Monday, June 4, 2018

May

I have two weeks left of my Kansas adventure with Justice For All. May was a flurry of activity and very little sleep. I loved every minute of it.

Tammy, Grace, and I at Cowtown

I appreciate all of you who have kept up with me while I've been interning. Your encouraging texts, emails, phone calls, and cards have lifted my spirits again and again as I've been 1,000 miles (and more; here's looking at you, Albuquerque and Denver) from home. It will be so good to see many of your faces again when I head home on June 15th.

That being said, I'm not excited about leaving. Wichita has become a home to me in more than the physical sense. I have made friends here closer than family. It feels as though I'll be leaving behind much of my heart with the hundreds of people that I have met and come to love in the past year.

Among those people are the hundreds I have spoken with on college campuses. They have shared with me their thoughts, concerns, and backgrounds. It is a privilege to have met each of these students. I wish you could see them all, each one so unique, so surprising. Each one has taken my expectations and turned them on their heads. They don't fit into tidy boxes. But they all have the same need for the Savior whether they realize it or not.

I love my job. If I could be a voice for the voiceless with JFA for the rest of my life, I would do it. This time has been extremely important for my spiritual growth, nurturing my passion for protecting infant life and elevating the value of all people, and other things like independence, reconciliation in my heart, and adventure.

I've used the word 'adventure' in almost every monthly update because it's so applicable. Coming to Wichita was one big adventure full of unknowns. In spite of this, one thing was always certain: I knew God was going with me. Before I left, I was prayed over many times by people who asked God to "go before, go with, and go behind her." He has done exactly that. He paved the way for me to come to Wichita. He came with me, staying by my side even when I thought I didn't need Him. He had my back protecting me from countless dangers, some known to me and some known only to Him. He is my strong tower and He will be when I go back home.



May Adventures:
Helping Grace move into her new apartment
Contra dancing in Derby
Kayaking the Little Arkansas
Game night with friends
Movies with friends
Frisbee in Derby
Monet to Matisse exhibit with Grace
Cowtown with Tammy and Grace
Going to see Clydesdales with friends
Sedgwick County Zoo with friends
Much swing dancing
Making lots of new friends

Looking forward:
The last two weeks of my internship include two workshops, a wedding, more dancing, untold fun, and getting to spend time with Katrina who is flying in to drive back home with me.
My summer will most likely include a trip or two to the Boardwalk Chapel, a family vacation, and random stuff.

In the fall, I start school at George Mason University to study Cyber Security Engineering. I hope to form and maintain a pro-life club with the focus of starting and continuing truthful, loving conversations with fellow students about abortion. Lord willing, JFA will come to Mason to do outreach and there will be more blog posts about conversations where God does amazing things.

Thank you again for all your support and encouragement. Here's to the next adventure <3

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Conversations from Colorado: Open Invitation

In April, the Justice For All team went to Colorado. There we taught people skills for how having productive conversations about abortion and we also held outreach events on a few campuses, using those skills to converse with hundreds of students. I believe that God was orchestrating a central theme through many of my conversations during those weeks. Here are a few highlights:

Melissa


            "Melissa" walked up to the exhibit at Metropolitan State University (MSU), just about as angry as anyone I’ve seen in my time with JFA. She pinpointed one of our male trainers, Jeremy, and verbally attacked him. Hearing her shouting from across the square, I edged into the conversation, letting Jeremy know that I was available to help by standing close by. As Melissa continued to yell at him, I listened and nodded calmly as she spoke. After a minute, she gestured widely in my direction. She said, “What about you? Do you want to add anything?” I immediately found common ground with her and invited her into a calmer, more private, conversation. She relaxed instantly and we discussed our views on human biology and dignity. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, she asked, “Would you like to ask me more about the unborn?” Along with this open door, she even added, “We can bring [Jeremy] in and see what he thinks, too.” I was amazed to see this woman who had been so angry, calmly invite both me and Jeremy into another conversation in which we discussed more aspects of the abortion issue.

