Steve Karlen got off a plane in New Hampshire Tuesday afternoon and was on Pennacook Street in Manchester by 1:30. He was due to be in Greenland, an hour away toward the Seacoast, at 4. Later, he was expected in Haverhill, Massachusetts. His trip will take him to southern New England and finally to Schenectady, New York, before he gets to go home to Wisconsin. That’s what it’s like to be North American outreach director for 40 Days for Life.
(Yes, “North American.” 40DFL has gone global.)
Midpoint message: “stand strong”
Steve’s whirlwind tour of New England comes at the midway point of the current 40DFL campaign, which began September 25. He enjoys his field work. As he told participants outside Manchester’s PP facility today, “This is where the action is taking place. You may be the only thing standing between Planned Parenthood and a post-abortive woman, or between Planned Parenthood and children who are particularly vulnerable to abortion.” He’s aware that the 40-day twice-a-year campaigns can be challenging; his own involvement with 40DFL dates back to the second-ever campaign in the spring of 2008. “Zeal may be giving way to exhaustion. Stand strong; you are the light of Christ here.”
I was present today to hear Steve as he spoke to about twenty people (who didn’t look the least bit exhausted) in front of the Pray for Life center across the street from PP. Then, as we did last night during a midpoint evening vigil, we crossed the street to pray quietly in front of PP. The office, while open for business, seemed dormant. The local 40DFL regulars have told me that the big-traffic day is Thursday weekly, when surgical abortions are done.
What are they hearing?
Last night’s vigil brought thirty of us together for prayer at 7 p.m., as PP was closing for the day. A lone security guard was posted at the entrance to the parking lot. He regarded us with curiosity as we prayed while walking in line, doing circuits between PP and the Pray for Life center. I brought up the rear. As I drew level with the guard, he remarked, “If this is all you’re going to do, I’ve got it made.” We chuckled as I proceeded on my way.
Think about that. What was he told to expect? 40DFL is an expressly peaceful effort. What are PP employees telling people? I have to wonder if something Steve said today is a factor: “Abortion centers are closing at a pace unprecedented since Roe v. Wade.” This coincides with the 40DFL campaigns beginning in 2007. Bad for business, I guess, leaving no room for kindness (or accuracy?) when describing 40DFL to employees and clients.
Building a strong campaign
Before Steve spoke to the gathering this afternoon, local coordinator Bob Melnyk asked him how he had established a consistently strong 40DFL effort back home in Madison, Wisconsin. “A lot of time on the phone, bulk emails, all building the base.” He gave credit to his local team, acknowledging “many hands make light loads.” What’s a lot of time on the phone? “Calls two or three hours a night, four nights a week.”
Wow. This guy could get someone elected. But Steve and his team, and Bob with his Manchester team, are doing something even more elemental to the culture than engaging in politics. They’re publicly and peacefully witnessing to the value of life, reaching mothers and fathers at a critical moment, and even reaching abortion workers who see the consistent presence of pro-lifers.
A story about that: Steve recalled how in the early days of his 40DFL involvement in Wisconsin, a late-term abortion practice was in the planning stage, with shameful cooperation from the local university. Pro-lifers started praying outside the medical building where the abortions were to take place. Months went by. Daily prayer continued. The abortion project was put off again and again. Finally, after a year, the plan was scrapped. Later, Steve and his fellow volunteers heard from some members of the university’s medical staff and faculty. There had been sharp division within the medical staff’s ranks, with the conscience rights of pro-life staffers under attack from colleagues. The pro-life staff members “lived through some dark days and great pressure.” One later told Steve that the concerned staffers took heart from the consistent and peaceful pro-life witness going on outside.
“Between 2 and 200,” says Bob when asked how many people are present during 40DFL hours in Manchester (7 a.m. – 7 p.m.). He told Steve about the Pray for Life center and about the new pregnancy support center nearby, both opened by volunteers who pray regularly in front of PP.
A few informal conversations on the sidewalk, a brief talk, a few minutes of prayer, and then Steve was off to meet the volunteers in Greenland. 40DFL has grown far beyond what he expected when he joined his first campaign. Now, his outreach means traveling all over the country, witnessing what he calls the “miraculous fruits” of 40DFL. Serves him right for stepping out in faith.