Whenever Elizabeth Wickham feels the need to reflect on the mission of the ministry she founded — LifeTree Inc. — she turns to the Book of Revelation.
“The he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life, with its 12 kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).
LifeTree, based in
The most visible sign of the
organization’s work is — what else? — the LifeTree, a 23-foot pole strung with 64 strands of fishing
line on which 4,000 pairs of baby booties hang. That’s one pair for each child
aborted each day in the
Since 1998, it has been raised at
North Carolina General Assembly sessions, during Human Rights Week at
The idea for the tree came to one of the group’s founders, Nancy Lischwe, in 1996 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. While praying in her parish’s Eucharistic adoration chapel, she began thinking about a newspaper picture of a memorial service at which shoes of children killed by drunk drivers were displayed.
The group’s original mission statement, written in 1996, describes its work as “Christ centered and formed by prayer to make others aware of the immense loss to society through abortion.” The statement was later revised and expanded to include all pro-life causes, including embryonic stem-cell research and end-of-life issues.
“As we put up the LifeTree,” Wickham recalls, “there was a pro-abortion group across the street just watching us. That made a big impact on me. I’ll never forget that eerie feeling.”
Wickham has a doctorate in economics but was working as an assistant in the North Carolina State Legislature at the time of the tree raising. That day the assembly met, and the LifeTree was the main topic of conversation. The impression the tree had on the legislators changed Wickham’s life.
“I thought to myself that this tree has a purpose,” she says.
The rest of the LifeTree story is a whirlwind of research, education and campaigning. Wickham, as executive director, is part of a staff of three women who work tirelessly to get to the root of the issues and pass their discoveries on to the public through e-mails, letters, word of mouth, assemblies and pro-life events. Their goal is to raise awareness and change legislation to promote the culture of life.
Wickham’s husband, Doug, is a lawyer and helps with the legal aspects. None of the LifeTree staff are paid. The organization is funded by private donations.
The core of LifeTree’s information base is a 32-page timeline on its website, Lifetree.org. The timeline details the activities of a nationwide conspiracy of “culture of death” foundations and organizations over the past decade. It’s a comprehensive document that highlights three main objectives: professional education, institutional change and public engagement.
Ione Whitlock, a desktop publisher by trade, is LifeTree’s research authority and the timeline’s originator. “Putting together the timeline was an educational experience for me,” she says. “I began putting it together for myself, so that I could better understand how these people were influencing society. The more I worked, the more alarmed I became.”
Whitlock was shocked to find that many of the entities that are seemingly benevolent actually promote practices such as assisted suicide and terminal sedation —a practice in which frail, disabled or elderly people are heavily sedated and allowed to dehydrate and starve to death.
Compiling information is one thing, but knowing what to do with it is another. As LifeTree’s strategist, Rose McCreery works to make things happen.
“My best skill,” says McCreery, who operates a window-dressing business out of her home, “is that I can usually see through the rubble and organize things.”
It’s McCreery’s job to bring people together for events, find pro-life experts to speak before the legislature, fund-raise, network with other pro-life organizations and gather resources. It’s often a thankless job, and the results of her labors aren’t always apparent.
LifeTree has had small successes over the years, but never a complete victory. The adversary is daunting. Nonetheless, McCreery remains driven.
“The humanists are managing our lives,” she said. “And they’ve been doing it for years and years. They think they know what’s best for us, but it has nothing to do with morality.”
Because of the severity and vastness of the anti-life mainstream culture, LifeTree’s focus is moving from strictly statewide campaigns to nationwide ones. Wickham and her staff have discovered that most of the foundations, facilities and organizations are linked by umbrella organizations that give them more power and scope.
“We have to drive home that this is serious,” she says. “Many people are unaware of what’s actually going on. These organizations are like piranhas nibbling away at our Judeo-Christian civilization.”