Charlie

            After a few particularly difficult conversations at MSU, I walked over to a volunteer who was engaged in conversation with a pro-life student named Charlie. She was doing a very good job addressing some reservations he held about our display, and when he asked a question she couldn’t answer, she gestured my way. “Actually, Susanna would know better how to answer that,” she said, inviting me into their conversation. He told me what his situation was: “I have friends who have abortion experiences. I want to talk to them about it, but I don’t know how to let them know I care.” It was a beautiful relief to meet someone who cared so much. I shared with him the ways I have learned to help people who are hurting from abortion and be there for those who need to talk about their experiences. I invited him to our seminar that night, where he could learn how to have the conversation about abortion in a caring, loving way.
"Olivia" writing Genesis 1 on the Free Speech Board right before I spoke to her.

Olivia

            At Colorado State University (CSU), I had spent the morning in two long conversations mostly centered around the biology of the unborn. I sat down to think about those conversations and pray when I saw "Olivia" walk up to the Free Speech Board. She sat down in front of it and started writing. I was conflicted. I wanted to talk to her, but I didn’t want to interrupt her writing. I prayed, “God, if you want me to talk to her, please keep her around when she’s done writing.” When she finished writing, she just sat there, looking at her phone, so I walked over and sat down next to her. She had written much of Genesis 1 on the board. After introducing myself, I learned her name and that she was a Christian who was very appreciative of our work on her campus. She told me about how college was going and the different ministries in which she was a part. Before she left, she invited me to pray with her. Right then and there, we prayed for each other’s ministries and personal walks with God.

       
 At the University of Colorado of Boulder, Steve, JFA's executive director, and I talked to this young man who disagreed with us, but who was willing to stay and talk for an hour despite the snow.

God set each of these students in my path. Each of them invited me into their lives. Melissa asked me what I thought about abortion, so we had a conversation. Charlie asked me how to show his care for people who had experiences with abortion, so I helped him prepare for future conversations with his friends. Olivia asked me if she could pray for me, so I returned the favor and prayed over her life. These invitations all happened because I was there and I was available. Because I was invited, I responded.

This is my challenge to you: Respond. Respond to the invitations to share, listen, encourage, give assistance, pray. God puts these people into our lives all the time - people who invite us in unexpected ways.

I have an invitation for you. My internship with JFA ends in June, but the work of JFA continues on. You helped me do this work by providing financially, encouraging me and praying for me. Please help JFA continue this work by continuing to donate to the Intern Scholarship Fund. They did not ask me to ask you this. It just makes sense. You cared about this work enough to get me onto the field. I care about this work enough to ask you to consider supporting the organization as a whole. I would not ask you this if I did not think you cared enough to consider making JFA a part of your giving. 

Thank you. Thank you for getting me to Kansas, and from there to Indiana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, New Mexico, Georgia, and Colorado. Thank you for the support which helped me impact the lives of over 180 college students, with whom I spoke during these various outreach events, for the sake of the unborn. God used you to impact over 180 people just through me. I believe He will use you again to train thousands to make abortion unthinkable for millions, one person at a time. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

April

April has come and gone in a blur. I'm sitting here on Grace Fontenot's porch playing soft music as a light breeze brings down the heat of a glorious afternoon. Such a wonderful way to relax after two weeks in Colorado. About an hour ago, a mother cat tore into a paper bag that I left on the porch and she ate the half-muffin I had saved for later. She needed it more than I did.

JFA brought the team to Colorado State University to do three seminars and two days of outreach in the middle of April. Seeing the Rockies for the first time blew my mind. I took every opportunity over the next two weeks to mention my love of the mountains to anyone I could. I participated in the seminars and one outreach day. One of the unique conversations I had on CSU's campus is already in blog form and can be found here: The Third Person

After spending two days recuperating, the team met up again in Colorado for three more seminars/workshops and two days of outreach at CU's Auraria and Boulder campuses. That's right, Auraria. Strange name, but definitely different from Aurora ^_^ On Sunday the 22nd, we went hiking in the mountains and the Red Rocks. It was a gorgeous day to climb 380 stairs up to the Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Outreach at Auraria was spiritually daunting. From conversations with students who thought it would be fine to abort babies after birth, to spending an hour calming down two upset women, God reminded me over and over again how much prayer has to go into every conversation. A notable conversation that day was started by "Anna." She stopped by the exhibit (pictured below) and stated that she would never admit to her opinion on abortion. She was going to stay out of it. After engaging her on the subject and learning about her family history of political contention, I asked her what she personally thought about abortion when she wasn't trying to calm down her relatives. In her mind, abortion should only be legal in the case of rape in the first trimester. This position is incredibly common and means that she and I share about 98% of our views in commonality. She didn't have time to go farther into the topic, but she thanked me for being civil and finding common ground.

