Friday, August 28, 2015

Pro-Life Conference in Antofagasta

"Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." -- 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 (NIV)

with our friends and hosts, the Flinck family

The verses above were a tremendous encouragement to us as we prepared for our first pro-life conference on August 21-23, 2015 in the city of Antofagasta (about five hours south of Iquique.) Neither Pedro nor I felt sufficiently qualified or knowledgeable for what seemed at times an insurmountable task. The weekend prior to the conference, we spent several days away to focus exclusively on studying and compiling our presentations on the various topics we had been asked to address. It was during this time that God spoke to our hearts through 2 Corinthians 4:1-7. 

There is perhaps no greater area of spiritual blindness in our world today than that of human sexuality and its related tragedy, abortion. As Pastor John Piper writes, "Satan is a murderer whose main weapon is destruction and whose main killing field is sexuality." Despite our lack of experience and confidence, we do have the truth of the gospel to share with those who are perishing. And as verse 7 reminds us, though we are just fragile jars of clay it is God's power upon which we rely. Thus it was with much prayer, exhaustion and hope that we packed up our five children and left Iquique for Antofagasta late Friday morning.

Friday night session - introducing FLORECE

Friday night session - Pedro's testimony

The title of Friday night's session was borrowed from John Ensor's book, "Cuestion de Vida o Muerte" (in Spanish, "Matter of Life or Death.") Our goal was to introduce the reality of abortion in the country of Chile and to awaken a spiritual consciousness on this issue. We also planned to present the FLORECE center for prenatal and family counseling. However, we felt it was important for those attending to know our personal story as well. (The conference was attended by members of three different churches, none of which knew us nor did we know them.) We decided to share our testimonies of salvation, infertility, adoption and how God eventually introduced us to pro-life ministry.

In the days before the conference as I reflected on our life experiences, I found myself unprepared for the emotions that surfaced after so many years. This was in part due to a very current event, the undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood and the release of multiple videos revealing their sale of fetal body parts. An article written by a barren woman describing the inconsolable grief she felt as a result of these videos brought back a poignant memory. Early in our own infertility struggle, I experienced these same emotions due to a national news story of a mother who tragically took the lives of her five children. I recalled also the memory of being asked to tutor a pregnant teenager during that season of my life and my adamant refusal. Barrenness led to bitterness and a heart battle with acceptance and submission. God had to do a work in me before He could work through me.

It felt like stepping back into the "shadowlands" to dwell on these things and to share such intimate thoughts with others. I recounted that due to these early feelings, never would I have expected God to lead us to pro-life ministry! In fact, pain was reawakened early in my training as a pregnancy center volunteer when after years of negative pregnancy results, my first glimpse of that second (positive) line was on the test of a client whose baby was unwanted. Viewing abortion videos as part of the training left me unable to sleep some nights, with horrifying images filling my mind.  But eventually it was through the redemptive picture of adoption, and specifically the sacrificial, unselfish choice of our child's birth mother to choose life over death that God began to show us the needs and challenges of unplanned pregnancy beyond our limited perspective.

The response from Friday's sessions was encouraging! One missionary couple with decades in the ministry shared that they had never considered these topics before. A young husband - newly married and a new but passionate believer - expressed how encouraging it was to hear a transparent testimony of struggling with God, yet learning to trust Him and see His hand at work. We thanked God for leading us to share as He had.

Saturday session - The Heart of God and the Responsibility of the Church

Saturday luncheon

Five pregnant moms and one newborn at Saturday sessions

Saturday was a very full day with three sessions, a luncheon and a time for questions and answers. To be honest, we were most nervous about the latter and asked for the questions to be given to us prior to lunch in order to research our answers. We shared on Friday and again on Saturday that we were not "experts" by any stretch of the imagination, but students of the pro-life perspective along with those attending. We confessed that there are hard questions on the abortion issue, but confirmed that God's Word has the answers for all of life.

