I sometimes think about the story of the Good Samaritan and wonder about the back story that isn’t told about this individual. How did he become the way he was? (In that he was inclined to take a risk and stop and help the man beaten by muggers and left for dead on the side of the road.) What changed him? What impact did that event have on his life? Surely the exposure to human need changed him, softened him, brought to him the joy of sacrificing from his own means to help another.
I started working at World Vision in the early 1980s. I worked part-time in the word processing department, evening shift. The job was in Monrovia, and I lived about an hour away, in Upland. That gave me a lot of late-hour commute time on Southern California freeways.
I’ve always enjoyed working with World Vision, as I knew I was making a difference. There’s not a whole lot of jobs you can do where you can truly say, “I am contributing to saving kids’ lives.”
One night I was returning home and listening to a segment on James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” radio program. Dobson was playing a piece by a former abortionist who changed the direction of his life 180 degrees when he witnessed, on an ultrasound, the reaction of an unborn child that he was in the process of aborting.
The production by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former director of NARAL, was called “The Silent Scream.”
I had never really had much to do with abortion, not thought much about it, really. If you had asked me, as a Christian I would probably have said, “Sure, it’s wrong to do that to another human being.” But working in any serious way to help end the catastrophe that found its escalation in the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe Vs. Wade, had never even crossed my mind.
But as I listened to that broadcast, a strange thing happened. I suddenly found my heart and mind careening out of control. I began weeping and had to pull the car off the side of the road since I could no longer see to drive.
I sat there a long time, just letting the impact of what I had just heard sink in … contemplating the horror and injustice of millions of human beings being murdered in what should have been their safest place of all, their mother’s womb. God broke my heart that night, listening to “The Silent Scream,” though I still really can’t explain why.
I couldn’t rest until I committed myself to do something about it. In the days and weeks that followed, I sought to become better educated on the issues and how they impacted my community. I discovered that one of the most notorious abortion clinics in the nation (owned, ironically, by an abortionist with the last name of “Allred”) was just a few miles from my home, and that a small group of Christians often gathered there on Saturday mornings to pray and seek to offer options to women in crisis pregnancies. I joined them, and began volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center.
At my church, I asked the pastors to announce that my wife and I would hold a meeting one Sunday after worship to discuss the issues with anyone else in our church whose heart God might also be touching. No one joined us at first, and we almost gave up. But as we were starting to lock up, one young couple came, and joined us in the fight.
Because of our prayer and counseling work at the local abortion clinic, we became targets of the vocal opposition. Local reporters began to seek me out for quotes in articles they were writing in the local paper. I began receiving death threats on the telephone, and once someone tried to run me down in the driveway of the clinic. (Fortunately I bounced off the hood with nothing more than scrapes and bruises.)
The number of concerned Christians who joined us on Saturdays grew, and I started a nonprofit called “Project Jericho” to try and organize our efforts and raise funds to help women in crisis pregnancy. We even rented an apartment adjacent to the abortion clinic for use as transitional housing, and to provide a place where we could keep an eye on goings-on there.
About this time a larger national effort to confront abortion, called “Operation Rescue,” was gathering steam. The concept was to organize all-day prayer rallies around abortion clinics, which if you had enough people come had the effect of shutting down that clinic for the day. And it gave us as concerned Christians an opportunity to pray together, to witness, and to put feet to our convictions.
I owned a video camera and was willing to use it, so most of the time Operation Rescue asked me to videotape the events, in order to protect those who were protesting peacefully. (Local pro-abortion organizations often sent thugs to try and disrupt the prayer rallies. I suffered a painful back injury after being repeatedly kicked in the small of the back, over the course of several hours, while sitting on the ground and praying with other believers, by a group of thugs from “Act-Up”.)
One time, at a rescue in San Diego, I heard cries of pain and cautiously approached from behind some bushes. From my vantage point I could see a group of policemen roughing up a priest who was handcuffed on the ground. While I was taping this, a man’s voice behind me suddenly shouted “Stop that! You’re under arrest!” An officer who had approached from behind grabbed me by the elbows and whirled me around. My camera dropped to the ground and began to roll down the hill. (You could actually see and hear all this on the video.)
