The Bible describes prophets as voices crying out in the wilderness, bearing God's truth to those who are willing to hear it. That's how we see our friends (and clients) at Refuge in the Desert Ministries, who are pro-life advocates in the Tempe, Arizona area.
Refuge in the Desert volunteers stand on a public sidewalk near a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic and offer help, hope and truth to those who are entering and exiting the clinic. Their work is not easy. Because Planned Parenthood is strategically located in the middle of a commercial strip mall, 190 feet away from the nearest public sidewalk, these pro-lifers have difficulty reaching their intended audience. They often strain to lift their voices so as to be heard over the noise of the cars and trolley that travel on the four-lane highway sitting behind them. They are subject to abuse from passersby as well as the hot Arizona sun. Local police question and badger them like common criminals.
But reminiscent of the prophets of old, they keep going. Though they grow weary and get discouraged, they keep going. And just when they think nobody is listening, somebody does, and they are blessed with a reminder of why they continue this ministry.
Last May, Rebecca Rizzi arrived at the clinic for a scheduled appointment. She was five weeks pregnant, feeling scared and isolated, believing her only viable option was to "terminate the pregnancy." Planned Parenthood was willing to oblige.
As Rebecca pulled into the parking lot, she noticed "Refuge in the Desert" volunteers. As she walked toward the clinic, she heard these strangers imploring her to consider the dire consequences of abortion. Rebecca took a seat in the crowded lobby and pondered more about the "choice" she would make. And each time the clinic door opened, Rebecca heard the desperate cries of those volunteers calling out to her.
Rebecca heard their cries and her heart was pricked. Beginning to feel some uncertainty about whether she was ending a pregnancy or a life, Rebecca stepped outside to get some air.
Once outside, Rebecca sought perspective from someone who didn't have anything to gain from her decision, and approached one of the voices she heard, Sherry Pierce. Rebecca asked Sherry what she or anyone else in her situation could do.
Sherry informed Rebecca that she didn't have to go through with the abortion, and gave her options, describing local crisis pregnancy resources Rebecca didn't even know existed. Sherry took her to the crisis pregnancy center so Rebecca could see for herself.
Rebecca was soon convinced. She knew she couldn't get an abortion. Initially, Rebecca considered putting her baby up for adoption, but after finding out she was expecting twins, she chose motherhood instead.
Realizing the challenges that lie ahead for Rebecca, Sherry Pierce, this voice in the desert, continued to walk with her, offering tangible physical and emotional support. When Rebecca delivered two precious baby girls - Olivia Grace and Kara Shea - in December, Sherry was at the hospital. She has brought meals and hands to hold the twins.
Sherry's expressed love for Rebecca and her babies all began on a sidewalk, where she exercised her First Amendment freedom to share her faith and beliefs.
We must jealously guard the constitutional rights of Sherry and fellow members of Refuge in the Desert ministries, and others like them. We need Christian voices in our desert of a culture today, who, at some cost to themselves, present truth, compassion, and ultimately, the hope of the gospel.
As shown with Rebecca and her daughters, lives depend on it.