April 2012 – Since 1973 when the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision set the precedent for legalized abortion, an estimated 55 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. Every single day, more Americans lose their lives by abortion than were lost as a result of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood's own research arm, 43% of women of childbearing age in this nation have experienced at least one abortion. Where are these women who make up these staggering statistics? Are they in our places of work? Are they standing beside us in the line at the local grocery store? Is it possible they are sitting beside us in the church pew? What is being done to address this underground tunnel of secrecy, shame and heartache?
In 2007, Lifeway printed Surrendering the Secret, a post-abortion recovery Bible study authored by Pat Layton, who had been serving women and their families through a crisis pregnancy intervention program and other life-affirming ministries since 1986. Lifeway took Layton's personal journey of healing, added a DVD series and a leader's guide, and made it an accessible tool with unique journaling exercises and meaningful group activities for use in a confidential and compassionate group environment.
God had moved on Layton's heart with a longing to see the church operate more fully as the hope of the world, a hospital for the lost and broken who had experienced abortion in their past. She became keenly aware that the local church was generally unequipped in this area and had not embraced its place in the redemptive healing needed by so many who have received and participated in abortions.
Layton became more deeply rooted in the desire to serve and equip the church to recognize post abortion recovery as a mission field. In January 2009, she began training women and men across America to lead the Surrendering the Secret Bible Study in their local churches. She has personally trained over 700 women and men, and has since added a national training team.
One church's story
Northern Hills Church in Brighton, Colorado, is one church that embraced the STS ministry after a young lady in the congregation confessed to Susan Sorenson, the women's ministry leader, about her past abortions.
Although Sorenson did not personally know the pain of abortion, she was deeply touched by this woman's pain and doubt. So she went to the pastor and leaders of the church and expressed the need to educate and equip the church to meet the needs of post-abortive women and of men who have suffered the loss of fatherhood.
Northern Hills leadership agreed, and Sorenson began leading the churchs STS studies in June 2008. The church numbers about 1,000 in attendance each weekend, andabout 75 women from the community have completed the healing process.
Through the intentional study of God's word, these women have been set free from the condemnation that kept them bound, have come to know the work of Christ more intimately, and have become mobilized for serving God without reservation and without shame. A significant number of them have since received leadership training and taken this ministry of reconciliation into other churches in the surrounding communities.
Shari Rigby, a Hollywood actor and post-abortive mother, has joined the STS ministry team as an ambassador and spokesperson. Rigby is transparent as she shares the story of her healing break-through that began with her role in October Baby, a pro-life movie produced by AFA's American Family Studios and released last month. (See AFA Journal, 3/12.)
When producers asked Rigby to read for the role, they had no insight into her life experiences. But Rigby relates that she was stunned to find the script closely matched her own story, and playing the role started her on the path to recovering from the secret pains of a past abortion.
Rigby's healing continued through the STS study, and her experience led the film producers to see the opportunity for further ministry to post-abortive women and men who were being impacted by the movie. Movie-goers will now be pointed to the surrenderingthesecret.com Web site where they can click on Get Help Now and be connected with a leader who will personally help them get connected to a group in their area.
Rob Kelly, teaching pastor at Northern Hills, indicates that the STS ministry is flourishing. With God, the thing that is a millstone around your neck for much of your life becomes a lifeline for others, Kelly said.
A pastor's perspective
AFA Journal: What were the steps Northern Hills took to move forward in this new ministry?
Rob Kelly: It was getting a clear understanding of the probable makeup of the women in our church. Susan shared some research she had done; we looked at that, and I reviewed the Surrendering the Secret material to make sure it was not out of the bounds of what we believe. In any tangible way that we could, we made sure Susan knew we had her back in this whole thing.
AFAJ: What would you say to church leaders who recognize that they need to be intentional in reaching out to post-abortive women and men?
RK: It is not just the life of a child that we fight for. We also fight for the life of the one who made that choice and is now living with the regret of that choice, helping them to find healing and move forward. I think for some there is fear that supporting a woman who made that choice in the past somehow condones that choice.
Who in their life does not have a train wreck of poor choices? Almost everyone does; it's just that with this one, the consequences are usually more devastating, and we have some labels attached to people. It is really the leaders' responsibility to help us go beyond that.
The Bible is full of the least likely people who have made horrible choices that dishonored God. To somehow think that we are different than that is just craziness. If you look back to David, Jacob, Peter, Thomas and Paul, those lives are just littered with train wrecks of poor choices. Yet God redeemed them, restored them and used them in magnificent ways.
AFAJ: Have you seen repentance on the part of those who have played roles of participation in abortion decisions since you started holding the studies?
RK: The program does not minimize the decision at all, and there is so much time spent on the pathway to forgiveness. Obviously a big part is an agreement with God that the choice was wrong. Even from a church perspective, we have seen a similar impact collectively upon seeing and hearing the stories of these women. We definitely see that when someone lays bare the soul, others are encouraged to do the same thing.
One of the pieces that we don't yet have good answers for and direct help for is the number of men who have actually stepped forward as a result of having these studies, and the role that they have played either as husbands or boyfriends with past abortions.
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