Grace Fontenot in conversation

Boulder turned white while we were there. The day before, Colorado experienced 70 degrees of sunny bliss. The next day, with temperatures in the high 30s, snow fell for about twelve hours, covering everything and us. A few people were gracious and interested enough to stand in the cold with us and dialogue. My favorite conversation that day was with a young man who thought that life did not begin at conception, it began with everything that came together to make our existence possible. We connected over a Doctor Who reference that brought the whole concept together. (For fellow fans of the show, that reference was: "I blew into this world on a leaf.") With this view, it was hard for us to establish in the conversation what makes a potential human person become a real human person with value and the basic right to life. Thanks to help from Steve, an umbrella, and a cup of hot soup, we got through the long, complicated conversation. We parted with a better understanding of each other's views.

Now, back at home in Wichita, I'm looking forward to a few days of rest. May does not have any events scheduled for me as of yet, so I will probably be doing many intern-type things, learning the seminar, training as a mentor, dancing, and spending time with Grace. Please pray for continued restful nights. I'm grateful to have not had a nightmare since early March. Pray also for the men and women we have encountered on campus this year and an end to abortion.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

March

March really was an adventure. From Stillwater, Oklahoma, to Mt. Nebo, Arkansas, to Lawrence, Kansas, March has been full of driving. There was more to it than that, but everything is so far away in the mid west!

Have a sunrise:
This was my view on March 4 with Grace and Maria. I think I can speak for them when I say we had a great time planting trees for monks at Clear Creek Abbey and a hilarious road trip out to Mt. Nebo and back. Such a blast.

JFA brought the team to University of Kansas (KU) from March 10-13. That was an adventure. I got to speak for the first time in two seminars that weekend. Having been certified in two speaking sections, I already feel more familiar with the concepts that we use to create personable, informed dialogue about abortion.

Outreach at KU was unique in that it was the first time I have done outreach using the Art of Life exhibit. The purpose of the exhibit is to start conversations by suggesting that the various themes represented in these paintings such as "Embracing child and career", "Suffering", and "Unknown future" are better than abortion. One side pictured here:

We brought with us a few polls, free speech boards, and even this snazzy art table that Grace and I created ourselves:
The Star Wars layout was my idea ^_^

In Lawrence, I had some really interesting conversations. I feel that God has been slowly challenging me with more difficult conversations. When I first began, I did not know how much I did not know about how to talk about abortion. Now that I am learning that, I am experiencing conversations in a different way. Listening, asking questions, and finding common ground are more important than ever and I realize that my mind has a tendency to go blank if I haven't role-played how conversations can go with the hard questions like rape, life of the mother, and bodily rights.

After KU, we set up a kiosk at WSU for an afternoon. My last conversation that day was with a young man named "Peter." When I asked him if he wanted to sign our "Should Abortion Remain Legal" poll on the "Yes" or "No" side, his curt response was, "I don't think it's a binary issue." And the conversation took off from there. Peter had three points that he brought up over the course of the next half hour. His assertions: 1) You can't really be pro-life if you eat meat. 2) You can't really be pro-life if you don't allow abortion in "life of the mother" cases. 3) You can't really be pro-life if you are a fiscal conservative. One by one, Peter and I addressed each of these concerns and fleshed out why being pro-life is more complicated than that, just as the abortion issue is more complicated than whether or not it is legal. It was hard to find common ground with Peter because it seemed as though common ground for him meant giving ground. Getting him to concede points wasn't my goal, so I tried to convince him that we weren't enemies. What we needed to do was define our terms and open our hearts to each other's backgrounds and worldviews. Peter identified himself as being a pro-choice libertarian vegan. That was the best way he knew to take care of people and the earth. At the end of our conversation, Peter was still a pro-choice libertarian vegan. That's alright. What amazes me though were his words right before we parted, "I guess we have common ground after all." Him saying that to me, a pro-life conservative omnivore, makes me happier than a pigeon with a french fry.

