“The women and the men who come on these retreats, you physically can see the healing in them,” said Michele Smillie.
Smillie runs Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for people seeking healing from abortions. The retreat centre offers post-abortion counselling retreats and assists women and their families in healing
“You can see the change in posture. You can see the change in their demeanours,” said Smillie. “They realize that God doesn’t want them stuck in this.”
Smillie, who partners with Post Abortion Community Services, has been running Rachel’s Vineyard retreats since 2006. Open to men and women, the retreats draw on Scripture to help with healing.
The retreat involves meditations on Scripture passages such as the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well and Lazarus. Retreatants are asked to imagine themselves as part of the biblical scenes.
“We use these Scripture meditations to start bringing forth the emotions about what happened and then to start talking about why they are hiding this,” said Smillie.
“The healing is tangible. We can see it. I’ve seen God work. I’ve seen miracles. I’ve seen changes that, without Him, wouldn’t mean anything.”
There are counsellors and pastors nearby as participants talk about abortion and feelings of anger and shame. Retreatants also name their aborted children, write letters to them and remember them at a Sunday morning memorial service.
“As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I told my doctor, ‘I can’t have this child,’ ” said Sylvie (not her real name), who attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat and is now a retreat leader.
Sylvie was 39 years old and had three young children. She knew Church teaching on abortion, and she was judgmental about those who participated in abortions — until she found herself in their shoes and wishing her pregnancy away.
Sylvie terminated the pregnancy.
Months later in confession, a priest urged her to name and baptize her child.
She approached a baptismal font.
“I went up to the font, put my hand in the water, and I took the water up and put the cross on my palm, and it was at that time that I realized it was a child that I had aborted,” she said.
“The realization came: it was not a blob of tissue. It was a baby. It was a life.”
She was filled with grief, regret and anger.
“There was a rift in our marriage. We were moving apart,” she said of her relationship.
She heard about Rachel’s Vineyard and worked up the courage to attend a retreat in 2010.
“To this day I will never doubt that retreat and what it can do for a person who is seeking healing,” Sylvie said.
She imagined she was Lazarus, bound in the darkness of the tomb, then coming back to life, being released from bandages and stepping into the light.
“These exercises were making me realize that God loves you, unconditionally.”
Though she had confessed the abortion many times, it was at the retreat that Sylvie finally accepted that God had forgiven her and when she was also able to forgive herself.
“I wanted to stand up on a mountain and just shout it out: where I’d been, what I’d felt, and how I had met Christ on that retreat! That’s all I wanted to talk about,” said Sylvie.
“My feeling as I left the retreat was, ‘Yes, I am forgiven.’ You have to process it, but the forgiveness is without doubt.”