Last Sunday St Mary's hosted a Pro-Life Fete which, so far, raised £1,077 for Pro-Life causes. We were much blessed to have the company of and talks from Robert Colquhoun, Director of International Campaigns for 40 Days for Life, and Rhoslyn Thomas on behalf of the Pro-Life Alliance.
If you wish to take part in prayer vigils between 27 Sep - 5 Nov, standing outside abortion clinics in Manchester and Liverpool, please see the 40 Days for Life campaign website here. The text for Robert's talk is below the following photos of the fete.
A talk by Robert Colquhoun, Director, International Campaigns, 40 Days for Life
My name is Robert Colquhoun, I’m 34 years old and I live in London, England with my wife and two children - Hannah and Joseph who are 2 years and 9 months old respectively.
I work for 40 Days for Life, an organisation that helps Christians to end abortion where they live.
My talk today is about ending abortion in the local community and I hope to inspire you with many fascinating stories of how Christians have turned to God with astonishing results to provide a solution to the crisis of abortion.
Thank you for your hospitality and welcome in this beautiful country where is has been fascinating to learn about local cultures and customs during our visit here.
Today I would like to start with the bad news for life today, before transitioning to the good news and signs where there is hope in the battle for life.
The crisis of abortion
Abortion is the leading cause of death in the world. There are an estimated 56 million abortions a year in the world. Some experts estimate 100 million girls are missing due to gendercide. More human persons have died from abortion than all the wars in human history combined. Since 1966 2 billion babies have been killed by abortion worldwide. The number of human embryos destroyed in the past 50 years by abortifacient birth control drugs and devices is simply incalculable.
In many Western countries, most political parties are in favour of abortion. Young people are not told about the risks of promiscuity and as a result teenage pregnancies are at record levels. The media is overwhelmingly in favour of abortion, while Churches have remained silent of apathetic about abortion, falling to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Some western countries have abortion on demand, in countries where the right to life has been respected for centuries. Abortion providers have vested ideological and financial interests to provide abortion.
In 1998, Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States, decided to open a new abortion centre in a medium sized town called College Station in Texas. A large number of Christians were deeply concerned and tried everything they could to stop the abortion provider from being present in their community. They tried bringing the Churches together, working with politicians and reaching out to people. They tried everything that they could imagine and nothing was working leading to frustration.
One day, four of the leaders came together around a large wooden table and decided to pray just one hour to God, to look to God to strive to find a solution to the crisis of abortion. During that hour of prayer, what really came to them was the idea of how God has used 40 days throughout history to help bring immense spiritual changes to society. They felt called to have a permanent prayer vigil outside the abortion centre. So they started to pray outside the place where abortion was happening in their town.
They also felt called to spread a pro-life message through community outreach to all different parts of the community over an intense 40-day period. John Paul II has said, “Prayer and fasting constitute the most powerful force in human history,” And 40 Days for Life was born. It’s a community based campaign that takes a determined peaceful approach to showing local communities the consequences of abortion through peaceful, prayerful and legal outreach to end abortion.
It puts into action a desire to co-operate with God in carrying out His plan for the end of abortion. It draws attention to the evil of abortion through the use of a three point program. Prayer and fasting, constant vigil and community outreach.
This is a simple campaign that can be implemented anywhere, encouraging Christians to pray and fast, turn to God to look for the answers and solution to abortion. A constant prayer vigil is organised, normally outside the place where abortions are happening in the community. Community outreach is taking a positive and upbeat pro-life message to all parts of the community through media, door to door, stalls in public and engaging with the public to build a growing awareness of the humanity of the unborn child.
So this campaign started in just one small town in America, and they had no idea what might happen if they put all their effort into this campaign. They prayed for 24 hours a day for 40 Days outside the abortion centre. And by the end they were exhausted at the end of that period. Afterwards God rewarded their efforts and they had seen powerful changes in their local community as they visited door to door every household in the community and the abortion rate declined 28% during that time.
One prayer volunteer came to pray outside the abortion centre for the very first time and the medical waste truck appeared. The experience broke the man’s heart as he realised the tragedy of abortion in his own town and grieved as the dead babies were picked up in the medical waste.
After that, more communities became inspired with what was happening and they thought, “Wow, this is something that is working in one town, maybe we can start doing this in our own community.” And after several years an organisation started based on the vision and mission of what they had originally started.
