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It's in Our Nature

I remember seeing news stories about “The Miraculous Journey,” a massive 14-piece sculpture by Damien Hirst, when it was unveiled in 2013 in Doha, Qatar. I was amazed at the scale of this public dialogue tool, chronicling the development of the unborn from fertilization to birth. (I thought, “I wish everyone could see this. It would be sure to get people talking.” Indeed, you can use this link to Penny Yi Wang’s photos of the sculpture to get people talking!) Shortly after its unveiling, the sculpture was covered, and it mysteriously remained covered for about five years.

Just last month, though, the sculpture was “born again” and is now back on public display. It illustrates the nature of the early human being at work. His human nature moves him from comfortable dependence on his mother’s womb out into the harsh realities of a foreign world, and his human nature enables him to confront those challenges.

At this time of Christmas, we’re reminded of how the Son of God, possessing the divine nature as the second person of the Trinity, took on that same human nature and “lived in it” with perfection, as human life was meant to be lived. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our human nature has been made new by faith:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Cor. 5:17-21)

The Son of God took on a second nature to save us, and now a new set of activities can become “second nature” for us. Just as the nature of the early human enables him to accomplish all of his activities, our new nature enables us to bring the word of reconciliation as Christ’s ambassadors to lost people operating in an old nature based on old things.

As we celebrate Jesus this Christmas and come into the harsh realities of a new year, with all of its challenges to the smallest humans on earth and to women distressed by unintended pregnancy, this is our prayer for ourselves and for you:

“Loving Father, through Your Son Jesus you gave us a new nature to love and serve you. We trust you will strengthen us to live according to this new nature, as we seek to bring the word of reconciliation to every human being involved in unintended pregnancies.”

Thank you for partnering with us to help Christians discover the abilities of this new God-given nature through practical dialogue training. It is a joy to see them extend the word of reconciliation to those who so desperately need it.

Faithful in the Field

November 2018

This Impact Report features pictures of recent outreach events. We’ve been testing a new smaller type of sign as well as content from our new dialogue brochure.

To complement the pictures, I’ve asked each of our trainers to select the names of a couple of people you have helped us reach in the past few months. Let’s give thanks to God for each of these and many more we’ve had the opportunity to serve.

We are privileged to stand with you each month training Christians to create conversations that make a difference in how people think and feel about abortion. Our aim is always to stay faithful in the field, trusting God to bring change through our efforts, in spite of our weaknesses. Please consider continuing to stand with us through prayers and a generous year-end gift.

- Steve Wagner, Executive Director

Rebecca Hotovy (sitting) interacts with a student at KU. Volunteer Pauline listens.

“Thank you for helping me share with ‘Ben’ how valuable he is. He felt children with cleft pallet should be aborted because he had a cleft pallet and knew how society had treated him. He was very lonely. Thanks also for helping me mentor Ashley, pro-life club president at the University of Kansas (KU), during her third outreach with JFA!” – Rebecca Hotovy

Pauline volunteered again at OU. Here Tammy Cook and Pauline interact with a student near the Free Speech Board.

“One of the standout students that I mentored this fall was Nate. He said, ‘Loved this training today. It felt like I gained so much more knowledge. Definitely changed what I thought was supposed to be having a debate with someone, to genuinely caring and kind and having a conversation.’ A chain reaction has begun as Nate uses what he learned to make an impact for God’s kingdom. I’m also thankful for a student named Sarah at the University of Oklahoma (OU). Through her personal experience with losing a child, I was reminded to lean into the Holy Spirit in tough conversations, especially when discussing the topic of losing a child, whether to abortion or miscarriage. Thank you for your sacrifices that make our work possible.” – Tammy Cook

Steve Wagner (center) interacts at GMU.

“I thank God for the chance to interact with ‘Andrew’ at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia. He really wrestled with what explains equal rights and whether the unborn should be included. I also talked in depth with a young woman at GMU who claimed to be a Christian but who believed women can get abortions because they have a right to their bodies. I had the privilege of mentoring and encouraging Sarah, a high-school student who courageously shared her faith and her pro-life view with students at OU for two days. Our team was also encouraged to see other volunteers, including Pauline, Lauren, Jasmin, Ian, Mark Bryant, and Mark Wood, join our team for multiple days of outreach this fall!” – Steve Wagner

At OU, we filled a large expanse of lawn with conversations sparked by content from our Art of Life Exhibit, our Stop and Think Exhibit, and our new Invitation to Dialogue Brochure.

Grace Fontenot (red sweater) interacts with students at UNT. Note the new poll question JFA trainers have been testing.