The first session on Saturday was built from Koukl and Klusendorf's excellent series, "Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-Life Persuasion." We are so thankful to our missionary colleague Evelyn Stone in Peru who has paved the way for pro-life ministry in Latin America, translating materials to Spanish and preparing PowerPoint slides which we were given permission to use. In an intense one hour, I quickly shared the highlights from four different sessions in an attempt to provide scientific, philosophical and Biblical tools for defending the pro-life position. Pedro then spoke on "The Heart of God and the Responsibility of the Church," drawing from both Old Testament and New Testament examples of God's attitude (justice) toward the shedding of innocent blood and His call to merciful ministry as presented in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Lunch was prepared and served by generous volunteers from the Flincks' church. Still in formation, their church meets in what would be the first-floor living room of their home. Throughout the day, this room was transformed from meeting place to eating place and back again! It was a blessing to witness hearts of joyful service, even in these many details. We were humbled and thankful for the privilege of being part of this special weekend in which so many had evidently invested time, energy and hours of preparation.

The question and answer time after lunch addressed weighty topics such as types of abortion; concerns and misinformation surrounding "exception clauses" such as health of the mother and cases of pregnancy due to rape; fetal development; and adoption issues, both specific to Chile and/or our own experience, and in light of Biblical teaching. Afterwards one couple approached to share their personal story of an unborn daughter's diagnosis of being "incompatible with life." Yet God led them to trust the outcome of the pregnancy to Him, and in His mercy allowed their child to be born perfectly healthy against the opinions of the medical "experts." How many more families, they wondered, might experience the same blessing but their unborn children are never given the chance? Another husband asked repeatedly, each time in different words, about the "life of the mother" exception. He specifically requested (in his terms) a "clinical response." We have begun to understand that pointed inquiries like these are a reflection of a personal and often painful experience. Though he did not share further, we hope and pray that our answers (Biblical, not clinical) may have spoken to his need.

With the time that remained on Saturday, we shared a short yet poignant video depicting one mother's post-abortion reality. Pedro then led a workshop entitled "Sexuality Designed by God," and the last twenty minutes or so allowed us to present the final session of "Making Abortion Unthinkable." It was an exhilarating, exhausting day but God was extremely faithful.

Sunday morning - a full house

Sunday morning - introducing our kids

Sunday morning - children's class

Sunday morning - with members from Chilean missionary Pablo Ramirez' church

At Sunday morning's service, two of the three churches joined together for worship and the final session of the conference. We had the privilege of introducing our children (who up to that point had not been present at the meetings.) We also had the opportunity to share the FLORECE ministry again for those who were not with us Friday night. Pedro was asked to preach on the Biblical theology of adoption, reminding us of the joy and responsibility of being called children of God and co-heirs with Christ. During the message, children seven years old and under had their class in the kitchen of the missionary home (the flexibility of church planting!)

A special blessing on Sunday morning was hearing testimonies from those who had been in attendance throughout the weekend. After all the preparation and presentation, yet ever mindful of our human frailty and failings, God used these moments to encourage our hearts to faithfulness in continuing to share a pro-life gospel message. One woman said that as a Christian she had always opposed abortion, but never thought of its consequences to the women who chose it. She admitted never having considered the need for compassionate ministry in light of post-abortion trauma, and said God had convicted her in this area through the conference. Another woman asked us to include miscarriage as part of our presentation because sadly, in Chile the same word "abortion" is also used to describe pregnancy loss. We learned from this to be more careful to differentiate between the terms "induced abortion" and "spontaneous abortion" in our presentation because it is such a painful and sensitive issue. 

Our friend and hostess Kristi Flinck shared that sometimes we get a hint of the spiritual battle that rages around us by the many little things that go "wrong" at just the right time. She knew that for our family, it was a car repair that put us behind schedule and pushed us to arrive hurriedly only an hour before Friday's session began. For her family, it was awakening Saturday morning to a burned-out refrigerator filled to the brim with food items needed to be kept fresh for that day's luncheon. These frustrations remind us to rely on the Lord and trust there is a greater purpose to it all!

Again, we are so thankful for this experience which challenged, stretched, blessed and prepared us. We are grateful to be part of the family of God that extends beyond our city borders. And we are willing for God to continue to use us as He chooses in this new area of ministry, trusting in His "all-surpassing power."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amazing! I am a public high school social studies teacher and we debate all sorts of topics which I am generally very open to a discussion on regardless of my personal feelings but this past semester the topic of abortion came up and I couldn't help but cry in front of a class of 12th graders because it is the one topic that I just cannot be objective on. Poor students didn't know what to do with me. God bless the work you do!

Diane Steward said...

Thanks for sharing your testimony of the conference in Antofagasta. It was a blessing and encouragement to me. May the Lord continue to use your ministry!