Without Planning It, Grassroots Pro-Life Prayer Groups Launched at Same Time – Say Leaders in First Joint Interview
Ten years ago, a burning desire to be a voice for the unborn was ignited in three leaders – in Texas, Virginia and Colorado. Having known each other for years, they rarely see one another aside from national pro-life gatherings. What would happen if we started a dialogue together?
For the first time, David Bereit of 40 Days for Life, Matt Lockett of Bound4LIFE and Bryan Kemper of Stand True share their common yet distinct experiences – and reveal a striking timeline of how public prayer advocacy has thrived in the grassroots pro-life movement.
Marisa Kwaning discusses pro-life prayer with David Bereit and Matt Lockett (Photo: Josh Shepherd)
A Son’s Prayer in the Hospital
Summer of 2004 found David Bereit (pronounced BE-right) frustrated in College Station, Texas. A local Planned Parenthood abortion center had just reached a death toll of 2,000.
“We had been trying everything we knew how to do,” Bereit says. “While we saw some small pro-life successes, for the most part the abortion numbers just kept going up.” He and a few other people did the only thing they felt was left – gather around a table and pray for an hour.
Bereit shares, “The night before that prayer time, a friend from church pulled me aside and said: ‘If we really believe these children dying are made in God’s image, why aren’t we acting like it?’ he implored. ‘If we’re serious, why wouldn’t we go to that place [abortion centers], stand in the gap and intercede on behalf of these mothers and children?’”
“That conversation was germinating in me the next day during that hour of prayer,” says Bereit, noting how God placed the 40-days timeframe on their hearts that day along with other particulars. “The first local 40 Days for Life campaign was from September 1 thru October 10, 2004.”
People in prayer at the first 40 Days for Life campaign in College Station, TX (Photo Courtesy of 40 Days for Life)
“Many 40 Days leaders haven’t even heard this second part,” says Bereit, national director of 40 Days for Life. “Years later, after the first national campaign, the same friend called me – amazed at how God used this idea.”
“Then he said, ‘Shortly before that dinner at your house, we found out my dad was dying of cancer. I went to the hospital and my dad wanted to pray about the ending of abortion. The reason why? Years before, he had gotten a girl pregnant out of wedlock, he had been scared, he pressured her to schedule an abortion… but she stood him up on the day of the appointment. He got so angry at her then. Yet eventually they ended up getting married.’“
“Laying on that hospital bed, his dad told him, ‘Son, that woman was your mother and that child I wanted to throw away to cover up my sin was you.’ The man who suggested the idea of what became 40 Days for Life was himself an abortion survivor,” Bereit concludes.
Photo for illustration purposes: Lee Haywood / Flickr
With 252 cities involved this past spring, 40 Days for Life recently celebrated 10,000 babies saved through on-site prayer at abortion centers. David Bereit and his wife now reside in northern Virginia, where he provides leadership to this growing movement.
For Ad Agency Graphic Artist, One Dream Changes His Life
“There’s something very interesting about Fall 2004,” Matt Lockett of Bound4LIFE observes before sharing his story. Living in Denver at the time, he worked as creative director at an ad agency while serving as a youth pastor.
“I had been a Christian for most of my life – but, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t care much about abortion,” Lockett begins. “In my mind, it was a side issue that some crazy people like to make a big stink about. Then in September 2004, I had a dream.”
Matt Lockett tells of Bound4LIFE’s founding (Photo: Josh Shepherd)
“I saw young people praying day and night for the ending of abortion. And in my dream, there was a man named Lou Engle. I didn’t know of anyone named Lou Engle at that point, yet it was one of those weird experiences that I couldn’t get away from,” says Lockett.
“When I found out that Lou Engle really exists, I tracked down a phone number. When I call and share my dream, one of his team tells me, ‘You’ve just dreamt what the Lord has sent us to do. We are going to Washington, DC to pray for the ending of abortion. You should come and check it out, maybe God will have something for you there.’”
Lockett had this conversation with Engle’s team in mid-September 2004, as they were traveling from Colorado Springs to Washington in prayer for the elections. Then another critical dream occurred.
“One young man was on an extended fast, and he had a dream,” shares Lockett. “He saw the streets of DC filled with young people who had tape over their mouths. In the dream, he zooms down from above and he’s in front of the Supreme Court. He sees the word LIFE is written on the tape over their mouths.” The team ended up doing the dream in front of the Supreme Court, the first “silent siege” followed by thousands more since that day.
Lou Engle and team pray outside the Supreme Court in 2004 (Photo Courtesy of Bound4LIFE)
Lockett took Engle up on the invitation to Washington, DC a few months later. “God radically changed my life and my viewpoint,” he shares. “He called my wife, four children and me to be missionaries to the nation’s capital. I ended up quitting my job in Denver; we sold our belongings in a garage sale and moved to DC. That was 10 years ago.”
Months into this new missionary experience, Lockett emerged as the director of Bound4LIFE and Justice House of Prayer DC – located a few blocks from the Supreme Court and the Capitol. Lockett states, “Our assignment progressed from praying for the 2004 elections, to believing for a shifting of the Supreme Court – to an ongoing assignment to pray for the courts and America, from the nation’s capital.”
