RECRUIT OTHERS: Draw more churches, organizations, and people into your local pro-life efforts than ever before
OVERCOME CHALLENGES: Navigate through opposition, setbacks, letdowns and frustrations, while making constructive progress
MAXIMIZE RESULTS: Plan — and successfully implement — the most effective life-saving strategies based on your community’s needs
My name is Robert Colquhoun and I am the UK Campaign Director and International Outreach Co-ordinator for 40 Days For Life.
It was the Summer of 2010, when I first felt God calling me to start a 40 Days for Life campaign. I had witnessed a campaign in Ottawa near the Canadian Parliament during a mission trip the year before.
Initially, I did not think that the campaign would make much of an impact. Church attendance in the United Kingdom is around 8%, and I doubted that Christians would support a major campaign praying for an end to abortion in public, rather than from the comfort of their own Churches. I believed that the campaign would be a failure. I was filled with doubts. Would I be able to motivate enough people to pray in public? Do people care enough about pro-life issues?
At the beginning I had to think of ingenious methods to get people involved. My original sales pitch was that, “Maybe you might meet your future husband or wife praying outside an abortion centre. I know it’s not the most romantic place, but with God all things are possible!” We’ve had 3 weddings, among volunteers who got to know their spouse through the campaign.
At first I was deeply discouraged by the apathy I received from Churches. After writing nearly two hundred letters, I was disappointed that only one clergyman replied to the letter, and he asked to be taken off the mailing list. However, I was always encouraged by advice that if a Church was not interested, just to move onto the next Church.
I discovered that there were many people who were passionate about abortion, yet did not have the means to express it. 40 days for life provided those means.
The first campaign we organised was outside the Marie Stopes centre in central London. Marie Stopes was a eugenicist who wrote love letters to Adolf Hitler. There are just under 200,000 abortions in the United Kingdom every year, and have been over 7 million abortions since abortion was legalised in 1967.
It was the second day of our campaign that I realised that all the planning, preparation and co-ordination towards our campaign was worth it! A woman chose life for her unborn child. Marie Stopes International usually does not allow born children into their centres, so a boyfriend waited outside with two children as his girlfriend went in to have an abortion. Intrigued by the presence of prayer volunteers, he asked them what they were doing. After just a few minutes of conversation, he rushed into the facility and rescued his girlfriend and unborn child.
Not long after, a young man stopped his car, jumped out and shook the hands of the entire line of volunteers, thanking them. “If you hadn’t been here, my girlfriend would have gone ahead with the abortion.” Another woman wrote one of the volunteers a note: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I am lucky to have a friend like you.”
As the campaign grew in the United Kingdom, awareness and enthusiasm spread. But this also brought ridicule and persecution.
Volunteers experienced frequent verbal abuse from people passing by, including students throwing buckets of water over them and even abortion proponents waving Satanic symbols in an attempt to intimidate prayer volunteers. Hecklers would shout anything and everything….
– You’re just wasting your time – there is no God!
– You hypocrites – what about the millions of starving children around the world?
– You’re doing the work of the devil!
– Why aren’t you praying for the twenty thousand back street abortions in Pakistan?
– I don’t need your prayers and I don’t believe in your evil God!
– Smoking kills as much as abortion!
At first, the persecution and resistance that we received paled into insignificance compared to the interest that the campaign generated.
After our first campaign, 6 women chose life for their babies. After that, different cities around the country began their own 40 Days For Life.
We moved our campaign to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in Bedford Square. The most dramatic moment of our campaign ever happened when the local Bishop, Alan Hopes led several hundred attendees in prayer, while a mob of three hundred pro-abortion protestors arrived to shout at the prayer volunteers and the Bishop. Fifty Police were present to protect the prayer vigil.
The British national media began giving our campaign a lot of attention. There were feature stories from the Guardian, BBC and Daily Telegraph. This allowed us to broadcast the message of peaceful mission and lifesaving focus of 40 Days for Life. Often the media would not describe us in flattering terms. In a debate on National radio, the head of BPAS, the largest abortion provider in the United Kingdom said to me, “You can take your love someplace else.” Well, we have been doing that ever since! By Lent 2013 we had 10 different vigils happening across the country.