40 Days for Life is a focused pro-life campaign with a vision to access God’s power through prayer, fasting and peaceful vigil to end abortion. So in other words, the whole point of our organisation is to turn to God to look for answers for Him to provide the answers rather than relying on our own efforts and do things on our own terms. The mission of the campaign is to bring together the Body of Christ in a spirit of unity during a focused 40-day campaign of prayer, fasting and peaceful activism with a purpose of repentance to seek God’s favour, to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life. That’s bringing an end to abortion.
Who should we pray for when it comes to abortion? It’s a matter of urgency to pray for the innocent children who are at risk of losing their lives from abortion. To pray specifically for those who are considering abortion. To pray for men and women who have carried the pain of a past abortion experience and can find healing, reconciliation and forgiveness after and abortion experience. To pray for the workers who work in abortion centres. To pray for local, regional and national leaders too. To pray for a revival in our Churches and for healing and repentance throughout the nation too.
The whole point of having a prayer vigil by an abortion centre is to be the last sign of hope for anybody who is considering abortion and the first sign of mercy, God’s mercy for anyone who has had one. And in England we have seen hundreds of women change their minds at the last minute and not go ahead with the abortion. In America, a woman ran out of an abortion centre without her shoes on, as she was seconds away from having an abortion. In the United Kingdom, another woman jumped over the wall of an abortion centre as she ran away from her family coercing her into the abortion. So you never know how God can use your presence outside an abortion centre to change hearts and minds. If we have educators, it is because they are witnesses. The witness sends a powerful sign to the community of the tragic reality of abortion. God already works through people’s conscience.
A public presence praying for an end to abortion can literally change hearts and minds. I’d like you to imagine for one moment one woman in your community who is in a crisis pregnancy right now. She is afraid and does not know what to do. And you are the person that God has chosen to reach out to that person through your witness - literally to change the course of history in saving the life of the unborn child. Imagine not only that you were able to save the life of the unborn child, you also helped the woman to potentially avoid a lifetime of regrets, impacting that family and also generations to come. So it is possible to save lives doing this work as well.
I mentioned a little earlier the three parts of the 40 Days for Life campaign: prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil and then community outreach. Community outreach is really exciting because we can engage with the public in many different ways to help bring the pro-life message. And the whole point of pro-life work is to evangelise, to share the Gospel of Life with others, proactively taking a pro-life message to every part of your community - through media work, getting Churches involved, engaging through College campuses, universities and schools. With fliers, public petitions, petition drives, public witnesses, table displays and engaging the public in every way possible and galvanising as many people together in your local campaign as well.
Community outreach is exciting because you get to engage with people where they are, and what they believe about abortion. Have a discussion, have a dialogue, and as Christians we are called to be the arms and legs of Jesus.
In the West, in many ways our culture has turned away from God through rapid secularisation. The sexual revolution has changed society and Christianity does not have the prominence that it once did in society.
In the Old Testament there is a powerful passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14 that reads, “If my people, who are called by name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.” In other words, if we turn to God, he will hear and respond to our prayers if we approach him in the right spirit of healing and repentance.
We have seen this process work incredibly powerfully over the last 10 years as an organisation. We have seen thousands of people recruited into effective, life saving methods. We have seen post-abortive women and men led into proven and effective healing programs. We have seen abortion rates be reduced by 15%, 20%, 25% or more, with Churches brought together in a historic display of unity and well as dynamic new leaders developed to increase the future impact of pro-life efforts.
We have seen enormous “buzz” by getting prominent pro-life news coverage, even from biased media outlets. We have seen an increase in local financial support for pro-life efforts. This has helped to make the sanctity of human life a crucial issue through communities and in upcoming local, state and national elections. All these results have been realised in other communities and with God’s help can happen in other towns.
Throughout salvation history, God has used the period of 40 days to bring major transformation. Noah experience transformation during 40 days for rain. Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai. David was transformed by Goliath’s 40 day challenge. Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from one meal. Nineveh was transformed when God fave the city 40 days to remain faithful. Jesus transformed the world following his 40 days in the desert. The disciples were transformed after spending 40 days with Jesus following the resurrection. What will God accomplish when people of faith unite for 40 days for prayer and fasting, pulling out all the steps to end the violence of abortion. We don’t know, but we’re excited to find out!
