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When We Can't Save Everyone

October 2010
By: Anna Somers

A strange sound interrupted our evening meal.

"What's that?" my husband asked.

We stared at each other in confusion. Finally, it hit me. "The hotline phone!" I had been carrying it around for a month, but tonight was the first time anyone called. My husband and I scrambled to find it.

"CareNet Pregnancy Center," I answered as professionally as possible.

The voice on the phone was shy, fearful, and young. "I'm pregnant," she whispered.

Over the next twenty minutes, I found out that the caller was 14 years old and already three or four months pregnant. Both her dad and her stepfather had been regularly abusing her, so she didn't know which one was the father.

I was so upset I was trembling. I knew I'd have to get the authorities involved; however, the girl refused to tell me her name, her address, or her phone number.

"Is there someone at school you can talk to?" I asked.

"I'm homeschooled," the girl answered. "My dad doesn't let me out of the house."

Fighting waves of nausea, I tried every tactic I could to convince this girl to let me help her. Then I heard some commotion in the background. "I have to go," the girl whispered, and she was gone.

I called the police. Since it was a cell phone call, they couldn't trace it. I carried the phone in my pocket for the rest of the month, hoping and praying that she would call back. She did call one more time to tell me that her father had overheard her conversation and planned to take her to an abortion clinic. I begged her to call the police or child protective services. I never heard from her again.

I literally worried myself sick about this girl. I blamed the authorities for not finding a way to help her. I blamed the phone company for not being able to track the call. I blamed myself for not being able to rescue her.

My youth pastor husband finally snapped me out of my reverie of guilt. "You can't keep beating yourself up over this," he told me. My anxiety was sapping my energy, leaving me ineffective to minister in my home and community.

Painfully and reluctantly, I released this girl to the Lord. God, You know where she is, who she is, and what she needs. Only You can help her now.

Sometimes at your PCC, you may find yourself completely incapable of helping those you pour so much prayer and energy into. A teen in your abstinence program will end up with a sexually transmitted infection. A mom you're mentoring will have her children taken into state custody. A client you've begged not to have an abortion will walk into an abortion clinic and terminate her pregnancy.

When clients we've invested in make poor decisions, it is normal for us to react with disappointment, anger, or guilt. Maybe you feel disappointed because the choices your client made will result in painful consequences for her or her family. Or you might feel angry that your client didn't listen to you in the first place. You might even feel guilty that you failed to keep your client from foolish behavior. And while these emotions aren't necessarily sinful, you need to keep them in check in order to continue being an effective servant of Christ.

When I served as a residential counselor at a home-based ministry, I lived, worked, ate, and slept with troubled teen girls. One day I went for a walk after an especially stressful morning. Karlie,* a girl I had been mentoring who suffered from a number of psychological and spiritual disorders, suddenly decided to stop talking. She wouldn't utter a single word. My supervisor was pressing me to find a way to make her talk.

As I walked along the road, I started crying. I was angry with myself for not having more impact on Karlie. I was mad at her for making me look and feel like a failure of a counselor. I was mad at God for putting me in such a hopeless position. "I can't make her talk!" I shouted to God.

I know, God seemed to say. That's the point. Before I met Karlie, I was confident in my own ability to counsel, encourage, and mentor the girls I worked with. It wasn't until Karlie stopped talking that I had to admit I couldn't help these girls on my own.

And that's right where God wanted me. It's easy to rely on our own strength when our ministries are thriving. But sometimes God brings individuals into our lives that we can't rescue no matter how hard we try.

One day at an ice cream parlor, I saw a former client from the pregnancy center. She was actually the first abortion-minded woman I had ever counseled. In the counseling room five months earlier, she had confessed that she didn't want an abortion (her first one had terrified her and left her emotionally scarred) but didn't feel like she had any other choice. By the time we finished talking, I felt like she was more likely to keep her baby than not. I felt proud of myself for saving her child's life and for sparing her from even more heartache and trauma than she had already experienced.

When I saw this client five months later, she should have been showing, but she wasn't. I tried to say hi, but she avoided my smile. She had either miscarried or, more likely, had an abortion.

Yes, I was sad. But I also realized that this woman was responsible for her own actions. My job was to share the truth with her (which I had), pray for her (which I did), and love her with the love of Christ, regardless of the choices she made.

When we release our clients to the Lord, we recognize that it is God's power, not ours, which changes them. When we see spiritual progress in their lives, we can give God the glory instead of taking the credit for ourselves. And when those we try to help stumble and fall, we can entrust them to the Lord, who alone is able to pick them up and get them back on their feet.


*Not her real name


Anna Somers started volunteering at a pregnancy center six years ago. She occasionally helps with the Anchorage CPC newsletter and looks forward to the day when she can get back to peer counseling on a regular basis. She now lives in Alaska with her husband and three young boys.

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