Champaign sidewalk counselor saves babies, mothers with love

Photo Caption: Joy Pace stands outside Planned Parenthood’s Champaign Health Center, where she can be found most Fridays when abortions take place and on Wednesdays during 40 Days for Life.

By: By Jennifer Willems

CHAMPAIGN — Joy Pace had been doing pro-life work for a bit when her real education began. The lesson came during a retreat with a good friend, who confided that she had had an abortion.

“That night was filled with lots of tears,” Pace recalled. “She said, ‘Joy, if just one person had been out there praying, I’d have my natural family now.’ It was like a dagger to my heart.”

While she had been praying in front of Planned Parenthood’s Champaign Health Center as part of the pro-life committee from Holy Cross Parish, Pace knew it was time to change things up.

“All right, we’re going to learn how to engage,” she told the committee, which she now chairs. “I’m forever grateful that she trusted me with her story because it’s a very private, difficult thing to share and she was so brave to share it.”

That is just one of the stories Pace planned to tell this week during “Tales from the Sidewalk,” a special presentation to mark the mid-way point for 40 Days for Life in the Champaign-Urbana area. The Lenten prayer campaign started on Ash Wednesday and continues from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day outside Planned Parenthood until Sunday, March 29.

That evening Champaign-Urbana 40 Days for Life and the Holy Cross WATCH Team will host a simple Lenten meal at 5 p.m. followed by a showing of the pro-life movie “Bella.” People are invited to start gathering in the Holy Cross Parish Center, 405 W. Clark St., at 4 p.m.

When Pace talks about engaging people as part of her “sidewalk ministry,” she doesn’t mean confronting them.

“These are women who are hurting. We have to love them into a new position,” she explained. “We have to be available to them. It’s a very soft, practical approach.”

That may mean starting with a smile and a wave. Pace carries information sheets to offer whatever help the women might need to care for their babies and themselves.

“I tell them the story of my friend. I tell them how I was convicted and that’s why we’re here,” she told The Catholic Post. “We want all women whole and functioning. We want all families whole and functioning.”

Pace makes good on her word with the help of the parish committee and many generous donors.

The information sheets also include her home phone number and she’s often out delivering diapers, supplies and food. Other services include job placement, networking and transportation, when possible.

“We look them straight in the eye and they know we’re being very genuine. So it’s a heart-to-heart thing,” she said.

Pace has been doing this for more than 10 years and is seeing the babies grow up and start school. She has been present at births and invited to weddings.

“We now have more than 80 women that we know about who have changed their minds about having an abortion and at least 75 went on to have their children,” she said. “We know about five women who went to have an abortion. Sometimes the pressure is so great that even if we get in there with services it’s just overwhelming and they can’t see their way through.”

Pace said the sidewalk counselors remain hopeful because they know “God can still deliver women.”

“The more people know, the more it helps,” she said. “Love always wins.”

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