But when he turned me to face him, his demeanor changed. He saw that I was wearing a press pass. (It was a real press pass — I was the director of a national press association for Christian college newspaper editors.) He laughed awkwardly, let go of my arms, picked up my camera and handed it back to me. “You’re not really under arrest,” he told me, seeming a little embarrassed. “Just get out of here.” I complied.
The Bad News
That was the first time I was under arrest, if only for a few seconds. The next time would be a bit longer. I was participating at a large event in Los Angeles, with more than 700 other Christians. The LAPD had warned us they would show no mercy if we prayed in front of a specific clinic there, and so we did just that. We sat (on public property, on the sidewalks and out into the street around the clinic) and prayed. We respectfully refused to disburse, so they began to use force.
When I say “force” I’m referring to nunchucks, believe it or not. Yes, the martial arts weapon. Bob Vernon, a Christian, was police chief in L.A. at the time. He was a member of John MacArthur’s church, and I later found out he was conflicted about how to respond when he learned Operation Rescue was targeting clinics in his jurisdiction. He asked Pastor MacArthur, who advised him to bring down the hammer on any Christians who he said were disobeying Romans 13 and not respecting governing authority.
(I later corresponded with MacArthur about his counsel and suggested that there was a precedent in Scripture, namely the Hebrew midwives who intervened when Pharaoh ordered them to kill newborn Jewish males, for peaceful civil disobedience designed to save human lives. Ultimately we agreed to disagree.)
The LAPD was using nunchucks against protesters who would refuse to get up and move themselves into the paddy-wagon when ordered. They would wrap the device around an elbow and twist it to cause excruciating pain. I saw them snap one rather frail man’s arm doing this. He ended up in an ambulance with a serious fracture.
Most of us (myself included) got up under our own power when ordered, and they handcuffed us with these plastic twistie cuffs, very tight around the wrist, cutting off circulation to your hands. I later learned they were supposed to remove these within a few hours, but for most of us, myself included, they left them on for at least four hours. Many people in my cell at Parker Center were vomiting or passing out because of the pain. When this happened we would call out for the guards, and they would come and remove that person’s cuffs, but then just laugh off pleas from the rest of us. But fortunately and blessedly, they eventually all came off later that afternoon.
My experience at Parker Center (the same jail where O.J. Simpson was later held) was fascinating. Just a few reflections on things I had never experienced before:
One was being in a large cell with dozens of others, at first a mixed crowd, and one bare toilet in the center of the room. As women began to experience a biological need, I appreciated the way other women would form a human shield around them to give them a little bit of privacy. But the sense of indignity of the jail system not providing well for even this most basic human need has been something that stuck with me.
(For me, somehow and miraculously I was able to hold it until most everyone else had fallen asleep and it was relatively dim.)
And speaking of sleep, that was one thing I don’t think I got any of in jail. The reason was these sheet metal bunkbeds with half-inch “mattresses.” Anytime anyone in the cell moved or rolled over, the sheet metal made loud “popping” sounds.
The Good News
On the positive side were two experiences which I believe very few people have had the privilege to have. One was sharing communion, literally using the sliced white bread and water that we were fed for dinner, with dozens of other believers. That truly was the most memorable communion of my life.
And the other was even more interesting. When this “rescue” was being planned, Operation Rescue leadership was handing out responsibilities. This time they didn’t put me on video. Someone told them that I played guitar, and they were fully expecting us all to be jailed, so the person who assigned me said, “You will be our worship leader in jail.”
“What?” I said. “I don’t think that will work. I’m sure I can’t get my guitar in there. And I’m not very good. I really don’t know much about leading worship.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, “no guitars in jail. But you will be our worship leader. Deal with it.” I still to this day am not sure why he decided that.
