So how DO you go about choosing the top stories from among hundreds ? if not thousands ? of real-life stories that all took place in a mere 365 days?
To say that it isn?t easy is a huge understatement. But in looking back, it?s clear that a number of themes developed through the course of the year.
These themes tell profound things about the human condition, the Christian response ? and the hand of God in action though a simple project of prayer and fasting, peaceful vigl and community outreach.
With that ? here are the 40 Days for Life highlights of 2015.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD EXPOSED
When the Center for Medical Progress released its video exposes, which showed Planned Parenthood executives casually discussing trafficking in aborted baby body parts for medical research, public opinion about the abortion giant took a nosedive.
While 40 Days for Life was not a part of the Center for Medical Progress effort, the fallout had a definite impact on many campaigns. More people began to see Planned Parenthood as a profit-oriented abortion business and not the benevolent healthcare provider it claims to be.
About half of all 40 Days for Life vigils take place outside Planned Parenthood offices ? including the one in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where people praying on the sidewalk outside met a homeless couple.
They had left Planned Parenthood because they couldn?t afford the fee for a pregnancy test. Volunteers quickly gave them information about pregnancy help centers where there?s no charge for the test ? as well as information about shelters in the area.
?They went for help at a place that is supposed to be an advocate for poor or low income women and families,? one volunteer said, ?and they were turned away. Without money, there was no room for them at the non-profit, taxpayer funded ?inn? of Planned Parenthood.?
In Nashville, people praying outside Planned Parenthood watched as a woman drove into the lot and parked. They asked if she was there for an abortion. ?No,? she said. ?I was going to apply for a job.?
The woman said she was a health care professional. ?But I saw the signs and you all praying ? I changed my mind. I can?t work here!?
MORE ABORTION CENTERS CLOSE
In 2015, five abortion facilities where 40 Days for Life vigils had been held went out of business. One of them was in Manassas, Virginia ? where people had prayed fervently for an end to abortions.
?I bring you good news of great joy!? Mike Baldwin, the local leader in Manassas, announced. ?Our prayers have been heard! After 27 years of abortions, Amethyst Health Center for Women has closed their doors!?
Through heat, rain and snow ? faithful volunteers had prayed outside that facility for years ? prayer that included fourteen 40 Days for Life campaigns.
Mike Baldwin invited the Manassas volunteers to keep praying. There were other 40 Days for Life campaigns in Northern Virginia ? and he also reminded them of the need for continued prayer Manassas ?for protection against another abortion center opening up in our area.?
STEADFAST IN COLD WEATHER
Winter weather can always be a challenge ? but the winter of 2015 raised that challenge to a new level. A kickoff event in Augusta, Maine had to be rescheduled on short notice ? because a blizzard was in the forecast for the original date. As it was, temperatures well below freezing felt even more extreme when combined with massive cold winds.
The wintry blast was not just confined to northern climes. Icy Texas roads were a big concern for vigil volunteers in McKinney. ?On a positive note,? said Paul, the local coordinator, ?Planned Parenthood was closed due to weather ? all week!?
Another winter storm pounded Roanoke, Virginia. And again, while the prayer volunteers were ready to stand vigil, the Planned Parenthood staff took snow days. Sean, the local leader in Roanoke, sent out a great message: ?Zero abortions this week!?
Because Planned Parenthood was closed, he said, ?women who were scheduled to have an abortion ? were not able to keep their appointments in Roanoke.?
THE REALITY OF ABORTION
If you just spend some time at a 40 Days for Life vigil, you?ll see some joy ? you?ll see a lot of heartbreak ? and you?ll come to understand why it?s so important to be there to stand witness.
When a young mom in her early 20s came down the street carrying her son on her hip, one of the 40 Days for Life volunteers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania greeted her.
She responded with ?Hello!? and then added, ?Thanks for what you do,? as she continued to walk by. Then suddenly, she stopped, turned and said, ?Thanks to you, my son is alive.?
During a 40 Days for Life campaign in 2013, she went to Planned Parenthood, determined to sign up for an abortion. When she saw the volunteers praying, she avoided them and went inside. After completing all the required paperwork and ?counseling,? there was nothing left to do but watch a short video.
Bob, the local leader in Lancaster, said ?she couldn?t get those who were praying out of her mind. Suddenly, she realized that they were right ? that ending the life of her unborn baby would be a tragic mistake.?
She stopped the video, got up, left the building ... and never looked back.
At the vigil in Columbia, Missouri, a young man walked up to Kathy, the local 40 Days for Life coordinator, and said, ?Thank you for being here.?
He then blurted out, ?My baby died there.?
Seven years ago, he begged his girlfriend not to abort their child. Despite the urgency of his pleadings, she refused to listen.
