Pro-life boot camp gets youth involved
by Jessica Langdon
Kansas City, Kan. — They’re young, they’re confident, they’re pro-life — and they’re making a difference.
Just how much of a difference, they might never fully know.
A young woman — pregnant and leaning toward abortion — noticed the group of teens praying outside an abortion clinic in Kansas City, Kan., in early June.
The teens didn’t know it at the time, but the mother left the clinic without undergoing the abortion she had come to procure.
She has since sought medical care as she faces a future still filled with uncertainties.
One reason she gave for changing her mind was the sight of all those young people who cared outside the clinic.
The teens’ visit to the abortion clinic was one of several stops of a first-of-its-kind pro-life boot camp in the area.
Formally called the Truth Illuminated Teen Pro-Life Boot Camp, it brought together close to 40 people from Kansas and Missouri June 2-4. Their duties were to pray, learn — and grow in their pro-life convictions.
Taking a stand
Christina Saiki, 15, and Kembry Fellhoelter, 16, might be young, but they are veterans when it comes to taking a stand for life.
Both are members of St. Paul Parish in Olathe and of its Truth Illuminated pro-life youth group.
Both have logged hours praying in front of local abortion clinics. Neither will soon forget what it felt like to pray there with a larger group during the boot camp.
“You just feel so confident in yourself when you go in these huge groups, especially with people your own age,” said Kembry.
When Kembry heard this boot camp was in the works, she told her sister Claudia, 16, it would be cool to be part of the first one. They enlisted.
Christina and her brother Michael, 17, also signed up together for the boot camp, which was a joint project of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Now, Christina would recommend it to others.
“They would not regret going at all,” she said. “They would come out a better person because of it.”
And so it was that teens, seminarians and adult volunteers reported for duty at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park on June 2. During the three-day session, they prayed outside the abortion clinic in Kansas City, Kan., and Planned Parenthood in Overland Park. Participants also visited the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic to see how it helps mothers-to-be.
‘An issue for everybody’
But that was only the beginning. Hopefully, what the teens learned at the boot camp will make a big difference much closer to home.
Justin Nelson, a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, said people who are having abortions are often close to the ages of the teens that participated. If, in the future, a friend facing an unplanned pregnancy confides in them, these teens will be well-prepared to help them.
They have to have absolute conviction in their beliefs, said Nelson, who helped bring the boot camp about. That conviction will keep them from being swayed by emotion during the friend’s crisis and stop them from saying an abortion would be OK just this once.
Young people have to be able to acknowledge a friend’s problem, said Nelson, and still let her know that an abortion “is going to give you two problems — the second is going to be much worse than the first.”
The teens were tackling what Nelson believes to be the biggest evil we face today. But when faced with a challenge, he said, young people are ready to tackle it.
“It’s an issue for everybody,” he said.
Value in every life
Sidewalk counseling and peaceful prayer were not the only topics covered by the boot camp. It also treated Catholic teaching on sexuality and chastity.
Nelson’s friend Jennifer Widhalm — a sidewalk counselor and cofounder and president of a mission called LifeFront — addressed the topic of purity in a session on the theology of the body. She also gave a presentation on Planned Parenthood.
Maria Graham, a volunteer with the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, also struck a chord with the teens. She talked a bit about sidewalk counseling, but focused on “pro-life as a way of life and not a position on abortion.” She wanted the teens to understand that “every person is created equal and priceless.” That value is based on God’s love. Every person has it, said Graham, even in a society that challenges that idea on many levels.
Power of prayer
On the day the boot camp group visited the abortion clinic in Kansas City, Kan., the participants saw Graham reaching out to a young woman who appeared to be putting together the money she needed for an abortion.
When Nelson recognized what was happening, he engaged the group in the moment.
“We began a rosary at that time with the intention of this woman and her child,” Nelson said.
Graham emphasized to the mother that all the young people out there were praying for her.
When the teens left the clinic later that day, the outcome of the young woman’s story was not yet clear.
Nelson called the news he received later about her change of heart an “incredible testament for the power of prayer.”
On the front lines in the fight against abortion
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ask Jennifer Widhalm if it’s convenient to stand outside an abortion clinic during a sweltering Kansas City summer or on a bone-chilling day in the deep freeze of winter, and she’ll say it’s not.
But ask her if it’s worth it, and she will tell you in a heartbeat: absolutely.
Every time she hears a mother say she changed her mind and didn’t have an abortion, she has no doubt she’s right where she’s supposed to be.
“It’s really indescribable,” Widhalm said of learning about a mother’s change of heart. “You have to experience it for yourself.”
Widhalm is cofounder and president of LifeFront, a ministry with a two-fold mission — to pray peacefully outside Planned Parenthood and to do sidewalk counseling with people who are there for abortions.
Widhalm presented information to local teens on purity and on Planned Parenthood during the first Truth Illuminated Teen Pro-Life Boot Camp in June.
LifeFront, a grass-roots mission, builds on a foundation in the pro-life movement that Widhalm says she learned from her mother.
“If we’re going to be anywhere as a people of life, we have to be at the darkest place . . . accompany these children in their last moments and offer their mothers one last choice,” she said.
LifeFront places volunteers outside the place where abortions take place.
The mission started in 2007 when Widhalm and friend Justin Nelson, who is a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, decided that, for Lent, they were going to pray at Planned Parenthood in Overland Park.
When they arrived, they were horrified to find that two men were the only people out there. They wanted to see a much stronger pro-life presence.
“Our goal is to be out there every hour they are open for business,” Widhalm said. “We are very far from that goal.”
One misconception people often have is that it is too controversial and it involves screaming at people.
That’s not what it’s about, she said. A major goal is to get information into the women’s hands to let them know things they’re not likely to find out inside.
“We tell them abortion is not safe,” Widhalm said.
Some of the efforts involve sharing information over a loudspeaker to make sure the women going inside have every opportunity to hear from and talk to the volunteers.
Babies have been saved just because of written materials that made their way into the hands of the mothers.
The LifeFront representatives want to know what brought the mothers to this place, why they think they can’t have this baby.
People often think the volunteers care only about the babies and don’t think about the mothers. Widhalm said that also isn’t true.
“You can’t care for one without caring about the other,” she said. “We’ll help her. We’ll stay by her. . . . We’ve had baby showers for a couple of women.”
One that holds a special place in Widhalm’s heart is a little girl she calls “our Valentine’s baby,” because that was the day in 2009 the mother changed her mind and chose life instead of abortion.
Widhalm went to a couple of doctor’s appointments to offer support and help during her pregnancy.
“I got to go to the hospital the day after our Valentine’s baby was born and hold her,” she said.
The feeling of holding a baby who would not be here if a different choice had been made “is amazing,” said Widhalm.
She went to the little girl’s baptism this past year.
A lot of people also believe the work is futile and are discouraged before they even try, said Widhalm.
“My attitude is: ‘That’s the last chance,’” she said. “All you can do is make it better.”
She thinks of the babies who have lost their lives and of the mothers who now say, “If I had known . . . If I had known . . . If I had known . . . ” She hopes more volunteers will add to the pro-life presence outside the clinic and help keep more women from one day living their lives thinking about what could have been different “if I had known.”
LifeFront offers periodic training for people interested in sidewalk counseling. Widhalm encourages anyone even remotely interested in volunteering to attend the training. She also encourages anyone interested in LifeFront to contact her about opportunities to go through training or pray outside the clinic.