During the Third round of 40 Days for Life campaigns in England, we began to experience the “Kamikaze Cyclists.” These were cyclists who purposefully rammed their bicycles into 40 Days banners and boxes. It started on the first day of the vigil when a lady in her twenties repeatedly drove her bicycle into the easels holding the banners, overturning them, while shouting at the top of her voice, “You are scum! Get lost! Shame on you!”
During the rest of the campaign, comedians delivered sacrilegious and derogatory jokes, and more water, eggs and horse dung were thrown at our volunteers. Our sign was destroyed by angry cyclists passing by, and the level of abuse rose to an obscene level. But none of these shenanigans stopped us concentrating on the prayer vigil.
In the face of difficulty, the lives of many unborn children have been saved. We knew that the mission and purpose of a 40 Days for Life campaign is to save lives, inspire hearts and minds and impact eternal souls. Thanks to our legacy in London, there are now 3 full time prayer vigils in London. In 2013, the lives of 100 children were spared from abortion thanks to the legacy of our campaign. 40 days is a life saving initiative that has the ability to transform your community and build hope among people. With prayer, we can move mountains. We have opened many hearts who we thought were closed.
The two biggest challenges we faced were Persecution and Indifference or a lack of support.
The 40 days for life campaign was copied word for word by pro-abortion protesters. More than ten of our events were heavily protested. We learnt during this time that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. A webcast by 40 days for life was heavily copied by pro-abortion campaigners. The guest of the webcast was none other than President Obama. When the President of the United States is on a webcast copying your tactics – it gives great assurance that you are doing the right thing!
The ridicule and aggressive response to our peaceful, prayer vigil can at times be considered a blessing from above. It helped the personal spiritual growth of our prayer volunteers. There were times that we needed to make lemons into lemonade. We turned a sour situation into something fruitful. The idea that our vigil was to protested was the single biggest driving factor in vigil attendance. As Christians, at times we are called to turn the other cheek. The best response to pithy, unmerited criticism was to ignore it.
Also worthwhile considering the trials and tribulations of St Paul. St Paul experienced: rejection, calumny, indifference, shipwrecks, imprisonment, stoning and ultimately martyrdom. If I was not able to experience a little ridicule now and again, how strong was my faith? Tertullian once said, “If the Tiber rises too high, or the Nile too low, the remedy is always feeding Christians to the lions.” Our vigil was always criticised by protestors, regardless of the circumstances.
When Blessed Dominic Barbieri, the man who received Cardinal Newman into the Church, had stones thrown at him, he picked them up and kissed them. Likewise, we too had to consider the negative reception we received as a blessing from God. In the Sermon on the Mount we read, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10).
It is no exaggeration to describe the experiences we had as persecution. We experience the whole spectrum from violent and verbal abuse, challenges and threats, to calumny and ridicule. The devil cannot invent anything new, but can only mock and ridicule what is good in the world.
But Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, the Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The prayer vigil has been an opportunity to die to self, to our desires for the sake of witnessing to our brothers and sisters in the womb at danger of losing their lives. Our aim is to be the last sign of hope to them entering an abortion facility, and the first sign of mercy for a woman exiting an abortion centre. The whole point of the prayer vigil is to show that there is hope out there in the community that can help you choose life for your unborn child.
Apathy and Indifference lack of support
A far greater challenge has been the apathy, indifference and general lack of support experienced from Christians and Church groups. The book of Revelation mentions that those who are lukewarm will be spat out. I have been aware of many pro-life individuals who have experienced burnout. Some volunteers have been heavily involved before leaving.
The best advice I received was that if a Church was not on board with your message, there was no point trying to convert – but best move onto the places where you were likely to find support. A positive and upbeat presentation was more likely to get people involved. The need to speak about the features and benefits was helping in increasing the vision of what is possible and increase a sense of hope among pro-lifers.
