.
But I knew what she meant. During the in-prison retreat we had just finished, I had watched her come alive.
After five abortions and years of selling herself on the street, this daughter of God had received the grace of a fresh start. I’ll never forget her face, so radiant with Jesus’ love and joy—like seeing Lazarus step out of the tomb!
A Tiny Seed. Most people try to stay out of prison. In the months leading up to that retreat just before Christmas last year, I worked hard to get in. It took persistent effort, but every hurdle strengthened my motivation. You see, God had planted a little seed in my heart that wouldn’t let me give up.
It happened when I discovered Rachel’s Vineyard. This is a ministry that offers retreats and follow-up support to anyone affected by an abortion; it helps them acknowledge their pain, mourn their unborn children, and experience forgiveness by connecting with God. After nine years at a pregnancy counseling center, I had been looking for an outreach like this one, where Catholics could receive the opportunity to heal through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
With my bishop’s blessing, I began the two-year training to open a Rachel’s Vineyard Catholic site. Then, as soon as I could assemble a team, we scheduled our first weekend. It took place last July at a diocesan retreat center.
Unseen Prisons. The first registrant was a man who had participated in numerous abortions three decades ago, while in the military. He had never given it a thought, he told me, but now it was bothering him. I stayed on the phone with him for two hours, listening to him sob as he told his story.
Nine people signed up for that weekend. Like the first participant, who was married with children, they were churchgoing people with good jobs and apparently normal lives. You never would have guessed how wounded they were.
God met each of them, as they grieved, repented, and memorialized their unborn babies—twenty-five in all. Their healings were wonderful. One woman came to the weekend with her head hanging so low that I never noticed her beautiful blue eyes; she left holding it high, not hiding any more.
These people confirmed something I had learned at a Rachel’s Vineyard workshop: that there is often a link between hidden abortions and self-destructive behavior like addictions. As this realization sank in, I began thinking about everyone behind bars. Many are there because of drug or alcohol abuse or some other self-punishing behavior, I reasoned. Surely, some of this stems from abortion. “We’ve got to go into the prisons!” I told my team.
Many challenges later, we obtained permission for a retreat in a short-term facility for women. To my surprise, the chaplain received us with open arms. “I’ve been waiting for someone like you! Many women here need help.”
Going to Jail. I went into each of the three dorm areas, big rooms full of women being held for everything from skipping probation to murder. You could have heard a pin drop as I described the retreat. Six women were courageous enough to sign up; it amounted to a public admission that they had had an abortion.
Everything about the retreat had to be adapted—the team size, schedule, booklets (no metal staples allowed!). And we met in a locked room, with deputies watching through a glass door. It didn’t matter. God was present.
At one session, I brought in a purple scarf, a visual aid for the Scripture passage where a woman comes up to touch Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9:21). It was moving to see how that simple item connected the participants with Jesus. They knelt before it, touching it so lovingly as their tears fell.
One woman, who had slid into drugs after years of abuse by a stepdad, commemorated her unborn child by writing a poem. She had experienced a horrific third-trimester abortion; she heard the bones cracking, she told me. There are not enough drugs in the world that can cover something like that, I thought. But God broke through her pain. “Everything looks different to me now,” she said afterwards—even her dorm and the women in it. She felt free and renewed.
And the woman who was so broken in the aftermath of five abortions— she found healing during a memorial where each mother lights a candle for her unborn child. She lit her five candles one by one, sobbing so hard she couldn’t speak. Finally catching her breath, she told of a child she had lost at birth; there had been a funeral, but she was incarcerated and unable to attend.
I looked over at the table and saw one little candle left over. I had miscounted, but God had arranged everything. “Look how God is taking care of you,” I said, pointing to it. “He’s with you. He’ll provide everything you need.”
“What a Christmas gift you’ve given them!” the deputies told us after the retreat ended. But we, who had been invited into these women’s lives and had witnessed such healings, had received the greatest gift.
Marjorie Long is site leader of Rachel’s Vineyard of southwest Louisiana. For more information, visit rachelsvineyard. org and the related Project Rachel outreach, hopeafterabortion.com.
Marjorie Long distributes this After Abortion prayer booklet, along with copies of The Word Among Us, to participants at her in-prison retreats. “These materials are invaluable,” she says. Each participant gets two copies, “one to hold onto and keep growing in the Lord, one to share with someone else who needs healing.”
If you work at a crisis pregnancy center or post abortion outreach, The Word Among Us Partners can help with free copies of the magazine and booklet for the people you serve. Please contact us at 1-800-775-9673 or waupartners.org.
Can You Help Us Reach Them?
“Your After Abortion booklet is the best I have ever come across for prison ministry,” Marjorie Long wrote us. When she discovered it and The Word Among Us, she said, it gave her fresh resolve to reach prisoners who are experiencing abortion’s devastating effects. “Once I read through your materials, I got very determined. ‘People need these!’ I told God. ‘Please help me get them into jails and prisons.’”
Each of us is called to bring God’s love and life to his people. This is the goal of The Word Among Us Partners. Thanks to generous readers like you, Catholics in truly difficult circumstances are receiving The Word Among Us magazine and other materials that can help them connect with God. Working with prison and military chaplains, we are building bridges of hope and faith to 52,000 inmates in the U.S. and Canada and to 21,000 servicemen and women. Through crisis pregnancy centers and Project Rachel postabortion ministries, we offer some 2,000 women a bridge to life.
But so many more are asking for help! Will you help us reach them? Please pray for these ministries and become a Partner. You can make a tax-deductible donation—of $100, $50, or whatever you can give— online at http://www.partners.com or by sending a check to:
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The Word Among Us Partners
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