What does it means to be an advocate? Some initial things spring to mind: images of people holding signs, a group of marchers, personal and public discussion; and a few iconic leaders, thoughtful advocates such as Gandhi and Dr. King. Biblically, the Holy Spirit is referred to by Jesus as “Paraclete” (John 14:16, 26), which means “advocate,” “helper” or “comforter.”
While I know a lot, or at least hear a lot, about advocacy, which seems to be today’s buzzword, I was somewhat in the dark when it came to sidewalk advocates. In retrospect, as attuned as I consider myself to be on issues of justice advocacy, I was surprised to find how little I knew about this peaceful, loving group of people who faithfully and humbly affirm the inherent value of all of God’s creation, especially the most vulnerable bearers of the Imago Dei: unborn children and their confused and hurting mothers.
The word advocacy is defined on dictionary.com as, “the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending; active espousal.”
In order to promote the good and well-being of others, you must set your own interests aside in many ways (see Philippians 2:4). Perhaps it is your personal comfort or your hectic schedule. Maybe you’ll face conflict with dear friends or family (perhaps especially this time of year), with culture and society, with peers at work or school. You are sacrificing for others in some way.
That is the story of sidewalk advocacy and the people who give it life. They are not always the loudest or the boldest, nor are they well-known or powerful. Perhaps they experienced something that lent their hearts to a cause. Maybe they saw someone in need and were convicted like the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). Different roads brought them to that sidewalk. However some commonalities brought them there as well and keep them coming even when the rains of opposition (and literal rain) fall upon them.
This is my starting point on my quest to understand advocacy and the sidewalk advocates of today. Those who directly engage to heal the hurting, bring hope to the broken, and offer help to those who need it.
Here are a few of their stories.
"We are faithful witnesses for the truth . . . trying to show compassion and trying to offer help"Eleanor McCullen exudes such genuine care for those she advocates for that, without knowing who she is when she approaches them, they can feel her care. Food baskets and hand-knit baby blankets accompany Eleanor and her dedicated friends and co-advocates. Their gentle, compassionate care has saved many lives and redeemed entire families. Her place on the sidewalk in front of a Planned Parenthood center has led her with many of those she counsels on a path back to her home for cookies or a family dinner, to apartment searches, and to baby showers.
The words come to us, for different people, they just come to us.”
Kathy Forck is a mother who knows well those for whom she advocates. Her mother had a forced abortion as a teenager. Years later, doctors tried to make her abort Kathy. But her mom vowed to respect life and gave birth to Kathy. Kathy’s teenage daughter faced the same decision. Kathy uses these life stories to comfort and encourage women in similar situations. Her empathy and prayerful attitude give her the soft relatability that women facing this difficult situation need. Her reminder that leaving the abortion facility’s premises, to never return, is an active decision that allows them to experience what one couple she counseled experienced, “that shy, sweet look when a woman tells her husband that she is going to have a baby.”
"To be there at that moment, to help them, it’s worth it.”Nikki Bruni is a classic tale of a tender spirit broken in a most unexpected way. While listening to the radio one day, the topic of abortion came up. At that moment, Nikki’s eyes were opened and her heart was profoundly stirred to address an issue that she realized was impacting individual people and families and, indeed, our nation. Today, as a leading sidewalk advocate, respect, commitment, and action paint the picture of her care for those she counsels outside of abortion facilities. Her passion and her artistic skill led her to paint “Memorial of Mercy.” This 9-foot painting contains 2,470 squares, each featuring the image of a baby to represent those who died in abortions at the Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood facility where she advocates. She considers her work there a privilege, as you can hear in this story about a child who went from unwanted to deeply beloved, thanks to Nikki’s intervention in the mother’s life. Praise God for one less face painted on that canvas.
These three women represent thousands of other sidewalk advocates who bring hope to women and girls facing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy by connecting with them and empowering them to choose life. Their love and devotion has saved lives and changed lives: transforming the lost into the found, the unwanted into the cherished, desperation into hope, and fear into love.
But sidewalk advocacy is not without its legal obstacles. In fact, all three of these kind women have had to fight legal battles for their freedom to love hurting women and to save children’s lives. Eleanor’s case made it all the up to the United States Supreme Court, where she won an historic 9-0 victory.
If you feel called to do this work faithfully and effectively, you should familiarize yourself with your rights so you are prepared to deal with any challenges from local authorities who may not be familiar with the law. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recognized this need and created a manual to educate you about your legal rights when engaging in sidewalk advocacy. We pray this resource will help you be better equipped to serve the women and girls who enter abortion facilities every day and whose babies deserve a chance at life.
Get involved in sidewalk advocacy
To download a free copy of “A Legal Guide for Sidewalk Counselors: Compassion, Counseling, and the Constitution” go to www.adflegal.org/sidewalk.
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