The lack of Christians organising prayer vigils on abortion when we started the campaign provided us with a niche and an opportunity to invite Christians to get involved with pro-life activities for the first time. Our strategy was that we were not going after those who did not believe in our cause, but to mobilise and galvanise those who already believed in the cause and were strongly pro-life. We had no time to convert the uninitiated who did not believe in our cause.
When we were discouraged or disheartened because of the lack of support: we did it anyway. Organising a 500 hour prayer vigil was no easy task – in fact one of the hardest things I have ever done. But we gave it everything, pulling out all the stops to achieve previously unthinkable results.
When others let us down, or Christians failed to respond to the challenge to pray specifically for an end to abortion, we did it anyway. We could not be affected or influenced by the apathy or indifference of others, but had to inspire and encourage the tepid and afraid characters to come and join. We always had to be willing to give witness to the hope that we had (1 Peter 3:15). It has never been easier to tap into sources of inspiration, to keep ourselves inspired.
When there were no tangible signs of any marked difference from our vigil, we did it anyway. Being a witness to the violence and injustice of abortion was a principle, and our witness was not results driven. We knew that God could use individuals powerfully, especially when then were unconcerned about whether there was any clear evidence of their prayers in public making a difference. The vigil sent a clear sign that something in the community was clearly wrong.
When the weather was appalling, with winds and rains abound, we did it anyway. The daily opportunity to save lives is a privilege that few other professions share. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In Romans, St Paul tells us, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” We are as earthen vessels trying to accomplish the will of God. The more the Holy Spirit could act in and through us, despite us, the more we could radiate the love of God.
The 40 days for life campaign is a prayer to access the power of God through prayer, fasting and peaceful vigil. The whole point of the vigil, was that it would not be ourselves achieving results, but God acting in and through our work. We are mere donkeys and it is the Lord who achieves the results.
Wherever your community is right now, I encourage you to sign up for a campaign. The features and benefits we have seen have been a reduction in abortion rates, recruiting and mobilizing thousands of people into life saving methods, leading post abortive men and women into proven healing programs, developing dynamic leaders to increase the future impact of pro-life efforts, bringing Churches together in a historic display of Christian unity and action, generating enormous buzz by getting prominent pro-life news coverage even from biased media outlets and increasing the local financial support for future pro-life efforts and making the sanctity of life a crucial issue throughout the community. Go out there and make a difference.
Amidst all the challenges and problems we have faced, often it is rare to see some of the blessings and fruits of your work. But the Lord has allowed me to glimpse once or twice at some of the blessings.
One of the abortion workers in Bedford Square walked over to the prayer volunteers to say, “Your prayers are obviously working, because the girls aren’t keeping their appointments.” Abby Johnson has mentioned that the no show rate can rise to 75% when there are prayer vigils outside of abortuaries.
During the summer of 2013, it was announced unexpectedly the BPAS would no longer be providing abortions at Bedford Square, their central London abortuary. After organising 2,500 hours of prayer in that location, a never-ending prayer vigil, this was a real blessing. We have heard rumours that the owner of the building no longer wanted abortions to be provided there. But, across the board, commentators mentioned that it was our campaign that brought about this change.
During the Ealing campaign in West London, the lives of over twenty children were saved. The abortuary is a former Christian house of healing, with a plaque to St Michael the Archangel still on the side of the building. During the campaign, abortion workers started to recommend to their some of their clients that they should go and get help from the pavement counsellors, because they knew that they would be truly helped.
I met a Romanian couple who chose life for their child at the end of last year. Knowing that, had we not started this campaign, that child would not be around today was emotionally overwhelming. One of volunteers was invited to the wedding of another couple who did not go ahead with the abortion. We know of stories now around the country – from Brighton – were a prayer volunteer invited a homeless girl with a crisis pregnancy to come and live with them, to Birmingham a child saved from abortion attended a kick off rally, to when the Archbishop attended the prayer vigil and a teenage mother chose life for her unborn child. In all these moments, volunteers have connected and participated with the will of God with his desire to end abortion in the way he wants to.
One day, abortion will come to an end. And what an almighty collapse it will be. Someone will be credited with accomplishing this great task. Let’s continue to humble ourselves, to accomplish the will of God to bring about the end of abortion.