“This past October during JFA’s outreach at OU, I was able to mentor a high school student named Haven. Haven is only 15, but her passion for defending the smallest humans on earth is incredible. Thank you for making it possible for me to encourage and assist in honing her skills as an advocate. Thank you, also, for the gift of making it possible for me to meet Katie in Georgia. Our conversation began with her feeling discouraged and angry and ended with her feeling listened to as we discussed whether or not the unborn is human, what we can do to help women in difficult situations so that they don’t feel that they have to choose abortion, and whether or not Jesus Christ is God. These women are very different from one another, but what they have in common is that they were both impacted by Justice For All, so thank you for making it possible for us to pour into people like Haven and Katie.” – Grace Fontenot

“I am thankful for Howa who is passionate about her pro-life beliefs. I was thrilled to be able to tag-team conversation with her on campus. I am also thankful for the opportunity I had to share the truth about abortion and my faith with Abdul, a Muslim student at the University of North Texas (UNT).” – Kaitlyn Donihue

Kaitlyn Donihue (pink) creates conversation at OU. Note how the juxtaposed imagery of mother and child makes it clearer that we care about both.

Jon Wagner debriefs with Christian Heritage Academy students after outreach at OU.

“Thank you for helping me equip Haley last week in Denton, Texas. She was extremely thankful to learn how to take the abortion controversy from contentious debate to healthy dialogue. You helped me reach out to Eva at our UNT outreach event. Although she didn’t shift her view 100%, Eva was challenged by our pro-life perspective. She was thankful that I acknowledged the complexity of foster care. She admitted that abortion doesn’t fix the challenges related to foster care.” – Jon Wagner

Paul Kulas interacts with a student at UMN. New signs enhance JFA’s poll table outreach.

“Thank you for allowing me to train Kyra, a high-school student who joined JFA for outreach at OU. As I mentored her on campus, she was able to see firsthand how the training prepared her for real-life conversations with those of differing views on abortion. I am thankful for meeting Camden, a freshman pro-life student at OU, whom I was able to encourage and challenge to become active in the pro-life movement.” – Paul Kulas

Jeremy Gorr (right) interacts with students near our poll table at Kennesaw State University (KSU).

“Thank you for allowing me to train Max at Christian Heritage Academy who came to the University of Oklahoma (OU) with us and did a great job at outreach. Thank you for allowing me to talk to Matthew at the University of Minnesota (UMN) during outreach, which opened up an ongoing dialogue about abortion, God, and Christianity.” – Jeremy Gorr

Trump, Cuomo, Kavanaugh, and “It’s Her Body”

Introduction to the "It's Her Body" Series

Even before President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was signing pre-emptive orders aimed at protecting women’s “constitutional legal protection to control their own bodies” after Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

There’s nothing like the feeling that the legal right to abortion might be in jeopardy to motivate people to start talking about abortion again.  Indeed, the “Should Abortion Remain Legal?” poll question is our most reliable tool for causing pro-choice advocates to stop and share their opinions with us.  In one sense, that’s unfortunate, because many haven’t ever thought much about whether or not the unborn is a human being and whether or not abortion is wrong.  Without these prior questions resolved, the discussion of the law is premature.  Still, it does make people stop.

The increased buzz about abortion because of the Kavanaugh nomination will likely make people more willing to share their opinions about abortion.  Beyond buzz and discussion, though, I think it’s difficult to say what a more conservative Supreme Court might do with Roe v. Wade and its progeny if a case were to come before it in the next few years.  Hadley Arkes has voiced some serious concerns about whether even the justices who seem most conservative are willing to make the moral arguments that are essential to protecting unborn children.  (See “Another Pro-Life Victory?” and “The Moral Turn” in First Things.)  So, having conservative justices and a case to rule on may be only half that battle.  If the Court strikes down Roe but not for the reason that abortion kills a human being, it’s true that many states would likely outlaw abortion, but those with the most abortions (such as California and New York), if allowed to make whatever law seems best to them, would likely keep legal abortion alive (irony intended).  This underscores how we cannot hope to protect unborn children for the long-term through the Court alone, apart from another key strategy: seeking to change the hearts and minds of the strong majority that is tolerant of legal abortion. 

In any case, we can hope the Supreme Court drama will make it less awkward to discuss unintended pregnancy and abortion with people in our churches, the parents of our kids’ friends, and teens just entering college.  I predict many of these will follow the same familiar path Andrew Cuomo just trod.  We’ll hear “it’s her body” and its variants not only from those who think abortion is morally neutral, but also from those who say they are strongly against abortion...for themselves.  (Indeed, isn’t “I’m against abortion, but I think it should be legal” the most common pro-choice position?) 