The track record of results since the first ever co-ordinated 40 Days for Life campaign took place in 2007 has simply been amazing. By the grace of God, local campaign leaders have reported these blessings - God’s answer to their prayers. 700,000 volunteers have participated in 636 cities from 36 nations with 4,168 local campaigns, 11,796 lives saved from abortion, 133 abortion workers have quit and 75 abortion centres have closed.
A personal journey
In 2010, I was just 28 years old and felt that God was calling me to start a 40 Days for Life campaign in England. England is a country where just 8% of the population go to Church. I had spent a year in Canada doing youth ministry. One day I saw a prayer vigil outside an abortion centre and I thought, “Well, this is something that God is personally calling me to do in my own community.” For most people it was stepping out in faith and outside their comfort zone to take a public stand on a controversial issue like abortion. Many people will disagree with you and will try everything to stop what you are doing - and Christians are afraid of sharing their faith in the midst of aggressive secularism.
So we got together a group of young people to organise a local prayer vigil outside the Marie Stopes abortion centre in Central London. I thought that it would be a failure as we would not get many people. So I had to encourage young people to come, so I said to them, “Who knows you might find your future husband or wife at the prayer vigil outside the abortion centre. I know it’s not the most romantic place in the world, but God can work through anything and he can work miracles as well.”
Sure enough the young people did come and 1,000 people got involved in our local campaign. On the second day, a young couple came along with their two born children. Marie Stopes do not allow born children into their centre, so the boyfriend had to wait outside and he spoke to all the prayer volunteers while his girlfriend went for an abortion. After 10 minutes of that, he woke up to the reality of what was happening and rushed into the abortion centre, got his girlfriend and they left that centre, never to come back again. And from that moment onwards we knew all the hard work and effort we put into this initiative was worth it because that one child’s life had been spared that day. And this experience happened time and time again. Many of the women going for an abortion didn’t want to go for an abortion in the first place. They felt like they had no choice.
One woman came up to us, shook the hands of all the prayer volunteers and said, “Thank you so much for being here, you’ve changed my life and I am so lucky to have friends like you.” Another woman had a dream the night before that her child was calling out to her not to abort. Another woman held the abortion pill in her hand before walking out of the abortion centre. At the end of our first campaign we know of six women who changed their minds, who were scheduled for an abortion and did not go ahead with it. They were just the ones we knew about.
Abby Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood worker, now a pro-life activist. She mentioned that once during a Planned Parenthood Conference in the USA, they said every time there is a prayer vigil outside an abortion centre, the no show rate of people going for an abortion can be as high as 75%. So in other words for Christians simply to be in the place where abortions is happening in a spirit of love we can have a huge impact above and beyond anything we imagined just trying efforts on our own. In England, Crisis Pregnancy Centres are able to offer any tangible need that a woman who chooses life after an abortion (counselling, financial support, housing and ongoing support).
The following year we moved outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service where we had a public prayer vigil for 3,000 hours between 2011 and 2013. The abortion charity does 60,000 abortions a year in the UK, where 98% of abortions are paid for by the taxpayer, usually costing between £500-£2000 each.
Gandhi, the civil rights activist said, “At first you are ignored, then you are ridiculed, then you are persecuted, and then you win.” We witnesses this whole sequence. University students poured buckets of water over our prayer volunteers - but we were like a garden growing, and we needed water to grow. Cyclist would deliberately run their cycles into our prayer volunteers and steal banners. The Bishop came to our vigil and 500 protesters turned up to the event. We debated the abortionists on the radio where they told us to, “Take your love someplace else.” Communities all around the country were inspired and began to organise the same campaign. And 6 months later, the abortion centre for no rational reason whatsoever closed its doors for the last time ever. The following day, we had Mass said inside the building to pray for everything that had happened there.
The words of the Eucharist, “This is my body given for you” where in stark contrast to the pro-abortion activist’s chants, “My body, my choice.” As Christians we are assured that God has already prevailed over evil. It is just there are a few skirmishes going on, but we can see victory in our local communities as well.
One of the most amazing experiences I have had as a pro-life activist is to meet a baby saved from abortion as a result of the witness of Christians, God’s providence and the bravery of the mother. This has happened many times. Imagine meeting a baby alive today thanks to your work. In pro-life work this is the ultimate emotional experience. Maybe God will grant you the opportunity to meet a powerful tangible experience of the pro-life work that you have been doing as well. People all around the United Kingdom began to have similar experiences. Pope John Paul II said, “Do not be afraid to go out into the streets to proclaim the gospel of life.”
