Rachel’s Vineyard of Colorado
Healing the pain of abortion, one weekend at a time
By Elizabeth Herzing
Elizabeth Herzing interviews representatives from Rachel’s Vineyard of Colorado on their ministry and mission.
What is your mission?
Rachel’s Vineyard of Colorado is an affiliate of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries – the world’s largest international post-abortion-healing program. The ministry has grown to more than 1,000 retreats a year in forty-eight states and seventy countries, with many new sites in development.
In 1994, Theresa Burke, PhD, our founder and executive director, published a manual called A Psychological and Spiritual Journey for Post Abortion Healing. Originally the program took fifteen weeks. But in 1995 we adapted the curriculum for weekend retreats. The primary aim is to help participants enter and move through the grieving process.
Married couples, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings of aborted children – as well as people who have been involved in the abortion industry – have come to Rachel’s Vineyard in search of peace and inner healing. Rachel’s Vineyard of Colorado, a nonprofit organization, held its first retreat in 2002. Since then, we’ve held more than three dozen retreats with more than 300 women and men. At the retreats we have honored the lives of 457 children lost to abortion.
How has your ministry touched or changed lives?
The most effective way to answer that is to share the testimony of a woman who experienced a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat weekend and went on to serve the Catholic Church in a variety of ways. Her story also exemplifies Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
I know without a doubt it was God’s providence that brought me to Rachel’s Vineyard. I was enrolled in the RCIA program and preparing to become Catholic. I had decided to convert on my own, without the encouragement of my husband or any family members. I just felt God’s pull to the Catholic Church. I was a nervous wreck as I prepared for my very first confession – feeling the weight of forty-plus years of sin, including an abortion. I blurted out “abortion” in the middle. The priest looked at me compassionately and said that my penance was complete. I had already spent the last fifteen years of my life living in guilt and shame. He then asked if I had ever heard of Rachel’s Vineyard. He handed me the name and number of a woman, Lori Frank, and suggested I give her a call.
Little did I know that she would become such a dear friend and spiritual guide. But it took me more than a year to make the call. I went to their website many times, but I never had the courage to call. One day, I decided what did I have to lose? I called Lori, and I will never forget our conversation. I drove in circles in my car, afraid I might lose the connection. We must have talked for over an hour. For the first time in my life, I was speaking with someone who had experienced the same horrible tragedy. Her warmth, love, and listening ear put me at ease immediately. By the end of our conversation, I knew I wanted to join the weekend.
However, it was going to be a challenge. My husband isn’t Catholic and didn’t understand why I would want to go away for a weekend and share my story with strangers, plus we had three young children at the time. Could he take care of them by himself? My parents didn’t know my story and neither did my friends. He couldn’t go to them for help while I was gone.
Obstacle upon obstacle was placed in front of me, but somehow each was overcome with prayer and support from Lori and many other prayer warriors within the RV family.
Finally, the big day arrived. I said a tearful goodbye to my sweet babies and made the long drive to the hotel. I was so scared. I wondered how I would enter the hotel lobby? Would the people who work there know that I had had an abortion? But those fears all went away when I was greeted with a smile and escorted to my room by a gentle soul who shared that she, too, had had an abortion, that many people were praying for me at that very moment, and everything would be OK.
Within an hour, I met my fellow retreat friends. There were maybe ten of us in the group. We came from many backgrounds and our stories were all so different. But as I looked around the room I realized we all had something in common—we were all deeply hurt and ashamed of what we had done. We could hardly look each other in the eye. Little did we know that over the next days we would slowly shed that skin and draw close to each other and even closer to God. I told my friends and family I was just going away on a “women’s spiritual retreat.” In a way, this was true. Without interruption, I was going to walk through the pain of my past and move forward to healing and a new beginning in life. And that is what Rachel’s Vineyard gave to me, a transformation.
Just as Jesus spent three days in the tomb and Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, I spent three days in isolation from the outside world and all of its distractions. I emerged a new person full of light and a burning desire to speak the truth to the world. I no longer felt ashamed, but rather overjoyed at the thought that I wasn’t alone, that I had been healed and that I had a child in heaven. I felt a light inside of me and I wanted to share it with others. I had a mission. And as soon as I asked God for direction, he paved the way. Since my weekend, God has led me on an incredible adventure. Each day I ask: What can I do for you today, Lord? I am your hands, feet, and voice. I will go wherever you need me and say whatever you want because this is no longer about me but about you and your glory.