This man is now married and looks forward to being a dad. ?I gently reminded him that he already is a dad,? Kathy said, ?and that his child is in heaven and that with God's grace, he would meet him some day. I told him that his baby knew he wanted him ? that he tried to save him and that his baby loved him. He left with something to think about.?
Still, she said, the loss he suffered will be with him the rest of his life.
Many vigil participants will wonder if simply standing and praying really makes a difference. If you ever feel that way yourself, know you?re not alone ? and know that your presence indeed has an effect, whether you see it immediately or not.
Michele in Calgary, Alberta had those feelings. She was alone at the 40 Days for Life vigil, holding a sign with the message ?Women need support, not abortion.?
But then, Michele saw a woman outside the building, talking on her phone. She stopped in the driveway and pointed directly at Michele.
?I thought she was calling the police,? she said. ?Then she crossed the street and came towards me. I braced myself for a tongue lashing.?
But that was not what happened! ?She hugged me and said, ?Thank you, just thank you!? Then she immediately walked away,? Michele said. ?I was stunned. I then cried even harder in thanksgiving.?
Michele said she really didn?t do anything. ?I just stood there with a sign, praying. I was just privileged to be a witness to God?s love and mercy. Our presence and prayers do make a difference ... and we must keep doing it!?
10,000 SAVES ? AND MORE
During the first campaign of 2015, a landmark blessing was noted ? reports of 10,000 babies who are alive today because their mothers rejected abortion and chose life during 40 Days for Life vigils!
Watch the beautiful two-minute video above to see many of the children who have been saved by the grace of God ? and through your prayers and efforts.
But it didn?t end there, of course. The total number of babies saved ? as reported by local campaign leaders ? has now reached 11,165.
Here?s one of the most dramatic stories from this past year.
Two prayer volunteers met with a young woman outside the abortion center in Buffalo, New York, who was about 20 years old and 11 weeks pregnant. She said she was inside and the abortion procedure was about to begin. The staff had set up an IV, but for some reason it just wasn?t working. So they had to start over and try again.
When they tried a second time to administer the IV, the woman called out, ?Stop, stop, stop!?
So they did ? and she left the building!
Vigil participants gave her information about the local pregnancy outreach center as well as additional resources. She took the material ? smiled ? and waved goodbye.
THE REAL WAR ON WOMEN
Volunteers outside abortion centers in the United States ? and around the world ? are noting an increase in the number of ambulance calls at these facilities.
?Despite Planned Parenthood?s very vocal and public assertion that in-clinic abortion procedures are very safe, we continue to witness and receive reports of ambulance sightings,? said Brian Westbrook, the director of the Coalition for Life St. Louis, which conducts the 40 Days for Life vigil there.
?Two ambulances in four business days,? said Alan in Adelaide, Australia. ?My gosh! And they say abortion is safe for women.?
Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses don?t want you to know about this. When they place an emergency call, the abortion center staff will often ask the medical team to arrive at a back door ... and to keep their lights and sirens off.
While some women are injured physically, others are injured emotionally. And some are simply forgotten about once ?the procedure? has been completed.
We?ve heard stories of women who were practically abandoned after their abortions, waiting for rides that never came, ignored by the people inside the abortion center ? even left standing outside in nasty weather after the staff had locked the doors and gone home for the day.
Prayer volunteers will come to their rescue when no one else will. The abortion businesses had already gotten what they wanted. They?d taken the women?s money and their babies. They had no further need for them.
IT?S NOT JUST ABOUT WOMEN
Abortion is always presented as ?a women?s issue.? That, of course, fails to take in the big picture. It isn?t only women; it?s the babies, too ? and the fathers, and the extended families ? and, yes, the entire community.
A young man approached vigil participants in Las Cruces, New Mexico who held a sign that says ?Pregnant? Help is available.?
His girlfriend was pregnant and they had been to Whole Woman?s Health for an initial consultation. They were thinking about abortion, but had no one to talk to and didn?t know what to do.
?He told me he?s never liked abortion and has appreciated our 40 Days for Life campaigns,? the volunteer said. But the young man explained that he just doesn?t feel ready for children.
?I congratulated him and told him that just the fact that he is worried about being a good dad already makes him a better father than half of the guys out there,? the 40 Days for Life team member told him.
?By this point he was beaming and said we were getting him excited about being a dad,? said the volunteer.
40 Days for Life vigils can also touch the very young. ?When my children ask me why women have abortions,? said a 40 Days for Life vigil participant in Missouri, ?I try to keep it simple and say because they are scared or need help.?
When they ask why they pray at abortion facilities instead of just at home, ?I explain we need to be there for those scared moms, so they know they aren't alone, to offer love and help.?
This mom prayed with her children outside Planned Parenthood, then sang ?Jesus Loves the Little Children.?