In my article, "It's Her Body," and the accompanying blog posts, I outline a timely approach to these “it’s her body” arguments.  My approach might surprise you.  It may seem to you to be too sympathetic at a time when we need firm, even strident, proclaiming of truth.  Here’s what I’m up to: It doesn’t hurt our case against abortion one bit to find common ground with “it’s her body” statements as much as we honestly can.  Once you read my letter, I hope you’ll agree this approach is not only morally good but also has the best chance of helping those who disagree become receptive to the truth of our position, clearly and confidently presented at the appropriate time.  Because “it’s her body” statements require careful attention to relational complexity, intellectual complexity, and the meaning that a person is intending, the P.S. of the enclosed letter includes links to blog posts that fill out our approach and give you a good start at being ready to discuss “it’s her body” statements when they are surely to come up in the coming months.   

This approach is part of JFA’s attempt to integrate love and truth in every moment of every conversation.  Just as we shouldn’t “love” the woman at the expense of the child, we also shouldn’t “love” the child without concern for the woman.  We aim instead to love every human being.  This includes the person with whom we’re speaking.

I hope you find this article and the accompanying blog posts helpful.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

It's Her Body

Some of JFA’s recent outreach exhibit panel designs feature images like this one in order to communicate concern for women and sympathy for their experiences of pregnancy.  See the Stop and Think Exhibit page for exhibit designs and commentary.

Part I of a Series

I was in the middle of a conversation with a few young women who had stopped to sign our “Should Abortion Remain Legal?” poll at Colorado State University in April.  They were putting their mark on the “Yes” side.  I asked a few questions, and each began to explain the limitations she would put on abortion at different times and in different circumstances of pregnancy.

Another young woman stopped and interjected, “It should be legal up until birth.”  Without much prompting, she gave her reason: “I have a right to do what I want with my body.” 

At this moment, I wanted to launch into a precision set of questions and counter-arguments to show this woman and those standing nearby that her right to her body doesn’t entail a right to kill another human by abortion.  I have been thinking, writing, and teaching about appeals to bodily rights for more than 15 years.  I was ready. 

But as I looked at this woman, I hesitated.  I stuttered and said something not too tidy, struck afresh by the fact that this topic affects this person very personally.  Reflecting on it later, I was a little embarrassed that I hadn’t had more to say, but then I realized there was something quite right about the approach into which I had fallen.  Rather than saying something intellectual, I think I said something more along the lines of sympathy and concern, a little like this:

“I don’t know if I can fully understand what it’s like for matters so personal as your body and your right to do what you want with your body to be brought up on your campus.  I don’t know what it feels like to consider the possibility of being pregnant or to think about the government placing restrictions on your ability to control everything about your body.  These things are very heavy to think about.  Your right to your body is important.”

I don’t want the conversation about a woman’s right to her body to end there, but I think it needs to start there.  Indeed, my conversation with two of the women who heard this exchange was very productive, I think due in part to the moment in which I chose sympathy over argument.  But the conversation can’t end with sympathy for the woman only, because this woman’s view that abortion should be legal until birth also affects an unborn person very personally (and not just one unborn child, but thousands each day).  If we focus on the unborn, though, without first seeking to understand the woman’s concern for her body, we not only will make practical success in the conversation much more unlikely, failing to build a bridge when we could, but we’ll also fail to accurately describe what’s true.  For what we’re discussing is a person with equal value to the unborn person, and yes, she has a right to her body that we should be the first to champion.  I mean “right to her body” not in the controversial sense of abortion but in the uncontroversial sense that she should be protected from harm, terror, assault, and oppression.  She should be valued as an equal.  In general, individuals and the government should leave her to be free, unless she is causing harm to someone else.

At JFA we’ve been making the point for more than a decade that when discussing abortion in the case of rape, those who are defending unborn children must meet the “relational challenge” first, focusing on the horror of rape and showing sympathy for the woman who has been assaulted, even if this means that we set aside for the moment our agenda of changing a mind about whether abortion should be legal in the case of rape (the “intellectual challenge”).  This is primarily because it is good and right to communicate love, concern, and sympathy for women who have been violated by an evil act of rape.  It also turns out that it’s practically essential.  People are much more likely to listen to our argument against abortion in the case of rape (or any other case) if they can tell that we are genuinely concerned about the evil that occurred in that act.