That was several years ago. Since then, I have shared my story with a number of parishes, schools, and other organizations, with the goal of lending support, learning, and educating. I continue to ask God each day to use me to make a difference and to let me be a voice I have confidence and peace within me because of God and my experience with RV.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face? How will you overcome them?
The statistics are staggering. One in three women are post-abortive. The effect extends beyond the individuals personally. There are societal effects as well. It also means we have a lot of work to do. We need to increase awareness and available resources for addressing post-abortion stress symptoms. But the biggest challenge we face is our need for a permanent facility to meet the requests of the increased number of individuals seeking services. It takes so much courage for a woman to seek and ask for help that the last thing we want is to delay the healing process. But currently we can only hold three retreats per year (in hotels). And it breaks our hearts to have to tell a hurting soul a retreat is full. Our short-term goal is to increase the number of retreats to four per year. Our long-term goal is to offer a retreat each month. That goal requires a permanent center.
How can people help support Rachel’s Vineyard of Colorado?
Over the years many volunteers have stepped forth from the of people who have attended a retreat weekend. Those who have experienced the dreadful after-effects of an abortion and have subsequently experienced God’s forgiveness and healing are the most compassionate and tender people. They also serve as examples of hope for healing. Many women are in a position to experience the symptoms of post-abortion trauma; many are suffering, ashamed and silent. It’s important for everyone to recognize that the woman sitting in the pew next to you in church, the mothers of your children’s friends, the women in the grocery store or at the park may be silently suffering because of the decision they made many years ago. It’s important to be compassionate when speaking about abortion. They aren’t evil women, but rather women who bought the lie of abortion and have come to regret their decision. They can’t have a “do over.” They can, however, receive forgiveness and healing through post-abortion healing programs. They need to hear words of compassion, words that invite them to seek out the hope and healing they long for.
Until recently, our staff was comprised entirely of volunteers. Now we have a part-time development person who is helping raise money. Our hope is to raise enough money to build a center so more retreats can be offered and follow-up programs can be implemented such as, Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women (ENDOW), Theology of the Body (TOB), Natural Family Planning (NFP), Bible studies and other programs to help restore women and men to the wholeness God intended for them. We welcome monetary donations. Your generosity will build scholarship funds to aid those who can’t afford to attend a retreat or go toward the cost of building a permanent center.
The Spiritual Exercises
“Go, and sin no more”
The first spiritual exercise is a reading from John 8:3-11 about the woman who was caught committing adultery. She was made to stand in the middle of the town’s people. The members in the crowd were poised with large stones, ready to throw them at the woman for her sin, as it was the law to stone a woman caught in adultery. They asked Jesus what he was going to do. Jesus said that if anyone among them, had not sinned, let him cast the first stone. Then Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground. One by one each person dropped his stone and walked away. When Jesus stood, he saw that only the condemned woman remained. He asked: “has no one condemned you?” She replied, “no one sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you, go and don’t sin anymore.” This scriptural experience has a profound effect on the retreatants. A stone is passed from person to the person, as it’s passed around the circle, each person becomes the “sinner” and the “forgiver” and it sets the tone of safety—everyone in the room, including the priest, is released from condemnation.
“If I could but touch the hem of Jesus’ garment…”
The next exercise is based on Luke 8:43–48. A woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years with no cure believed if she could touch the hem of Jesus’ garment she would be healed. She came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his cloak. Immediately Jesus felt power leave from him. He asked, “Who touched me?” Trembling and falling at his feet, she explained her suffering. In return, he said to her: “Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace.” This spiritual exercise brings such comfort and healing to a retreatant—kneeling down in front of the picture of The Divine Mercy and asking Jesus for healing.
The LITTLE LIGHTS of Christ
This exercise takes place after the retreatants have told their stories and acknowledged the array of emotions that accompany them – a very emotional time for all. The larger candle represents the light of Christ, the smaller candle belongs to the retreatant and is lit from the Christ candle, thereby receiving the “light of Christ.” The children’s candle is lit from the mother’s candle, symbolizing passing on the light of Christ. This exercise makes their child(ren) real. It gives them a name and they are symbolically lifted up to the care of Jesus in heaven. After each child has been named and honored, there’s an opportunity to sing a song—a powerful one. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine….”
First published in Liguorian magazine – 09/21/2015