Yesterday, I saw the providence of God at work in a small, but very encouraging way–texts from two friends who have never met each other.
The Providence of God
I think a good place to start is with a definition of “Divine Providence.”
“Divine providence,” according to one theological website, “is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things. He is sovereign over the universe as a whole (Psalm 103:19), the physical world (Matthew 5:45), the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human destiny (Galatians 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of His people (Psalm 4:8). This doctrine stands in direct opposition to the idea that the universe is governed by chance or fate.”
Walter Elwell, in the online edition of Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, provides a wonderful article in which he defines and explains the doctrine of Divine Providence. I commend it to you.
Arriving at the Emma Goldman Abortuary
I woke up yesterday morning after a fairly restful sleep, at least according to what I have grown accustomed to. Almost immediately I was struck with the thought of going to the Emma Goldman abortuary, in Iowa City (IA). I had no prior plans to minister outside the abortuary yesterday. My tentative plans for the day were to do some writing and spend a few hours crosswalking at one of my favorite intersections.
Without waking Mahria, and without conveying to her my new plan (she wouldn’t be too thrilled with me going alone), I grabbed a bite to eat, packed up my gear, and headed out the door. I was able to do so quickly enough to make sure I arrived at the abortuary before the doors opened for a day of killing children.
For the record: once Mahria learned where I was heading (alone), there was no admonition given or disappointment expressed. She simply told me she loved me and encouraged me to be careful. During the last 30+ years, Mahria has been a cop’s wife, a pastor’s wife, a missionary’s wife, and a street evangelist’s wife. Words cannot adequately convey how much I love her and how thankful I am to the Lord for her.
I prefer to go to the abortuaries with other brothers and sisters in Christ. The fellowship and having more spiritual strength and physical support in numbers are really good things. But sometimes I have to go alone because no one else is available. Certainly, days like yesterday–a day when I made the decision to go about 30 minutes before I walked out the door–render most people unavailable to join me.
I parked a short distance from 227 Dubuque Street. A lady pulled her car into the parking stall next to mine. She was a Roman Catholic who had come to the abortuary to pray. Two other people would join her (another middle-aged lady and a young man). The lady who parked next to me seemed friendly enough. That would change. She also seemed to know who I was and where I was from, although I don’t recall ever previously meeting her.
I donned my audio and video equipment, put on my scarf, coat, gloves, and hat, grabbed my “Stop and Talk” cross from the back of my car, and walked to the grassy area immediately in front of the abortuary.
Each time I go to either of the two abortuaries in Iowa City (Emma Goldman and Planned Parenthood), I do so with the ever-present understanding that I might be cited or arrested. It’s happened twice: May 2017 and February 2020. I’m due to stand trial on the most recent matter, in September.
My plan was to stand outside the abortuary with my cross and engage people as they entered and exited the building. I hadn’t decided if I would preach. I determined I probably wouldn’t engage the Roman Catholics beyond pleasantries. Did I mention those were my plans?
Preached to a Ganesha Worshiper
A man brought his wife to the abortuary. In the backseat of their car was a small child in a car seat. The woman walked into the abortuary, ignoring my pleas to stop and my offers of assistance. The husband stayed in the car with the child.
Both the husband and the wife appeared to be of Indian descent. Affixed to the dashboard of the car was a small, golden statue of the false Hindu god Ganesha (aka Ganapati; aka Vinayaka). This particular Hindu god, one of millions, is distinguished by an elephant’s head. According to Hindu idolatrous custom, Ganesha is errantly worshiped as the remover of obstacles. He is errantly looked upon as the patron of arts and sciences, and he is considered the deity for intellect and wisdom.
This day, the lost couple were likely counting on Ganesha to remove any obstacles from the murder of their unborn child.
I watched as the husband moved from the driver’s seat to the back seat of his car, to sit with his child. I decided to preach the law and the gospel to him. I preached loud enough to ensure he could hear me but nowhere close to full voice.
Roman Catholic Opposed the Preaching of the Gospel
As I was about to draw my preaching to a close, the Roman Catholic lady who had parked beside me in the parking lot now parked herself beside me on the sidewalk.
“Tony, I know that you think you’re being helpful…” She said. As you can imagine, she wasn’t happy with my preaching. In fact, you don’t have to imagine. You can see it for yourself.
Two Texts from Two Friends
Such confrontations are not unexpected. Most of those who adhere to Roman Catholicism, certainly most of those who either frequently or occasionally stand outside abortuaries, do not like the preaching of the gospel–salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. There are a couple of reasons for this. The gospel of Roman Catholicism is in contradiction with the truth (See Galatians 1:6-9)–the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, the typical practice of most Roman Catholics I have seen outside abortuaries is to quietly pray the rosary. So, calling out to people, sometimes loudly, and open-air preaching is offensive to them. Sadly, the preaching of the gospel, and verbally pleading with people not to murder their unborn children is likewise offensive to many professing Christians in the so-called “pro-life movement.”
While not surprising or even rare, the confrontation with the Roman Catholic lady did leave me a bit discouraged. I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was.