In October 2012, I started working full time for 40 Days for Life, and since that time I’ve travelled to 21 countries that have organised a campaign. In has been an incredible adventure seeing Christians organise pro-life initiatives in their own communities. I’d like you to imagine what God can do in your community to help build a culture of life.
In Nigeria, our local leader, Kelechi Anyaghara has helped to save over 20 lives from abortion in a pro-life country. She started her own pro-life group, she has been to schools all over with a message of chastity. An American speaker called Matthew Kelly says, “The best way to defend life is to celebrate it.” Through Kelechi’s prayers and discernments she has worked out how she can witness to bring a pro-life message to her country.
In Rio de Janeiro, a local lady called Doris Hipolito has worked as a pro-life activist for 23 years saving women from abortion in the slums of Rio. She has helped 3,000 women from abortion, many of whom have issues with drugs. She was originally a teacher an was concerned with the number of abortions in her school. She voiced her concerns to the headteacher who said that she should do something about it. So she did. One day she met a lady who was pregnant underneath a railway bridge who was alone and afraid. She took this lady in as the very first person and helped her. She then went onto help two, three, four people and gradually the community realised she was the go to person to help anyone in a crisis pregnancy in need. She now has a pink house in the slums in Rio and all the feminists really hate her. In Brazil you cannot get an abortion apart from cases of rape according to the law. This is what one person can do living on providence, trusting in God - every year she helps 200 women choose life for their babies who are at risk of abortion.
In Houston, there is the largest abortion centre in the Western Hemisphere. But outside, there is a Christian ministry with a large bus, offering ultrasound - every day they meet 5 women who choose life for their babies. 90% of women who see the ultrasound choose life for their babies. In the New Testament we read, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more,” and God is working powerfully in the midst of the evil that is happening there.
In the United Kingdom, some of the abortion centres used to be Christian houses or chapels. In Twickenham, the abortion centre is a former nun’s convent and in Ealing the building is a former chapel. The devil can’t invent anything new, he can only plagiarise God and creation and twist and change things that are good and make them evil. Some of the centres are late term abortion centres where you see women who are visibly pregnant going for an abortion. During one campaign in West London we saw 24 women change their mind and not go ahead with an abortion. One 3 year full time prayer vigil has seen approximately 300 women change their mind and not have an abortion - a powerful sign of hope in a secular city.
In Bryan College Station, the Planned Parenthood where the first ever 40 Days for Life was organised finally closed its doors for good and in 2014 40 Days for Life bought the building where it is now our international headquarters. What was a place of despair in the local community has now become a place of hope.
In Croatia, the first ever 40 Days for Life was organised in 2014. Now, 23 vigils in 22 cities have been organised as prayer vigils are present outside hospitals all around the country. Over a classroom of children have been spared from abortion and the pro-life movement has been galvanised by young people passionate for life.
In Colombia, there are now 15 40 Days for Life campaigns across the country and during Lent there were 25 lives spared from abortion. Around 60 abortion centres are present in the capital, Bogota, where men try to sell abortions outside centres in the capital. Around 3,000 people were involved in the Bogota campaign first time around.
In Hong Kong, we had our first prayer vigil outside the Family Planning Association in Lent 2016. This was an exciting start to our first every campaign in Asia and I am in awe of what God can do next on this continent. There are 23 million abortions in China - 50% of the total number of abortions in the world in just one country.
In Scotland, our first ever vigil was held outside a hospital in 2015 - now we have campaigns scheduled all around the country. The witness of one person can bring powerful change for a whole nation.
In Kenya, I just travelled with ex-abortionist Haywood Robinson to visit some of our new prayer vigils in Africa. It was powerful praying outside centres performing illegal abortions that are also indoctrinating young people about sex education. Our local leader is an abortion survivor.
Signs of growth
A number of signs in recent years have been deeply encouraging for the pro-life movement. Lila Rose from the organisation Live Action has launched a website called abortionprocedures.com. An ex abortionist Anthony Levatino explains how abortions are performed. Last time I checked 40 million people had viewed the videos and 30% of pro-abortion viewers change their minds on the issue when they see the videos.