I’ve realized that anytime a woman defends abortion by referring to her right to her body, we confront essentially the same two challenges.  There’s a relational challenge (“Do you care about the woman’s bodily rights?”) and an intellectual challenge (“Do the woman’s bodily rights include the right to abortion?”).  Let’s say you are a woman claiming you have a right to your body that includes the right to abortion, and I am responding to your claim.  Even though you and I are not discussing assault, per se, we are talking about whether the government should restrict your freedom to do something that you think affects only your body, and so that idea of government intrusion may very well feel similar to assault for you.  Many men will view this in the same way, through the prism of concern for their sisters, mothers, and female friends.  We would do well to consider bodily rights claims through this same prism, letting the beginning of our response be guided by a realization: we are talking about somebody’s body

It’s Still Her Body, Even if it’s
Not the Only Body Involved.

Now, perhaps you are longing at this point, as I am, for there to be a balancing of the scales, a revealing of the truth about the unborn child alongside this sympathy and concern we’ve been showing towards the woman.  We who consider the unborn an equal human being know there is much else to say that brings this “prism of concern for somebody’s body” into proper light.  (See the P.S. below.)  There’s a reason, though, other than limits of word and page count, that I emphasized the woman’s bodily rights in this letter and stopped short of saying other important things about the topic: we pro-life advocates are sometimes too quick to gloss over the woman.  At times we only give lip service to her value (if we mention her at all), and then we proceed with our arguments as if she is (for the most part) not even there.  Let this letter’s singular focus on the woman be a reminder of the need to pause and the need to let every statement about the value of the unborn that follows be colored by the truth that the woman’s body is still her body, even if it’s not the only body involved. 

P.S.

See the entire series on the JFA blog for additional thoughts this letter brought to the surface for me.  I consider these posts to be equally important to this letter, and they are meant to be read in conjunction with it:

From a Foundation of Love for Women and Children, We Respond Intellectually to Bodily Rights Arguments

Part VI of a Series

How should we respond to defenses of abortion that refer to the woman’s body?  Let’s review the steps I’ve outlined so far in this series and complete the process by preparing to respond intellectually:

1. Show concern for the woman.  I described how important this is in Part I of this series and elaborated on the concept in a series of follow-up blog posts.  I suggested that we remember our concern for our own bodies (Part II), realize that it’s not compromise to focus on the woman and not the unborn for a time (Part III), and find common ground about seeking to stop violations of a woman’s right to her body, such as rape, that we can all agree should be stopped (Part IV).

2. Ask a clarification question to determine if the statement referencing the woman’s body is arguing against the idea that the unborn is a human being with equal value (biologically not a human organism or lacking equal rights to the rest of us) or is intended to make a bodily rights argument (Part V).

3. If the person is fuzzy on biology, be ready to clarify the facts that show the unborn is a living, human organism (see www.jfaweb.org/extending-your-learning#biology).

4. If the person is fuzzy on the equal value and rights of the unborn, be ready to make an argument for those equal rights (see www.jfaweb.org/extending-your-learning#equal-rights). 

5. If the person is crystal clear that the unborn is a human being with equal rights but thinks abortion is justified anyway because of bodily rights, you know you’re discussing a bodily rights argument, but still you need to ask for more clarification.  When the person says, “The woman has a right to her body,” and intends a bodily rights argument, perhaps she means, “The woman can do anything she wants with anything in her body.”  Trent Horn has called this the “Sovereign Zone” view.

6. Be prepared to respond to the Sovereign Zone view.  This view makes a very strong claim.  Timothy Brahm’s “Autumn in the Sovereign Zone” essay (www.EqualRightsInstitute.com/SZ) will give you a good model for responding.  See also JFA’s Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue—The Interactive Guide, Activity 6 (www.jfaweb.org/extending-your-learning#bodily-rights) for a scripted dialogue that will help you learn to respond.

7. When the person says, “The woman has a right to her body,” she may mean, on the other hand, “the woman cannot be forced to use her body to sustain the life of the unborn.”  Trent Horn has called this the “Right to Refuse” view.  This view makes a weaker claim, and it can come in very sophisticated forms.  Use our post, “A Response to the Strongest Violinist” (www.jfaweb.org/DFG) to understand the “Right to Refuse” argument and learn to respond.  This post includes a link to a paper JFA helped produce which attempted to put this argument in its strongest form and respectfully show where the argument fails.

8. In all of the above steps, remember the woman.  When you are discussing the woman’s right to her body and whether it entails the right to legal abortion, there is a person whose body and life you are discussing.  In the same way, when you discuss the woman’s right to her body, you also must work to remember the unborn child, contrary to the spirit of the age.  Both the woman and the child are persons for whom these arguments are not mere intellectual exercises, but rather are matters intensely practical and intimate.