But the fascinating thing is that once we were there and things had settled down, about dinnertime when we were taking communion, that guy looked around and said, “Where’s our worship leader?” I tried to keep my head down and not make eye contact. But then he looked right at me and said, “Oh, there you are! How about some worship?”
To my amazement, a guy next to me pulled a harmonica out of his boot. I had no idea how he actually got that in there, as we were pretty thoroughly searched when we were admitted. But then he held it to his lips, and looked at me expectantly.
And suddenly, a hymn came to mind. So I just started singing. And the harmonica player joined, and then everyone else joined us. And when we were done, there came another. And another. And I was astonished at what was happening. It was clear it was the Holy Spirit, equipping me in that moment for something I never thought I could have done.
One thing about our 24 hours in jail that was interesting was related to the psychological games they play with you. I started in a cell with about 70 people. But then they would break us up, sending us into smaller cells, and threatening to put us in with murderers and rapists. (Which they never actually did.) Finally, late in the evening, I found myself locked in a shower cell at the end of an underground cell block, in near-pitch blackness, with maybe a half dozen other worshippers. The harmonica player was no longer with me, but by that time I realized I didn’t need him. I just led out in singing whatever hymn or worship song the Lord brought to my mind, a capella.
We started there with “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” If you’ve ever sang in the shower (and who hasn’t?), you’ll be aware how the environment creates these unique harmonics with your voice. Think about a half dozen people doing that, adding harmonies. It was amazing. We sounded like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
As we started, we could hear inmates up and down the cell block talking about the weird Christians who were in their midst. But then, as we raised our voices in praise, the silence grew until our voices alone filled that cell block. And we could also see guards who had come to listen, discretely hanging outside.
Between songs and prayers, one fellow believer leaned over and whispered to me, “It must be about midnight. Do you think an angel will come and let us out?” I laughed. I think each of our minds had already been drawn to that dungeon several thousand years ago where John and Peter lay in darkness and praised God for His faithfulness.
And then there was the sound of a key in the door. It wasn’t an angel — per se — just a guard who had come to move us on to the next cell, so they could all get some sleep!
One more thing to share, and that’s about the follow-up from this experience. We had all been instructed to plead “No contest” to the misdemeanor charge of trespassing that was leveled against us. (Which was technically inaccurate, since we were praying on public property when we were arrested … but that’s what we did, pled “No contest.”)
So I was assigned a parole officer whose duty it was to mete out my sentence — six months of community service. I knew that typically they sent offenders off to clean litter off roadways and things like that, but just in case it worked I was prepared with a letter from my pastor, who asked if I could be assigned to do volunteer work for the church (where I was the chairman of the elder board at the time).
The officer read it, grunted “Why not?” and then approved the request. My “punishment” was serving the church where I volunteered my efforts on a weekly basis anyway. And loved it! Rough.
Later on our pro-abortion Congress toughened the laws up and applied the RICO (“Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organizations”) Act to Operation Rescue to turn what we were doing into a felony. Some hard-core activists continued to rescue, but the injustice achieved its desired effect against most of us, causing us to re-think whether we were willing to leave our families for months or years in jail to risk becoming felons.
After that I continued to focus my efforts on Project Jericho and working with another organization called “Life Chain,” started by a friend in Northern California named Royce Dunn. I served on the Board of our local crisis pregnancy center, then re-joined World Vision in 1994 and moved north to the Seattle area. Here my wife and I have contributed and worked actively to support the efforts of our local chain of crisis pregnancy centers, and a great organization called “4US” which equips them with life-saving ultrasound equipment.
Sometimes I wish I had more to give to this movement that was so meaningful to me when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, but I treasure the memories and the opportunities to stand side by side with people who are committed to standing in the gap for life. And I will continue today to pray and do what I can for the sake of unborn generations whose lives are stolen away by abortion, and the moms and dads who are left to deal with the aftermath.
Just another way that God reached into the heart of this self-centered person and changed me to be willing to express sacrificial love for others.