What I Learned By Evangelizing Abby Johnson, by Marcel LeJeune

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By Marcel LeJeune, Catholic Missionary Disciples

The local Planned Parenthood Director had quit her job and walked into the local Coalition for Life offices. It was a welcomed shock to those who heard. But, then it hit national news, because Planned Parenthood was scared. They were scared she would share inside information and that they wouldn’t control the narrative. They were right to be scared, because Abby Johnson had a new mission.
In fact, her story is now a movie – Unplanned.

I picked up the phone and called Shawn Carney (now President and CEO at 40 Days for Life), at the Coalition for Life. I asked him what happened and he told me they were super busy with lawyers and news and I should call him the next week, which I did. When we talked, I asked him about Abby. He told me her story and I told him that if she ever had questions about the Catholic Church or decided she wanted to explore it that I would do RCIA with her (the process for exploring the Catholic Church and then becoming Catholic).

Flash forward several months. I got a call from Abby saying the she and her husband, Doug, wanted to come in to talk to me. When we met, Abby and Doug said they had questions about the Catholic Church, but they were NOT ready to commit to becoming Catholic yet. I tried to set them at ease, ask a lot of questions, and get to know them. We started to meet regularly for months, but had to do so around Abby’s new schedule, which included speaking and media appearances. So, we did a special one-on-two RCIA (or one-on-three, with their baby).

Like all of us, Abby and Doug had some rough spots. They also had a lot of very hard questions about difficult subjects. We went through them all. Sometimes they challenged me. Sometimes I challenged them. We prayed together, got to know one another, and we walked toward Jesus together. I learned a lot from our time and wanted to share some of the things that I have learned from them.

  1. Language Matters. Abby has been on both sides of the (literal) fence. When she worked at Planned Parenthood she got called “baby killer”, “nazi”, “murderer” etc. She was told that the clinic she worked in was a “death chamber” and worse. At best, this kind of language is inflammatory. But, what Abby taught me is that from the pro-abortion person’s view, it wins no converts to the other side. Rather, it drives people away. Some pro-lifers simply start off on the wrong foot. It makes other people enemiesIt drives them away. It reduces the chance of conversion. So, we need to be careful of how we speak (and think) of others.  This isn’t a watering down of any truth, but a way of delivering truths in a palatable way.

  2. Prayer Works. So, what got Abby to believe that she could walk into a pro-life office, after leaving the abortion clinic? It was the years of daily prayerful and peaceful witness by those who live in my community. She knew they genuinely cared about her, because they talked to her through the clinic fence. They told her they were praying for her. They did it with a smile and with sincerity. This is what will win over those that we disagree with. God’s love born in prayer for others.

  3. We Must Go Out. I spent time in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic. Many others spent much more time than I did, my wife being one of them. It was only because Christians were brave enough to GO and make a public display of their faith and prayer that fruit was ripened. Jesus commands us to go to other, not wait on them to come to us.

  4. Instant Perfection Is Not The Goal – The Next Step Is. When we first met, Abby and Doug believed many of the moral and doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church made no sense. We carefully went through each topic, but it wasn’t as if they instantly agreed with everything I said and placed their faith in Jesus and His Church. I wish it was that easy. It is more accurate to say that they stumbled their way into believing many of the teachings over a long period. We have to remember that none of us is a perfect disciple. God is not done with any of us yet. So the next step in the path to holiness is the point. Not perfection right now. Be patient with the imperfection of others (and yourself).

  5. Listen Before You Teach. I had to learn how to help Abby and Doug. They had unique needs and desires, just like everyone else. I couldn’t know how to help them until I started to know them. When we first started meeting, they came with lists of questions about the Catholic Church. I frustrated them, because I didn’t jump right into answering them. I promised we would get to each one, but first I wanted to get to know them. So, I started asking questions (like those in this post). It helped to build trust. Speaking of trust…

  6. Build Trust THEN Challenge Others. Trust is the grease that gets folks moving toward Jesus. Without it, others may doubt your intentions and believe you are more interested in what you get out of them. With it, you can move mountains. You can even be the instrument that God uses to change hearts. Once I built some trust with Abby and Doug, I could gently push them. I challenged them on all kinds of things that I would not have been able to do, until I had their trust.

Evangelization that is based in a relationship is really the goal here. But ultimately, evangelization is about conversion. If we want conversion in others, then I hope the advice I have learned may be a help to you too. Abby and Doug both had conversions and I was able to witness the changes they were going through. What a gift.

Now you get to share in seeing that change – by going to see the Unplanned movie. I can’t wait…I am going tonight.

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