See www.jfaweb.org/blog/bodily-rights to read all of the posts in this series.

Note: A few minor edits were made to this post on 8/20/2018.

Featured Resource - “A Living Room Conversation - Part 3”

Prepare for Conversations (June):

In the last two months, we’ve encouraged you to read Parts 1 and 2 of “A Living Room Conversation,” by JFA trainer Grace Fontenot.  This month, you can finish the story by reading Part 3, in which Grace discusses the topic of feminism with “Heidi,” a young woman she met, not during an outreach event, but in an everyday-life setting.  Do you know someone, like Heidi, who wants to be pro-life, but is fearful of coming across as “anti-woman”?  Through this story, you’ll learn one of the most powerful arguments we’ve found for helping pro-choice advocates rethink their position.  It will prepare you to explain how the pro-life view is the most consistent position on abortion for those who care about women’s rights and human equality.

One Humble Phone Call Saved Manhattan

February 2018

Credits and Spoiler Alert: I originally heard this story on a 99 Percent Invisible (99PI) podcast, “Structural Integrity.”  This letter is a re-telling of that podcast story from memory. To enjoy the “full effect” of 99PI’s masterful storytelling, first listen to the podcast episode. Then check out my commentary below.

Dear Friend,

Credit: Johan Burati, 2004

Credit: Johan Burati, 2004

In 1978, a Manhattan skyscraper almost fell down. This is the story of one phone call that prevented that disaster.

When the Citicorp Center was completed in 1977, it was an architectural wonder. It’s 59 stories high (915 feet), and it appears to be floating above the ground. The church that occupied the corner of the lot made a stipulation in its contract with Citicorp. In essence, the church said, “Sure, you can build your skyscraper, but only if you build us a new church in exactly the same spot where our church is now!”

Credit: Elisa Rolle, 2014

Credit: Elisa Rolle, 2014

Enter the project’s structural engineer, William LeMessurier, with an ingenious design solution to a problem that would have caused most of us to give up and abandon the project. He placed the building on 114-foot stilts, but since the church was in the corner of the lot, he also had to place the stilts in the middle of each face rather than in the corners, where any reasonable person would expect stilts to be.

To strengthen the otherwise wobbly design, LeMessurier added an inverted chevron bracing skeleton made of steel and hid it within the “skin” of each windowed face of the building. Because this structural feature made the building lighter than it normally would have been, he added a 400-ton piece of concrete called a “tuned mass damper” to the top of the building, powered by electricity, in order to offset the effects of wind on the building.

The building was completed, and all seemed to go as planned. Then a male student in New Jersey called Le Messurier’s office asking if the structural engineer had factored in quartering winds — those winds that hit the building at its corners. He thought those might present a particular concern for the building based on the unique stilt design.

Credit: Trxr4kds, 2006

Credit: Trxr4kds, 2006

LeMessurier hadn’t. Based on his new calculations of quartering wind vulnerabilities, he found that a storm hits Manhattan about once every 55 years with winds strong enough to topple the building. That would be bad enough. Remember this is a 59-story skyscraper that can’t be easily “unbuilt” when a storm comes. But realizing that an essential part of the building’s design was the tuned mass damper, and that the tuned mass damper was completely dependent on electricity, LeMessurier then calculated what would happen to the building if the electricity went out, as is more likely in a storm. A storm with the power to take out the building if the tuned mass damper were rendered non-functional would hit Manhattan every 16 years.

As you can imagine, LeMessurier and Citicorp went into action immediately to put in place an emergency plan. Surprisingly, though, they didn’t tell most of the building’s daytime occupants. Under cover of night, and with no press fanfare (there was a press strike), workers began to strengthen the building by welding the chevron bracing skeleton that had previously been fastened by large bolts. The original design had included welds, but LeMessurier had permitted an adjustment by the builder to save costs, believing the bolts to have a negligible impact on the building’s stability. They had completed about half of the repairs when Hurricane Ella began working its way up the East Coast. Just hours away from causing the evacuation of whole sections of Manhattan, revealing to the world the vulnerability of the building, Hurricane Ella veered off into the Atlantic. The hurricane reached record wind speeds in Nova Scotia, but left Manhattan unharmed.

The workers finished welding the chevron braces, and the building is still standing today. I know this is true because my nephew sent me a picture from his visit to the building a few months ago.

