Bible study offers healing for post-abortive women
by Myra Holmes
If the statistics are right, a woman in the next pew has experienced abortion. At least one in four women in the United States has had an abortion, including Christians. Some say the number is more like one in three.
Abortion not only takes the life of a child but, all too often, destroys the life of the woman as well. That woman in the next pew may never have told anyone, least of all her church, about her abortion. She may live with heavy shame and a long list of ugly symptoms known as post-abortion syndrome: anxiety, numbness, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and more.
But God is in the business of life, not death. So next month, as every January, two California Mennonite Brethren churches will extend God’s forgiveness and healing to women who have experienced abortion.
Reflections, supported by Laurelglen Bible Church and The Bridge Bible Church, both in Bakersfield, began with prayer. Heidi Williams, who had had an abortion, found help through a Bible study at a pregnancy center, then began to pray with a non-post-abortive friend, Kelly DeMoes, about how others might also find healing. For three years they prayed.
Then Williams met Debbie Haupt, another woman who had experienced abortion, who had found freedom through the same Bible study and had the same desire to see other women find healing. Both women thought the church, not a pregnancy center, would be the ideal place for a post-abortion ministry. As Haupt says, “Church should be a safe place to heal.”
They named their new ministry “Reflections” and began in January 2004 with only four participants. Williams served as director for the first years, with Haupt as co-director. When Williams moved away from the area, Haupt stepped in as director. Now, as Haupt moves into a women’s ministry staff position at The Bridge, Debbie Charpentier of Laurelglen has stepped in as director. Haupt continues in an advisory role.
The ministry is based on 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Haupt says the verse conveys their desire for the women who come: “unveiling our faces before the Lord, seeing him transform us, then radiating his glory to the community and to other women.”
The first step for many women is that “unveiling”—speaking aloud the very word “abortion,” telling their story to a woman who’s been there and confessing to God. Often post-abortive women feel alone, isolated, with such shame they feel they could never tell anyone. To be able to admit their sin, even in church, is unbelievable, says Charpentier.
Because shame makes that honesty so difficult, confidentiality is critical. For healing to happen, women must feel safe. So the Reflections phone line is confidential, the site of the study is not made public and names of participants are protected.
Haupt and Charpentier make it clear that God, not human effort, brings transformation to the women who come. Reflections is a Bible study, not counseling or professional therapy. The 10-week study uses Forgiven and Set Free, a Bible study specifically for post-abortive women written by Linda Cochrane. Through the study, women explore the need for healing, the character of God, relief and denial, anger, the need to forgive, depression, forgiveness and freedom and, finally, acceptance. The study is offered only once a year, because it is so intense for both participants and leaders.
Just as the ministry was founded on three years of prayer, prayer continues to be an essential part of Reflections. “That’s where all God’s power is unleashed and lives are changed,” Haupt says. Not only is prayer a key for the ministry team, but each woman who comes to the study is prayed for by two women—one post-abortive and one non-post-abortive—throughout the study.
The involvement of those non-post-abortive women is important. That became clear even before the first Reflections meeting during the prayer partnership of Williams and DeMoes. Non-post-abortive women are welcomed as prayer partners and participants seeking healing from other sins, and the study is always taught by a team of one woman who has experienced abortion and one who hasn’t.
The involvement of non-post abortive women communicates acceptance and love. As a bonus, it transforms the non-post-abortive women. One non-post-abortive prayer partner says, “God has made me dependent on him in a way I had never been before. In my own strength I had nothing to offer, but God used my weakness to bring him glory.”
It’s important to note that Haupt and Charpentier don’t shy away from calling abortion sin. Haupt describes it as “Satan’s territory” and a particular assault on God, the creator of life. But when it comes to forgiveness, sin is sin. “No sin is too great for God to forgive,” Haupt says.
As post-abortive women receive God’s forgiveness, extend forgiveness to others who played a part in their abortion and—most difficult—learn to forgive themselves, God brings new life, even out of a place of such death.
Charpentier recalls the transformation in her life after she participated in the study. She talks about being joyful, open, wanting to share God’s love with everyone. “I was bursting,” she says.
Another post-abortive participant says, “Through the ministry of Reflections, God has completely transformed my life and led me to a better life. He showed me his love and his mercy. He showed me that I am forgiven. He set me free.”
Sometimes transformation is even visible in a new haircut, a change in posture or a new glow. “They’re just a different person at the end,” Haupt says.
Many of the women—Haupt estimates 95 percent—want to give back. They often become part of the Reflections ministry team of prayer partners or help in a second arm of the Reflections ministry: sharing about abortion recovery and educating churches throughout the area.
For women who have experienced abortion, Haupt and Charpentier say, “You are not alone.” Help and hope are available.
To contact Reflections confidentially, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 661-599-2307. Other starting places can be found online; visit www.hopeafterabortion.com, www.silentnomoreawareness.org, www.abortionrecovery.org, or www.ramahinternational.org.