Musician Brings Punk Rock Roots to Activist Calling
Bryan Kemper, a tattooed and energetic leader, joins our dialogue via Skype from his home base in Dayton, Ohio. Following his early years in the Christian rock scene, Kemper was floored by one person’s question: If you believe abortion is murder, why are you not doing something about it?
“From one desperate prayer, when I was facing a job transition, Stand True started in Virginia. Our mission is to educate, activate and equip young people to be a voice – because we believe this is the generation that will abolish abortion,” he asserts.
“Adults come up to me sometimes and ask, ‘Do you think we can ever end abortion?’ I always say: ‘How big is your God? Because my God is bigger than Roe v. Wade.’”
Bryan Kemper prays at OneVoiceDC on January 21, 2015 (Photo: Aaron Wong)
Kemper reveals how one well-known Stand True outreach began. “I remember I was driving back from speaking at McNeese State University in Louisiana with a student, and he asked, ‘What can we do with other students around the country to take a stand?’ Right then, I had the vision of the Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity.”
What if students went silent, in solidarity with the children being silenced by abortion? he thought. High school and college students across the nation could stay in silent prayer all day.
“A few weeks later, I was speaking in Washington, DC at an event,” he continues. “Five minutes into my talk, a group of about 20 young people walked into the back of the room and just stood there. I thought they were there to protest me, because they were all wearing this red duct tape on their mouths.”
“What is this? But it wasn’t a protest, it was the Bound4LIFE group who had heard about the talk. One of them told me what the red duct tape was afterward. This is the coolest thing ever, I thought,” Kemper recalls.
Photo Courtesy of Bound4LIFE
“The next day I went down to the Supreme Court, and Lou Engle was there. I asked him, ‘Hey, we’re doing this Silent Day event, can we promote the Life Tape?’ He was like, ‘Oh yeah, totally.’ So I always tell people who ask, ‘Stand True didn’t start the Life Tape idea, we just borrowed it.’ We helped make Life Tape popular, because Silent Day went big when it launched.”
“That first year we thought, Maybe 100 campuses will do this? Six hundred campuses signed up in 2004. It was amazing! Now every year in October, several thousand campuses participate – this fall will be the 11th year. It’s young people deciding to be silent in solidarity and spend the day in prayer.”
Kemper recounts one story of Silent Day’s impact. “One young woman, getting ready for school, walked downstairs wearing Life Tape. Her mother asked, ‘What are you doing? Why do you have tape on your mouth?’ She took the tape off and explained to her mom what she had decided to do that day.”
“Her mom broke down and said, ‘I’m scheduled for an abortion this week. I’m pregnant, Honey.’ That young woman was able to save her sibling’s life.”
Photo for illustration purposes: Sandeep Patil / Flickr
Kemper summarizes what drives Stand True: “Things like that have happened so often. The years I’ve done this is worth it for even one of those stories. And I know you, Matt and David, have those stories too.”
Right Mission, Right Place, Right Time
“The timing is so wild,” notices Kemper. ”I never realized how close it was to the start of Bound4LIFE that those kids wearing Life Tape came to the Stand True pro-life rally. It must’ve been within the first few days.”
David Bereit jumps in: “And our first fall campaign was going on right then. We were intentionally doing it in a season leading up to an election. When is there a more important time to be praying and fasting?”
“There in College Station, Texas, I was getting news updates about both of your group’s activities during those 40 days,” Bereit recalls. “I was hearing about Bound4LIFE, about the first Pro-Life Silent Day of Solidarity, and I was massively encouraged. It showed me, Wow, God is moving on this. I was sharing the news with other people, though I didn’t realize it was the beginning for both of you.”
Bryan Kemper in Dayton, OH joins the interview via Skype (Photo: Josh Shepherd)
With each focused on prayer and advocacy for the ending of abortion, the three groups reach a diverse spectrum of people: from youth on the fringes, to a broad scope of evangelical and Catholic believers who recognize how upholding the value of life is fundamental to their faith.
“There was something in the air at that moment,” muses Matt Lockett. “It’s a profound thing, and it’s beyond just the three groups here. All of this pro-life prayer outreach started gelling together during Fall 2004. So many things happened, shifted or took a turn – and here we are a decade later.”
“It’s all coming full-circle now,” Bereit notes.
Kemper sums up the feeling in the room: “I don’t believe there are any coincidences.”
Former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson with David Bereit (Photo Courtesy of 40 Days for Life)
Watch for more excerpts from this joint interview, as the three leaders compare group strategies and share how they keep the right focus in handling a contentious issue in our culture.
About Marisa Lengor Kwaning
Marisa Lengor Kwaning is a writer, editor and health policy analyst who resides in Washington, D.C. She has worked in public health, disaster management, as well as foreign and domestic health policy. She earned a Masters degree in Public Policy from George Mason University and currently consults at Final Draft:Writing Services.