A guest post by one of our wonderful student leaders at University of Arkansas, Julia Pritchett. She is also a sidewalk counselor and gave a wonderful presentation at the SFLA conference on Sidewalk Counseling.
It wasn’t when I stood up in front of thousands at my high school graduation to give my valedictorian speech. It wasn’t the time two deer crashed into my car, causing it to careen into a wheat field in the middle of rural nowhere and I thought I might not make it. Nope, it wasn’t.
It was the time I stood on the sidewalk looking at my painted toenails through my sandal straps. The sun was burning my skin and I had never been to the Bronx. I was all alone and I had never been trained to talk to these women. I was fighting intense urges to run away and I wasn’t even remotely familiar with how the subway system worked.
Yep – that was the most nerve-wracking moment of my life: the one that forced me to live up to what I believed in or back down. And it wasn’t an easy one, since no one was around to hold me accountable.
After less than three minutes of standing outside that abortion facility alone, the White Castle across the street looked a lot like Heaven at the time because every good sidewalk counselor needs breakfast, right? …Right?
But Harold and Kumar aren’t the only ones who had trouble getting there.
While I was busy running away, a Hispanic couple was busy running to the abortion clinic at that exact moment. They were looking at that abortion center like I was looking at White Castle: a way out. In between our two makeshift Heavens, we met on the sidewalk.
As if I wasn’t running into enough snags, I quickly learned that neither of them knew any English whatsoever. Since I was the only one around who could talk to them before they entered the abortion facility, I gave them Spanish literature and awkwardly used hand gestures to communicate. They continued toward their “way out” and I started to head toward mine, but the adrenaline rush of being able to make an impact on this couple quickly kicked in and I decided I needed to stick around.
Three weeks later, I was outside yet another abortion facility in Queens. Suddenly, I was shocked to see the same Hispanic couple I had met at the facility in the Bronx three weeks prior. They looked bewildered to see me, and I’m sure my expression rivaled theirs. I communicated the best I could by pointing to the sky to indicate that our second meeting was God’s doing. They were still pregnant and still torn about what to do. In they went.
A month later, I was working in a pregnancy center in the Bronx and in walked the same Hispanic couple. Anyone who is familiar with New York can surely see how insanely coincidental these run-ins were. After help from a Spanish-speaking counselor, I was able to better communicate with this obviously pregnant couple and the woman who had grown considerably more pregnant since our first encounter.
After a few awkward exchanges, the couple revealed that they did not choose to abort either time they had visited a facility because they had seen me standing outside. Roughly translated, the father said: “We didn’t stay in there because you stayed out there”.
To anyone considering sidewalk counseling, allow me to tell you the most important lesson I’ve learned: be there. Just be there. So many children are saved and so many moms and dads are spared because someone was simply there. That someone can be you.
Attached to this blog you’ll find some helpful tips about sidewalk counseling that will definitely bring some “A” to your “game”. But no one ever wins a game by not showing up. Sidewalk counseling isn’t for the pros. It’s for the willing. It’s for those who volunteer to be out in the cold, in the heat, in the rain and snow and in awkward situations outside so the women who show up don’t stay inside or even go in to begin with.
You might be in the middle of the most emotionally nerve-wracking moment of your life: stay. You might be tempted to run away and avoid conflict or confrontation: stay. You might be apprehensive about what to expect even before you leave your house, but go. Be a witness and let the rest take care of itself.
You’ll make mistakes you’ll learn from. You’ll see things you never would have otherwise. You’ll be scared. You’ll be on edge. You’ll experience disgust, calm, worry, and excitement.
But you will save a life.
If you decide to be there, she may decide she doesn’t have to be. You can be her White Castle – her way out.
Speaking of White Castle, nearly two months after that final conversation with the Hispanic couple, I eventually made it to White Castle. But I didn’t go alone. The couple and their preborn daughter, accompanied me. That trumped even Harold and Kumar’s ultimate visit. I bet Harold and Kumar have never saved a baby and then taken her on a date to White Castle.
Sidewalk counseling is hard, but learn to jump the first hurdle and stay. Learn to jump the second hurdle by picking up techniques to help you communicate with the abortion-vulnerable, and watch how you can make a real impact on people’s lives.
For more information on sidewalk counseling, click here: Sidewalk-Counseling-Notes