New experiences of March:
Planting trees for monks in Oklahoma
Arkansas!
Eating edamame aka soybeans
Trying sake

Note: Usually I would add a "Looking forward to" section, but I procrastinated so much in getting this post out that the April post will probably follow it too soon to warrant a whole section here. April coming soon!



Saturday, April 21, 2018

Real Conversation at CSU: The Third Person

At the end of the outreach day at Colorado State University, the area around the exhibit was quiet except for one voice. He sauntered over to the signs with an air of confidence that piqued my interest. He began to loudly abuse the exhibit pictures so I intercepted and asked him what he thought.



"It's crazy," he said. "Why is this here? What do you think?"

"I'm actually with the exhibit. We go around to college campuses talking to people about abortion. What do you think about that?"

"I think the government shouldn't have a say in our rights. And why is anyone pro-life in the first place? Have you even ever heard a pro-life argument that wasn't religious?"

I love this question. JFA taught us a reply that anyone from any religion can use and be consistently pro-life. I've only recently understood how to help people understand this argument, so I eagerly responded.

"Sure! You want to hear one?"

"Yes!"

I dove into the thought experiment with him. "Look around! See all these people around us on campus?" He looked all around and I continued, "Do you think we deserve equal rights?"

"Of course!"

"Good, I agree. If we deserve equal rights, isn't there something the same or equal about us that demands that we be treated equally?"

"Yes!"

"Cool. What do you think that is?"

"Our humanity. We're all humans."

"That's right! So, the conclusion is that, if the unborn are human, they must be given the same rights as the rest of us."

He backpedaled immediately to his previous statement, "The government shouldn't have a say in what we do with our bodies."

I gestured a time-out, "Follow me here. Forget the government. Say abortion will always be legal and there's nothing I can do about that. What if the unborn are humans but they are being systemically exterminated by the thousands every day? What if they are being discriminated against the same way black people and women were discriminated against? What if abortion kills a human being?"

"Then it's absolutely wrong," he said quietly. His attitude melted away and he wouldn't look at me. I waited.

After a moment, he said, "I know someone who had an abortion. She got knocked up by a douchebag on a one-night stand and she got an abortion. She had to. That baby would have screwed her over and ruined her life. She wouldn't have a degree or a career if she hadn't had that abortion. I hate that she had to do that but it was right for her."

My heart broke. This loud young man with an ego the size of a bus had just crumbled. He revealed to me in a moment the reason for his rough exterior and there was nothing I could do but sympathize with him.

"I'm so sorry about your friend. That sounds horrible."

He thanked me for talking with him and he walked away.

I was left with what felt like a gaping hole in my heart. I had forgotten the third person. I got excited by the opportunity to share such a cool, fool-proof argument for my cause and I forgot about what I was telling him. I told him what he probably already knew: that his friend had been party to taking the life of a human being. That is not information to be taken or given lightly.

JFA taught me to keep three people in mind in every conversation:
1. The unborn. As a pro-life advocate, it's my job to be a voice for the voiceless. Usually, that means being a voice for the unborn, but they are not the only ones I need to consider.

2. The person standing in front of me. In every conversation, they are the most important person. They are just as real, just as valuable, just as beautiful as the unborn. I need to remember to respect every person I speak to and place them first.

3. The woman. The third person I must include in every conversation is the person who has a connection to abortion. Sometimes it is the person standing in front of me, but other times it is someone they know, someone who is standing nearby listening to me, someone they will talk to in the future, someone who will read my account of the conversation. Even if it seems like the person I'm talking to has no connection with abortion, statistics say they do or will. I have to keep in mind my respect, care, and love for the man or woman personally affected by abortion in every conversation.

This is just one example of how complicated these conversations can be. I've wanted to describe the third person tactic before, but such a clear example of the need for it hadn't arisen. He was my last conversation that day. In a few days, JFA will be at the University of Colorado and this time I will be more careful to look out for what I cannot see and listen to hear unspoken words and feelings.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Real Conversation at OSU: "Of Men and Of Angels"

Out of the corner of my eye by Oklahoma State's Chi-O Clock, I recognized her. When she walked past me a moment ago, I smiled and she smiled back, but she kept walking. Now, she was returning this direction slowly. I turned and smiled again, "would you like to sign our poll table?" As if noticing it for the first time, Rachel* agreed. When she finished writing on the "YES" side of the poll: "Should Abortion Remain Legal?" she waited around to talk to me about her view.