This story went virtually unknown, though, by the broader world until 1995, when Joseph Morgenstern interviewed LeMessurier and broke the story in The New Yorker (“The Fifty-Nine Story Crisis,” The New Yorker, May 29, 1995, p. 45).

As 99% Invisible tells the story, though, this is where things get interesting. A Mr. Hartley was watching television when the story broke, and he called to his wife, Diane, “Your building is on the news.” She was upstairs, and, as she tells it, when she turned on the news, she almost dropped her baby. She had been an undergraduate student at Princeton in New Jersey, and she had done her thesis on the Citicorp Center. She had called LeMessurier’s office, and she recalls talking with a subordinate of LeMessurier about the firm’s calculations as well as her concerns about the quartering winds. Had she simply made a mistake in her calculations? A skyscraper couldn’t have been designed by a world-renowned structural engineer and built by a major bank without assurance that it would stand in any conditions. Would it? Could it?

Diane Hartley’s Princeton advisor has since revealed that he knows all of the players in New Jersey and has confirmed that there is no other likely candidate for LeMessurier’s “male student.” The conclusion? LeMessurier must have just had a fuzzy fix on the details. As best as anyone knows, it was Diane Hartley’s humble phone call to LeMesurrier’s firm that saved Manhattan from disaster. And she didn’t know it. Diane Hartley had to wait almost 20 years to learn the result of her simple, modest contribution.

JFA volunteers Natalie (left) and Grace (center) create a conversation at the University of Oklahoma in November 2017.

So, what’s the point for our work on behalf of unborn children and their parents? Every conversation we create in order to kindle affection for these forgotten human beings — every conversation — has the power to avert a disaster like the Citicorp disaster. We make humble motions to listen to understand, to ask questions with an open heart, and to give reasons that are persuasive. Yet, like Diane Hartley, we may never know whether our modest contribution will make any difference.

We can take heart and continue our work, then, trusting God to use our small contributions to bring about the change in society and in individual lives as he sees fit, with or without telling us. But let us not let discouragement or deception creep in. The stakes are just as high for every human being to whom we speak and every human being on whose behalf we speak as they were for the thousands of Manhattan residents and Citicorp Center workers in 1978. Disaster is on the horizon each day, and we have the key to help. But will we make the call?

Thankful for your partnership,

Steve Wagner

Executive Director

P.S. Recently, I’ve been closing many of my presentations with the Citicorp Center story. If you didn’t see the connection to our work until the end, just imagine being in one of our audiences and wondering, “How does this relate?” The elements of mystery and surprise make the important lesson all the more memorable. Feel free to share with others!

Face to Face

Christmas 2017

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633 (see Mark 4:35-41). Image of the work used here for educational purposes courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston under CC 4.0. To read the fascinating story of this work's whereabouts, see the Gardner Museum's page dedicated to the unsolved mystery of the 1990 heist in which the painting disappeared.

Dear Friend,

Look at the face of Jesus in Rembrandt’s masterful Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee. It’s clear from his expression and the placement of his hand that he’s just waking up. The disciples are in utter despair at the mercy of a great storm, but they are about to see another convincing proof of “his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Jesus is the Son of God, about to support that truth with evidence. Yet it’s striking that Jesus is face to face with this motley crew, physically present in the boat with them, dazed as he wakes from sleep just as they would be dazed in waking. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” (John 1:14)

Detail from Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633 (see image above)

In becoming flesh, Jesus dwelt among the disciples in all of their mess. He was face to face with their fear and their lack of faith, present with them so that they could relate to his glory in a way particularly necessary for them.

Jesus related to people face to face. We aspire to imitate our Savior in this simple motion every time we step onto a college campus to try to help some of those who are far from Christ’s perspective come closer to the truth and closer to Christ. We aspire to imitate Christ every time we step into a workshop or seminar to lead a group of Christ’s followers in interactive exercises, preparing them to create conversations.

I invite you to look at the art, pictured nearby, again. Reflect on the very special miracle of Christ’s face to face relationship with his disciples which reveals a unique dimension of His love for them (and for each of us).

I invite you also to spend some time looking at the pictures from our recent events, reflecting on the striking image you’ll see repeated over and over in those photos, too: we are simply followers of Christ, humbly seeking to relate face to face with people in desperate need, hoping to save very small children and very desperate mothers from the tragedy and horror of abortion. Thank you for partnering with us to train Christians to make these face to face encounters common. Merry Christmas!

That all may behold His glory,

Steve Wagner

Executive Director

PS: You can still give a special year-end gift in 2017 using this link.

