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BY TIM DRAKE, REGISTER SENIOR WRITER
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Christ spent 40 days in the desert. Over the 40 days of Lent, pro-life advocates have been spending time in the “desert” outside of abortion businesses across the country.
Since Ash Wednesday, pro-life advocates have been conducting 40 Days for Life campaigns in 167 cities across the United States.
By the end of the campaign March 28, 493 babies were saved.
The first 40 Days for Life campaign was held in College Station, Texas, in 2004. It involved prayer, fasting, a 40-day round-the-clock prayer vigil outside the local Planned Parenthood business, and outreach, including a door-to-door information campaign that reached more than 25,000 households. Those unable to pray at the abortion business were invited to participate in the campaign via daily e-mailed prayers throughout the span. More than 60 local churches and more than 1,000 people participated.
Since that time, the concept of 40 Days campaigns has continued to spread nationwide, with campaigns often running in the fall and during Lent.
“We’ve been awed by what God has done with that first effort and how he chose to spread it,” said David Bereit, national director of 40 Days for Life.
In addition to the growth in the U.S., the effort has spread to four Canadian provinces, three Australian states and Northern Ireland.
“Six-hundred-and-seventy-eight campaigns later in 282 cities, and with over 300,000 people involved, we have confirmed reports of 2,356 children spared from abortion,” said Bereit. “We know of five abortion centers that have shut their doors and gone out of business following 40 Days campaigns and 27 abortion workers who have walked away from their jobs at abortion businesses and experienced conversions.”
Those who participate admit that they may never know the impact of their prayers and how it changes hearts.
“We’re not overly concerned about the numbers,” said Jan Hoelscher, who helped organize a St. Cloud, Minn., 40 Days campaign both last fall and this Lent. “The most important thing is that we’re praying with thousands of other people at the same time, for the same purpose.”
Perhaps one of the most incredible results of 40 Days was the conversion of Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson, whose testimony was profiled by major news networks last year, as well as in the Register.
Johnson had been working at the Planned Parenthood in College Station since April 2004. That fall, the first 40 Days campaign began outside that very same Planned Parenthood office.
“40 Days for Life had a significant impact on my decision to leave,” said Johnson. “There was a constant prayer presence out in front of the clinic. Every time I went in and out of work, people were telling me they were praying for me by name.”
Johnson described the conflict that created.
“I was a Christian working in that facility,” she said. “There was definitely a spiritual conflict doing abortions during the week and on Saturday, and then going to church on Sunday.”
Johnson observed an abortion via ultrasound on Sept. 26. What she saw was so revolting that she quit 10 days later.
“It’s very uncommon that they do those types of procedures,” said Johnson. “It was the first time I had seen one done.”
“Without 40 Days’ constant presence, I don’t know if I would have been as receptive to God calling me out of that line of work,” said Johnson. “When I saw the ultrasound of the abortion, I had been through a 40 Days campaign on the other side. I knew they were a safe group of people where I could go and they would embrace me and love me despite the differences we had had for the past eight years.”
Those participating in 40 Days campaigns have many stories to relate about the impact of their prayerful presence outside of abortion businesses.
A 40 Days campaign co-coordinator from Eden Valley, Minn., told the story of what happened when a group prayed outside the St. Cloud, Minn., Planned Parenthood business last fall.
“A man who hadn’t planned to come pray was near the site and felt called to join us. He was praying the Rosary when a young woman came by and placed a baby in a carrier at his feet,” said Judy Haag, co-coordinator of the St. Cloud 40 Days for Life campaign. “The woman said she was going to drive by and wave, but felt she wanted to encourage those who were gathered outside praying. She spoke of how she had been in danger of abortion and that because of the help of a local pregnancy center, she gave her baby life. She asked if the priest who was present could bless and pray for the baby.”
“When God’s people pray, when we fast, when we turn from our wicked ways and seek his face, he will hear our prayer. He will heal our land,” said Bereit. “We’re seeing that one life at a time, one city at a time, and one campaign at a time. God is doing profound things. We’re seeing a shift in the polls and public sentiment. I think we’re on the verge of some major breakthroughs. This year could be remembered as a critical year for bringing about an end to abortion.”
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.