We introduced ourselves and she said abortion should be legal because of the many difficulties that people discover along the way in pregnancy. I agreed that there are many possible complications and difficulties involved in pregnancy.  Rachel then cautiously voiced a belief that the unborn isn't human. She asked me what I thought about abortion.

Gently, I said, "Before I tell you what I think, can I ask you more questions?"
She happily agreed.
"You said you don't think the unborn is human. Do you mean that in a biological sense or a philosophical sense?"
She grinned. "I just came from a human development class, and I failed philosophy, so let's talk about biology!"

Carefully and respectfully, she and I went back and forth for a few minutes while I clarified what her position was. Through five questions, we discovered that she believes the unborn is just a mass of cells in the first two weeks of pregnancy. According to her professor, "you can technically get in there and find human DNA, but it's not a human yet." She acknowledged that, after three weeks of development, the heart and brain are communicating and therefore the unborn is a human at that stage.

This is where I transitioned us. "Rachel, you asked me what I think about abortion. I was taught that the most comprehensive view of valuing human life extends to all stages of development, even the stages I am not personally attracted to. The embryo from conception to three weeks does not seem relational to me, but I would rather treat it like a human and respect life all the way through development, even to old age. That includes the two week embryo, all these students here, and you."

She paused and stared at me for a moment. When she spoke, she said, "let me just say, that is the most sensible pro-life view I've ever heard. Every other time I've had this conversation, the pro-life person just screams at me, 'd*** you, liberal!'"

I expressed sadness at the way she had been treated in the past and thanked her for sharing her experience. She went on to say how nice it was to disagree in a free way with me. She had grown up in a liberal environment, I had a conservative upbringing, and we were looking for truth together.

Thinking back on this exchange, the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 has new context for me. Even if I could speak with the tongues of men and of angels, having the most knowledge and scientific facts at my disposal, if I do not love the person I'm talking to, it's more than worthless: it is that obnoxious sound that hurts and you wish would just stop. For Rachel, I was the first person she disagreed with who had let her express her opinion without attacking her. I hope I'm not the last.

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;
It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February

After a wonderful hiatus in Virginia for family, holidays, and fundraising, I am back in Kansas for a five-month internship, ending in June. The month of February has been cold and challenging, but full of bright hours and big accomplishments.

One of my long-term tasks last semester was to scan 20 years worth of JFA response cards, volunteer agreements, debrief and reflection papers, and other papers from seminars and outreaches into the computer. It was supposed to take a year. David and I finished half of the project in the three months we were interning together in the fall of 2017. This month, I completed that project. It feels amazing to see that progress and now move on to other projects.


One of the most exciting things I was looking forward to doing with JFA was learning how to present parts of the seminar that we teach all over the country. This month, I was certified in one of those speaking sections and I'm working on memorizing a second one. I love public speaking and this material is incredibly helpful in conversations and life in general.


Adventures in February:

1/27 Meeting my host family's newest member: baby Brave
1/28 & 2/4 Swing dancing
2/11 Lunch with the Hotovys, Grace, and CK
2/15 Creating an intricate conspiracy story about the occupants of a local pub with Grace
2/18 Swing dancing

2/23 Final Friday: spending hours looking at local art with Grace
2/25 Visiting Jubilee PCA; lunch with new friends


On the 27th, Becca, Grace, and I set up a poll table at Oklahoma State University for two hours and talked to about 13 people. We were abruptly cut off by a downpour, but we had a lovely lunch and meeting with the pro-life club at OSU. I'm in the process of making another post for one of those conversations.

Looking forward to in March:
Hiking in Arkansas
Seminar and Outreach at KU
Progress in speaking certification

It's hard to close the chapter of February. I learned a lot about myself, my work, my colleagues. It was a good, hard month. March has its own adventures and I look forward to them, but I hope to remember this February for a long time.