By Shannon Baker
The key to dignity is understanding every human being is created in the image of God, Kevin Smith told Maryland/Baptists who assembled on March 12 for an “Imago Dei Prayer for Human Dignity” event held before the Maryland’s March for Life in Annapolis, Md.
“If you don’t understand Genesis (and in particular, Genesis 1:27), you won’t understand the rest of the Bible,” said Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.
Smith read the Creation story in the Bible’s earliest passages. As his voice sang out the verses, light emanated from the the voilet and golden stained-glass windows of Eastpoint Baptist Church.
The painted scene on the baptistry behind him–a beautiful image of a flowing river–provided a reference point to the biblical words, “And it was good.”
When God created the heavens, the land, the animals and the vegetation, it was all good.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good,” Smith read, his Kentucky drawl evident as he emphasized Genesis 1:31.
Praying, Smith asked God to help people who witness the March of Life to “realize that Your followers value life” and that they “will be encouraged and reminded of [His] character.”
Sharon Mager, BCM/D’s BaptistLIFE correspondent, shared the personal reason why the issue of life was so important to her.
“Five percent of teenagers under 17 have abortions,” she said. “I was one of them.”
Though a strong believer teaching Sunday school and always at the church whenever it was open, Mager said the 1970s “music culture and Satan came at her.” She soon discovered she was pregnant—and ashamed, disappointed, numb and overwhelmed.
Hardly anyone really talked to her about the pregnancy, she assumed, because they didn’t want to influence her.
Her pastor at the time was dying, so her family consulted with another pastor for guidance.
Influenced by the 70s cultural norms, the pastor advised her to abort the child, which she did.
“It was horrific,” Mager tearfully recounted. “I went home that day and sobbed and sobbed. And we never talked about it again.”
She paused, emotionally spent. “And then everything was normal—NOT! My life became BA and AA, ‘Before Abortion’ and ‘After Abortion.’”
She continued teaching Sunday school until one day she couldn’t get out of bed, overwhelmed by her depression.
“I cried out to God and asked for forgiveness. And He forgave me,” she said. But she still felt empty.
She asked God to send her a husband to start a new life. And six short weeks later, He did.
“[This man] respected my floundering faith,” Mager said. And when she told him about the abortion, he was compassionate and sympathized with her pain.
“Everything was great, until he said, ‘Maybe it’s time to start thinking about having children?’” Mager said, remembering how she crumbled all over again. She faced her fears, and over time, had three children.
Several years later, after reading a Christian magazine article graphically representing an abortion, Mager again felt the familiar humiliation and pain. She called her pastor, who upon seeing her distress, comforted her with prayer and conceded he had been wrong to not address abortion in his sermons. That provided a small measure of comfort.
But after falling apart again, her babysitter shared the biblical parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.
“Are you better than God? He forgave you. Can’t you forgive yourself?” the wise friend asked. That was a turning point in Mager’s healing.
Soon, God showed Mager several other strong Christian women who had faced the same crisis in their lives.
“It’s an issue that affects us to our very core. We can cling to the fact that God holds it all,” she said.
She wistfully added, “I wish my 17-year-old self would have said, ‘Pastors, preach the Gospel in love. Tell me that you love me. But tell me that abortion is a sin. Even if I know it, I need to hear it. And tell me that God offers forgiveness.’”
Glenn and Sherri Swanson shared about Bayside Baptist Church’s JAMESone27 orphan-care ministry, designed to encourage the adoption and/or fostering of children.
After experiencing the loss of one child, who was only alive for a day and a half, and two other distressed pregnancies, the Swansons chose to adopt a third child from Russia.
“The orphanage was eye-opening. The children were half-naked with little food,” Glenn shared.
The orphanage informed them of their sick child, saying, “If you don’t want to keep her, that’s ok. We’ll find you another child.”
The Swansons were aghast.
“We got her home and into the children’s hospital,” Glenn said.
Anna, now 20, who has special needs, is thriving and is the inspiration for the JAMESone27 ministry, which has expanded to include ministry related to special needs and human trafficking.
“We prayed and prayed for two years before introducing this ministry to our church,” Sherri explained. “We knew we needed to grow roots. We knew it was a marathon, not a sprint.”
Sherri acknowledged, “Church members care. We care.” They just don’t know what to do, especially in the face of such overwhelming statistics out there.
To create awareness and the culture in the church, the Swansons decided to emphasize the issues and opportunities throughout the year.
They packaged it in three ways: things that “all” can do; things that “some” can do; and things “very few” can do.
“So often we get stuck on what ‘very few’ can do that we don’t try what ‘all’ or ‘some’ can do,” Sherri observed.
She shared a simple timeline of events for “all” church members to experience:
In January, the church observes a Right to LIfe emphasis. To start conversations in the community, the church places small white crosses on display on the church’s lawn, representing every year since Roe vs. Wade was passed. This year there were 45 crosses.
In addition to these crosses, there are three more standing out in front of them, representing the saving grace of Jesus to all, including those who have had abortions, and those in the abortion industry.
In his sermons during Sanctity of Human Life month, Glenn makes it clear that he knows there are people who have been touched by abortions, “but we love you and we
are here for you,” he says.
Church members also join local Catholic groups who attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
In March, the church raises awareness about all forms of human trafficking, from modern-day slavery to sex trafficking.
In April, church members raise money, in baby bottles, to give to the local crisis pregnancy centers.
In July and August, members donate backpacks filled with school supplies for the local school the church has adopted.
In November, the church observes Orphan Sunday, and in December, the church has a “giving tree,” where members can donate gifts for underprivileged children in the community.
Throughout the year, Bayside stresses that every ministry (women’s, men’s, etc.) can be involved in orphan care.
“We don’t see orphan care as a separate ministry because it is included in all of our ministries,” Sherri said.
Moreover, the church trains its children and youth workers on how to work with individuals affected by special needs.
For “some” church members, the church works with the Department of Social Services to help members help those who foster children.
They can provide respite, meals and otherwise love on these families, Sherri shared.
And like the Swansons, a “few” people can actually choose to foster children or adopt them.
A foster care representative told the church that Calvert County still didn’t have enough foster homes in their county, one of the wealthiest in Maryland, and were having to outsource children to other counties.
Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but “everybody can make a difference in a child’s life,” Sherri encouraged. “All it takes is one person to invest in one’s child’s life… to make a total difference in his or her life.”
Glenn shared a startling statement Rick Warren once said concerning orphans. Of the 163 million orphans in the world, there are 113,000 in America.
“If one family in every four churches in America would adopt, it would take care of every child,” Warren asserted.
“What if the church destroyed foster care and there were no more orphans?” Glenn agreed.
“We need to be mindful of the needs around us.”
After the presentations and a time of prayer, the “Imago Dei” participants joined in the Maryland March for Life, from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, just a few blocks away, to the Lawyers Mall.