In 2015, a young gentleman called David Daleiden released a litany of undercover videos demonstrating how Planned Parenthood illegally sold baby body parts for profit. The videos went viral but were not shared widely in the secular media. The story did irreparable damage to the Planned Parenthood brand and led to a national campaign to defund Planned Parenthood.
Abby Johnson was a former Planned Parenthood manager but had a conversion and is now a pro-life activist. She has helped over 100 women leave the abortion industry. Her ministry - and then there were none reaches out to abortion workers who want to leave and helps them through the process.
Sue Thayer was also a Planned Parenthood manager, but was fired when she refused to perform abortion via video-conference with a doctor. She organised a 40 Days for Life campaign outside her former place of work which saw the abortion centre go out of business.
40 Days for Life has started producing podcasts - with 1,000 to 3,000 listeners to every podcast on iTunes - it is providing a remarkable way to communicate with our audience.
This year we received an endorsement from the highest office in the Vatican for life issues (The Pontifical Academy for Life). This unsolicited endorsement is deeply encouraging while there are 4 prospective campaigns in Italy for the first time next Lent.
This year, a 50 state bus tour has been organised by 40 Days for Life to visit vigils in 120 US cities around the country. Post abortion testimonies, students, pro life leaders and politicians have been helping to make this project one of the most successful yet for our organisation.
I’ve heard stories of amazing pro-life leaders such as John Ensor, with his ministry reaches one million people in China with his apostolate and Jorge Serrano who has helped to save an estimated 100,000 lives from abortion from setting up 100 crisis pregnancy centres in Latin America.
A number of pro-life ministries are attempting to create a pro-life version of Planned Parenthood. FEMM Health is reinventing fertility awareness for a secular audience with modern marketing. Stanton Healthcare and Obria are attempting to become an ethical pro-life version of Planned Parenthood, not performing abortions but serving women’s health. These models will powerfully serve the pro-life movement for the future. it doesn’t matter what happens in the White House, it matters what happens in our own houses when it comes to ending abortion.
The challenge for life continues. On the local level there continues to be many inspirational individuals who are doing incredibly work for God and seeing results way beyond their own abilities.
In the last part of my presentation, I would like to invite you to respond, to listen to God, to pray to God and ask him what He want you to do in your local community. Maybe He’s calling you to be a great pro-life leader. Maybe he is calling you to start a pro-life initiative. Maybe He is calling you to respond with the spiritual gifts that God has given us through the ministry of the Church.
I’ve heard a story about some of the circus trainers. They bring the elephants up from birth. Of course elephants are very strong, and they want them to perform in the circus. So they tie down the elephants with a very strong metal poles into the ground. They help the elephants to believe they don’t have much strength. Of course the elephants could knock over the whole circus tent in one small move if they wanted to. Because the trainers have created that belief in the elephants that the elephant is not strong enough to change, then the elephant will not try to use its full strength. It has been trained from birth to not use its full strength.
For me, this story represented how we as the Church, as pro-lifers, for many years we’ve seen 49 years of legalised abortion in the United Kingdom. We’ve forgotten about the spiritual powers that God has given us. Through prayer we can move mountains. Through fasting we can root out demons. If we have that confidence and belief that the elephant could have in its own strength, then we would be able to achieve the same strength that the elephant is fully capable of. That as pro-lifers, we can totally transform society. But at first, we must have the belief that we are able to do that. If we believe that we can transform society, we will. But at first, we need to believe that we can do incredible things. That God can work miracles in and through us. One day somebody is going to go down in history as having ended abortion.
Archbishop Chaput says, “Nothing we do to defend the human person, no matter how small is ever unfruitful or forgotten. Our actions touch other lives and move other hearts in ways we can never fully understand in this world.” Pope Francis said, “Defend the unborn against abortion even if they persecute you, culmniate you, set traps for you, take you to court or kill you.” That is how strong we need to be in defending the unborn as well. Margaret Mead said, “All that is needed to change the world is a small number of committed people.”
A local teacher came to our campaign in London. He prayed at the vigil. After that time he realised, I can take this pro-life message back to my school. He told all the people in his school his very strong pro-life message. That is what God wanted Him to do to help end abortion. Each of us has our own vocation. Pray to God and ask Him to show you what you can do to end abortion, and He will answer your prayer and reveal to you what you can do.
Thank you very, very much indeed for having me. It’s been a real privilege and honour to be here.