2,017+ Conversations in 2017

2017 Report

Note: This Impact Report is a bit different than others we’ve written. Rather than reporting a story of the impact that God brought about in someone’s life through JFA, we are sharing a sort of “big picture” view of JFA’s impact through names of people with whom we interacted. Each of the names, and each of the conversations associated with them, points to the “one person at a time” we’re so passionate about training Christians to reach. We love the person in front of us for the same reason we love the unborn child and her parents: each of these human beings has intrinsic, enduring value as someone made in the image of God. Thank you for supporting JFA financially and for praying along with us for each individual story represented by the names in this report. - Steve Wagner, Executive Director

This year we wanted to see how many conversations the JFA community could create, so we counted. We’re excited to report that we logged more than 2,017 conversations in 2017. More important than the number of conversations, though, is what’s at the center of each one: a person.

I just read through the reflections of one of our dedicated volunteers who participated in JFA events in Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma this year. His name is Mark. Some of the 120 people with whom Mark spoke changed their minds and decided unborn children should be protected from abortion. Others seemed unmoved from their pro-choice positions. Yet Mark is not discouraged. He made a list of names and intends to continue to pray for each person with whom he spoke, believing that although good reasons and dialogue are important to helping people change, God is the one who moves in the heart of the person and causes the seeds Mark planted to take root.

Our staff and volunteers (including Mark) worked together to compile the names of many of these people with whom we were privileged to interact this year. Some were pro-choice. Some were pro-life. Some were undecided or confused or searching prior to the conversation.

Please place your trust in God along with us, asking Him to grow in each of these people a strong and active love for those who are often forgotten—for the smallest humans on earth (unborn children), for women and men in distress (related to unplanned pregnancy or sexual assault), and for those whose appearance or worldview makes them difficult to love (such as pro-choice advocates). Pray that each person we talked to this year will take a next step to love the forgotten in the coming months.

Make Your Own Impact with a Year-End Gift

As you consider your year-end giving, please consider giving generously to JFA to help us train more Christians to create more conversations in 2018. You can give online or send your gift using the instructions at our Donate page. Your gift will help JFA plan more events, hire more staff, and reach more people. Here are just two examples: David Rodriguez and Susanna Buckley served as interns during the fall of 2017, and they have both committed to serve as interns during the spring of 2018. Your gift to the Training Program Fund will pay for their travel to and from outreach events, and it will help us continue to provide a place in the Wichita office where they can grow as dialogue artists and mentors of others. Your gift to the Intern Scholarship Fund will fund paychecks for them or other interns like them. Your gift to the Staff Support Fund or to support a specific staff missionary will fund the salaries of those who mentor these interns. Last month, we shared one beautiful story in which this mentoring made a difference ("Three Miracles in One Conversation"). Our “Invest in JFA” page gives you more detailed information on these and other ways you can make an impact with your gift to JFA. Feel free to use our Contact page to contact me directly to discuss JFA’s vision, strategy, and needs for 2018. Thanks for partnering with JFA!

What I Said on Giving Tuesday Might Surprise You

In case you missed it, please read my Giving Tuesday message to all of JFA's readers who serve behind the scenes by praying, supporting financially, providing homes and meals for our traveling team, volunteering during outreach events, creating conversations in everyday life, and supporting JFA in other ways.  This message provides important context to my request for year-end gifts above.

Featured Resource - Trot Out the Toddler

JFA Intern Susanna Buckley (right), at JFA’s University of Minnesota (UMN) outreach in October.

JFA Intern Susanna Buckley (right), at JFA’s University of Minnesota (UMN) outreach in October.

When you discuss abortion with others, you’re almost certainly going to hear concerns about suffering — the suffering the pregnant woman is experiencing now and the suffering she and the unborn child will experience soon if she doesn’t get an abortion.  Intern Susanna Buckley described an amazing conversation in JFA’s October 2017 Impact Report in which she helped a young woman see a different perspective on suffering.  You can learn another approach from the example of JFA trainers in actual conversations featured in our “Trot Out the Toddler” Newsletter Collection.  Then use what you’ve learned in a conversation (see below).

 

 

Featured Resource - "Two Buckets"

In “Two Buckets,” Tammy Cook shares one concept that helps people who are reluctant to say abortion should not be legal because “I can’t tell others what to do.”  Through the conversation, which Tammy shares in vivid detail, she also models a number of other important conversational tools.

