By Jo Markham
Do you believe in the power of prayer? Well, I recently had overwhelming evidence of how prayer changes everything.
Our center sits on Main Street in the old, bustling, historic district of Round Rock. For fourteen years, we’ve been blessed to minister in this perfect location. But on Saturday, February 11, 2017, everything changed in my little “Mayberry.” That day, I was at work getting ready for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for our soon-to-be-arriving mobile unit when I received a phone call from a board member to look out front. When I peered through the mini-blinds, I saw about twenty-five protesters standing outside holding signs and waving at passers-by.
The Community of Round Rock, Texas
To really picture this situation, you have to know a little more about the small community where my team and I serve. Round Rock Texas is just eighteen miles north of Austin. Formed in 1851 near a large, round rock located in the middle of Brushy Creek, Round Rock was a low-water crossing for wagons, horses, and cattle. Now, Round Rock is most famous for its donuts, is the home of Dell, and claims to be the “Sports Capital of Texas.” Unlike Austin, whose motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” Round Rock is smack dab in the middle of Williamson County, one of the most conservative, “red” areas in the entire Lone Star State. Round Rock’s motto is “Keep Round Rock Mildly Unusual”! Indeed, Round Rock has always seemed like Mayberry to me…safe, conservative, friendly, and beautiful. And while we don’t have a “Sheriff Andy,” we do have Chief Banks, a wonderful man, and numerous city and county leaders who are pro-life believers in Christ.
When I looked out my center’s window at the angry protestors, you can imagine my reaction. Initially, my only emotion was shock. This doesn’t happen in Mayberry! This must be a mistake! I went outside to speak to the protesters thinking they would hear me out, learn what we do, come in for a tour, and that would be the end of that.
Those of you reading this who are more seasoned than I must be laughing at this point! This was just the beginning. One man told me, “you go back and tell your board that we are here to stay and we are here to change Williamson County.” They refused to step foot in our center that day. Then, at the very same time they were protesting, one of our board members suffered a spinal stroke and was paralyzed from the waist down instantly. The next day, our nurse manager went into the hospital with appendicitis.
Everything changed: protesters were from the NOW (National Organization for Women) Williamson County Task Force along with members of the Austin NOW. After the 2016 presidential election, they were on fire to go after our “fake clinic” and were planning weekly protests at our center. In addition, they, along with other pro-abortion groups, were mobilizing candidates to run in every possible local and county election.
We called an emergency board meeting and began consulting with everyone we could think of: the local police, attorneys, public relations experts, and more. After much counsel, we felt the best thing to do was pray and be quiet. We mobilized pastors & churches to pray and monitored social media constantly to keep things calm between our supporters and the protesters.
More Angry Protestors
This began our season of weekly Thursday protests. I’d sit out front with another board member or two and we’d bring out a big radio to play the K-LOVE radio station loudly. We had a sign that said we were “open for tours” and we usually put out financial statements, brochures, water bottles, and cookies. When the music came on and we were outside praying, the protesters would not stand in front of our center! So, most weeks they moved down the sidewalk to the corner and protested there! Then, when our mobile started going out, they added a Monday protest at the mobile site as well. In addition to the protests, we also began having what we believed were many fake clients and strange phone calls. This became our “new normal.”
A few months went by like this. Then, late last summer, the protesters added a new tactic: emailing our donors. They identified people or businesses we had thanked on social media , such as banquet sponsors, in-kind gift donors, etc. Again, we consulted with attorneys, and again we decided to just pray. Shortly after this, all protests and letter-writing stopped, and the NOW WILCO Task Force appeared to have a change in leadership. We hoped this was the end and breathed a cautious sigh of relief.
Next the Handmaids
Fast forward to September 14, the night of our annual fundraising banquet. About 1,000 of our guests pulled into the event parking lot while being greeted by what we now call our “fan club”…protesters dressed in red robes and white bonnets, holding a giant “AGAPE LIES” sign…led by the Texas Handmaids (the former NOW leader began organizing through this new group). The Handmaids are, according to their website, based off the book The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, “where women are not allowed to hold jobs, own money or property, and are relegated to their reproductive capacity…”
So, they were back and dressed in red! This was followed by a “robed” protest at Agape during Thanksgiving break. During that week, someone stuffed our mailbox with 36 pieces of paper that said “AGAPE LIES.” No postage, or envelopes, so we filed a police report with the Round Rock Police Department. And if that weren’t enough, they added another new tactic: writing parties where participants flooded our donors (and donors of other local centers) with postcards telling them not to support us and threatening boycotts if they continued. To make matters worse, they would send out notices to their group via Facebook to target our center by leaving negative reviews online. We would watch in real-time as our near-perfect ratings would steadily decline as they and their friends posted one horrible review after another.
Words can’t describe the hurt and anger I felt. I was just ready to set the attorneys loose. Thank goodness it was nighttime so I couldn’t make any phone calls! Instead, I got out my Bible and began to read where I’d left off the night before in Isaiah. Well, I just happened to be at Isaiah 36-37 which tells the account of Hezekiah dealing with opposition. When faced with the taunts and threats of the Assyrians, Hezekiah went to the temple, spread their awful letter out before the Lord, and prayed. Period. Then in Isaiah 37:21, the Lord said, “because you have prayed to me….” and then He went on to say exactly how He was going to take care of the Assyrians! The following night I received confirmation of this message through other scripture and a sermon.
The following week, our board met and agreed unanimously and joyfully to go on the offensive with unified prayer! After Christmas, we began to prepare an organized, specific, and strategic prayer campaign including dozens of Central Texas churches praying for all ten of our local centers. We needed this confirmation and resolve to face what came next.
After Christmas, the Handmaids began robed protests on-site at donors’ businesses. They protested at Henna Chevrolet on December 30th, their biggest sales day of the year. A few weeks ago, they protested a local restaurant during their Sunday lunch rush. Then on March 17th, the local Rotary Club held its annual fundraising event benefiting local charities, one of which is Agape. They posted this on Facebook, and about fifteen robed Handmaids holding their giant “AGAPE LIES” sign were waiting at the event center as the Rotarians and their guests arrived.
So, there’s our “protester” story. I wish I could tell you that God has ended the protests, but that isn’t how He has worked in our situation. At least not yet. The pregnancy centers in the Round Rock/Austin area are still under fierce assault…but our God is stronger. And He has been faithful to us since day one. What Satan meant for evil, God has used for good, over and over and over again. We have more clients than before. Our donations have increased. Awareness about our center has increased. Churches are waking up to pray like never before. We’ve made new friends on Main Street. Our area pregnancy centers are cooperating and enjoy closer relationships than ever before. It has strengthened our centers and our faith. And remember the day this all began and our board member was paralyzed and not supposed to walk again? Well, he walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding last month!
Prayer Changes Everything
And then this….only God could do something like this…pro-choice community leaders have begun visiting our center to learn the facts about the services Agape provides. When they visit, we share everything….our brochures, curriculum, policies, statistics, everything. And even though we disagree on the subject of abortion, they have been blown away by the services we provide and the good we are doing in our community! They may have never even come our way apart from the “negative” attention the Handmaids brought to us but now these officials are actively seeking truth. And our God is the God of truth who continues working good through us and in us.
I would never have chosen this extended season of opposition. But my God has changed my heart as I have prayed for our center and for those who are protesting us. I know He can do anything and that our prayers are being answered.
Jo Markham is the Executive Director of Agape Pregnancy Resource Center, a Care Net affiliate in Round Rock, Texas.