One of her youngsters stopped her and said, ?Mom, now we need to sing ?Jesus Loves the Scared Mommies? so they know not to be scared anymore.?
?And so I substituted the words and we sang it,? she said, ?over and over. She gets it. She has a heart of gold.?
AN INTERNATIONAL FAMILY
It?s not unusual for 40 Days for Life participants to look for vigils when they?re traveling ? even when they?re very far from home. Some 40 Days for Life participants from Schenectady, New York were in England, where they could not pass up the opportunity to pray at a 40 Days for Life vigil.
?What a blessed trip!? said Glenn, one of the Schenectady volunteers. ?The highlight of this amazing trip was when we prayed with the 40 Days for Life campaign in London. We witnessed a save!?
He described how a woman who changed her mind about having an abortion was crying tears of joy as she embraced Sister Florence right outside the Marie Stopes abortion center in London.
?From across the street where we had prayed so hard for this woman, we rejoiced in the Lord who made it possible,? Glenn said. ?God is so good!?
The 40 Days for Life mission continues to grow in new countries ? and team members are always looking for a way to give back to their communities.
In Cluj-Napoca, Romania, vandals had scribbled pro-abortion graffiti on the walls of a hospital ? right above the spot on the sidewalk where volunteers prayed during the campaign.
Some of the 40 Days for Life participants got the idea to paint over the graffiti. Once word got around, it wasn?t long before someone offered to donate the paint ? and volunteers scheduled a work day.
What followed was an amazing sight. ?We had volunteers, more than a handful of them, who spent over 12 hours in the street painting or praying, depending on the need,? Julia, the local coordinator, said.
?We had the Greek-Catholic bishop come out, in scrubs, to help and to pray! We had priests and seminarians out there painting, cleaning and scrubbing.?
The hospital administrator thanked them, and even the media responded with positive coverage. ?God has certainly turned that unpleasant circumstance into a big blessing for the whole campaign and for the city,? Julia said. ?The painting would?ve cost a few thousand euros but we had absolutely everything donated. Everyone agrees ? Cluj, in many ways, has witnessed a miracle!?
When the call was put out for volunteers for the first 40 Days for Life campaign in Bogota, Colombia, a similar result was noted. The faithful came out to launch the vigil. They came at midnight, and they didn?t go home. Throughout the night, they were joined by others ? and a steady crowd of people continued to pray for an end to abortion throughout the day.
?That first night, in the middle of the night, there were more than 200 people with us to pray for life, for the end of abortion,? reported the team in Bogota.
This was a first effort ? a 24-hour effort ? and a tribute to those who hear God?s call to speak up for the unborn ? and respond.
IT?S WHAT A COMMUNITY DOES
One of the pro-abortion talking points suggests that people who oppose abortion don?t care what happens to the child after the reluctant mother is ?forced? to give birth. Of course, that?s utterly bogus, as we have seen on so many occasions.
Linda, the local coordinator in Fort Collins, Colorado, tells of a mother of three young children who came from out of town ... to abort her fourth child.
?One of the sidewalk counselors told her a story from the Bible that brought her to tears,? Linda said, ?and she decided to keep her child. But her needs are great. She is a single mother. Her other children are all under the age of four.?
This is where the community rallied around her. Though the woman lives several hundred miles away, volunteers were able to find someone in her home town to mentor her, and others to check on her weekly. She was also offered supplies and gift cards to help her take care of her family ? and more gift cards have been set aside to assist her in the future.
?This is what a pro-life community does,? Linda said. ?Even when someone comes from far away, the pro-life network can reach out to help her. This we will be happy to do for any mom who chooses life.?
THERE?S ALWAYS HOPE
If there?s a final thought ? a single message to take away from 40 Days for Life ? it?s hope. That was eloquently expressed by Paula Ellefson, the local leader in Rochester, Minnesota.
?Sometimes we are called to go out and be a light in the darkness even when it?s uncomfortable for us,? she said. ?Ministry isn?t always comfortable. Most often times it stretches us out of our comfort zone.?
Paula was out in front of Planned Parenthood on a day where ?the bitter cold rain has my fingers numb, my nose frozen and dripping, my eyes watering, and my shoes and jeans are no longer dry and comfortable. But the life of a child ? the life of a mother and the life of a father ? is far more important than my comfort.?
While she was standing in prayer, a couple sat facing her in their parked car in front of Planned Parenthood. ?She was crying and he was just staring at me and the other woman praying with me.?
They sat there for ten minutes. They never got out of the car ? but eventually left, pulling out of the parking lot.
Was a life saved? ?I may never know that this side of heaven,? Paula said. ?But what I do know is that it?s important to be obedient to the call of God to be a light in the darkness sharing the truth. Abortion hurts. And there is help ? and there is a better way!?