Featured Resource - "Why I Love Siberians"

In his letter this month entitled "Why I Love Siberians," JFA’s Director, Steve Wagner, shares three things that you can use to prepare for conversations:  (1) In the third paragraph, he summarizes the case for the pro-life position in a memorable way.  (2) He then shares an analogy that builds common ground about the difficulty of seeing early embryos as valuable, but also challenges listeners to let facts determine how they act towards the embryo.  (3) Finally, he gives some perspective on how to judge whether or not a conversation is worthwhile.

5000 Conversations, Part 2: Everyday Life

Part 2: Everyday Life

Dear Friend,

In my February letter ("5000 Conversations in 2017 - Part 1: Outreach Events"), I suggested a few ways you can help us reach our goal of 5000 conversations in 2017, including joining us for a mission trip and connecting us to groups who can join us for outreach. 

There’s another way you can help us create more conversations: start your own conversations in everyday life.  Let’s be honest, though: discussing abortion in everyday life is scary.  We fear harming relationships with the people we love most.  We fear not knowing what to say.  We don’t know how to start the conversation.  Let’s talk about each of these challenges.

Starting Conversations with Friends and Family: Let’s Make Abortion Conversations Common

Instead of talking to strangers as we do at JFA outreach events (difficult enough!), the people with whom any of us are most likely to create conversations in everyday life are friends and family members.  Our cherished relationships are on the line.  Yet, in many cases it’s precisely because of the relationship that each of us can make a great impact on what our friends and family members think during a conversation.  Given the stakes, making a commitment might help.  Would you join me in setting a personal goal to create seven conversations about abortion in everyday life this year?  We can pray together for God’s help, and our team will do what we can to help, too.  If you report back to us, we’ll count your conversations as we assess our progress toward the 5000 target.

We also fear we won’t know what to say.  JFA can help with this.  Every JFA presentation and workshop equips audience members with the ideas and arguments they need to be able to defend the unborn in a winsome, persuasive way.  Our online resources do as well.  In fact, that’s the main reason we devote time to these activities even when we’re not able to follow them up with an outreach event.  We know that many pro-life advocates will never join us for campus outreach but nonetheless can create conversations on their own with friends and family.  We want to prepare them.

In many cases, the most difficult aspect of having conversations with friends and family is not the ideas and arguments—it’s getting the conversations started!  Many of you who support us would be willing to defend unborn children if the opportunity arose.  But the opportunity rarely arises!  Even as a full-time pro-life worker this is true of my experience in everyday life, so I am guessing it’s probably the case for many of you reading this letter, too. 

To meet this need, we’re experimenting this year with ways to turn our exhibits and other resources into conversation starters.  You’ll always find one new conversation starter in our monthly resource bulletin, “Making Abortion Unthinkable with JFA” (click here to see all of our resource bulletins).  In addition to ideas for starting conversations, you’ll also find new ideas each month in two other areas critical for making abortion unthinkable: praying for conversations and preparing for conversations.  Let us know what you think of this resource.

Each of our trainers will be working to personally create conversations during outreach events this year, and we’ll train hundreds of Christians to join us.  The result?  Thousands of conversations.  What we’re missing from this equation is you and thousands of other pro-life advocates who may never join us on campus, but who can nonetheless create conversations in their everyday lives.  Won’t you join us?   

In Christ,

Steve Wagner

Executive Director

Pray for Conversations: Steve Wagner and D.C.

Steve Wagner interacts with a student at a Fresno, California outreach.

Steve Wagner to Serve as Executive Director of Justice For All from Washington D.C.: Beginning in April 2017, Steve Wagner will make a permanent move to the Washington, D.C. area to continue to serve as the Executive Director of Justice For All (JFA) from there.  Steve is excited to begin building relationships to facilitate JFA's outreach work in the region, as well as to continue speaking and participating in JFA's outreach events nationwide.  Pray for Steve and the whole JFA team as they work to make abortion unthinkable by creating conversations and by training pro-life advocates to do the same.  While JFA will now have trainers focusing locally in four metro areas (Wichita, Dallas, Austin, and Washington, D.C.), and while we will continue to travel to other states and metro areas where we've forged major training partnerships (Colorado, Georgia, and a number of others), JFA is eager to build relationships with churches, schools, and organizations in any region where we are invited to speak to groups and facilitate outreach events with one of our three large exhibits or other outreach tools.  Contact Steve with questions or to connect him with friends in the D.C. area who would appreciate JFA.

Recent and Upcoming Events in NV, KS, LA, OH, OK, TX, and CO ; Photos ; JFA Prayer Team Updates ; Social Media Updates (FB ; Twitter)

 

Note: This is the "Pray for Conversations" portion of JFA's March 2017 Resource Bulletin.  Click here to see all Resource Bulletins.