Sometime later, I looked at my phone. I noticed I had received two texts: one from a sister in Christ who is a member of my church, and the other from a brother in Christ who lives in Northern California. My two friends don’t know each other. They’ve never met and likely never will.
The first one was from my sister and fellow church member. It came to my phone at 8:30 AM. She wrote:
“God has clothed me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer and sets me securely on the heights. He trains me hands for war; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand upholds me, and Your humility exalts me. You widen a place beneath me for my steps, and my ankles do not give way.
“You have clothed me with strength for battle; You subdue my adversaries beneath me (Psalm 18:32-36, 39 HCSB).”
My friend in Northern California texted me six minutes later, at 8:36 AM. He wrote:
“Tony, I am praying for you today. ‘May the Lord, my rock, be praised, who trains my hands for battle and my fingers for warfare. He is my faithful love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer. He is my shield, and I take refuge in Him.'”
What struck me as remarkable was the similarities in the two texts. Again, my two Christian brethren live 2,000 miles and two time zones apart. They have never met. Both texts were sent at about the time I was engaged with the Roman Catholic lady.
Enemies All Around Me; Rejoice!
When I read my friends’ texts, tears came to my eyes. I immediately began to thank and praise God as I stood in front of the abortuary.
I thought of all of the enemies of the gospel either at, in close proximity to, or just a phone call away from the abortuary.
Enemies of the gospel to my left–three Roman Catholics rubbing beads and praying to a woman who is, albeit, likely in heaven (See Luke 1:46-47; Acts 1:12-14), cannot hear them or intercede for them.
Enemies of the gospel inside the abortuary and in the parking lot.
Enemies of the gospel living across the street from the abortuary–profane and blasphemous college students who hate the preaching of the gospel and are at the very least indifferent to the slaughter of unborn children 100′ from their front door.
Enemies of the gospel, at least a few, on the Iowa City Police Department.
Enemies of the gospel in the Iowa City Attorney’s office.
Enemies of the gospel driving up and down Dubuque Street hurling insults, blasphemies, and displaying one-finger waves.
And I rejoiced.
I was, in a sense, surrounded by the enemies of Jesus Christ and His gospel. I was alone, yet not at all alone.
And I rejoiced.
I was being lifted up in prayer by the brother and sister in Christ who texted me–two friends prompted almost simultaneously who wanted to make sure I was encouraged while on the field of battle.
My three pastors were praying for me.
Several men in my church were praying for me.
Mahria was praying for me.
Christian brethren on social media were praying for me.
Yes, I thanked the Lord for the encouragement. I sought His forgiveness for allowing myself to be discouraged. And I rejoiced in the clear evidence of His divine providence. God was at work. He is always at work.
Providence: God Wasn’t Done
I felt my cheeks begin to stiffen. The reason: I had been smiling for a prolonged period of time.
The smile left when I saw another woman knock on the front door of the abortuary. At the time, I was standing too far away to get to her before the Roman Catholics did. Moments later, she was inside the abortuary. Yet another unborn child would be summarily executed.
I walked down the sidewalk to the corner just north of the abortuary. There, parked along the north side of the side street, I saw a young woman sitting in a car, with a small baby. It was obvious to me that she had brought the last woman to walk into the abortuary. She was waiting for her friend to complete the act of killing her child.
It is unusual for someone coming to the Emma Goldman abortuary to park on the side street. There was parking available in the abortuary’s parking lot.
I stood across the street from the young woman in the parked car. I waved at her to get her attention.
For the next 20 minutes, I talked to her about the mercy and forgiveness of God, which can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ. She had murdered one of her unborn children. Here’s the conversation:
Yes, more evidence of God’s providence.
Had the young woman parked in the parking lot, as most abortuary customers do, the conversation you just watched might not have taken place. But God’s plan was for Michelle to hear the gospel.
How do I know that?
Michelle heard the gospel.
Follow-Up With My Friends
I decided to write this article this morning. So, I texted both my friends and asked them why they sent me the texts when they did.
My sister in my church family replied, in part:
“I had seen your post [about you heading] to Emma Goldman and [I] went to my Bible. I have a list of Scriptures bookmarked under ‘abortion missionaries’ and chose this one because you needed God’s strength as you went out to battle for Him and to stand firm against His adversaries. As I read it, it seemed like the perfect prayer for your mission for the day.”
My brother in Northern California replied, in part:
“I am studying 1 Samuel and I was reading a few of the Psalms that David wrote during that time . . . For some reason, I kept reading until I was in Psalm 144. The Word of God struck me and encouraged me. So, I wanted you to be encouraged as well. You are a faithful brother who probably doesn’t get much encouragement in the midst of the battle.”
What remarkable providence! The sovereign hand of God at work in the lives of His people!
Neither of my Christian brethren who texted me was prompted by the audible voice of God. Both had been reading Scripture. Both thought of me as they read or just after they read the Word. The context of what they thought as a result of their reading of God’s Word was similar. Both decided to text me to encourage me with the Word of God.
It all happened under the sovereign hand of God’s divine providence.
Join me in praising Him.