A couple sits on a beach illuminated by lanterns.

Live in the Light

There’s a special word for the baby inside a mother. It’s not a fetus or an embryo or an accident or merely a potential human being. A mother carries the image of God inside her. The child is a reflection of His love.

When Krista Garner was born, her mother was only 14. Then, at 22, Krista faced her own unplanned pregnancy.

“It’s always in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t be here if my mother had chosen an abortion,” says Krista, mother of two.

Krista spent her college years living with her boyfriend, Alex, but their relationship was filled with constant fighting. After graduation, she decided to leave him and start a new life.

“My car was packed with everything I owned, I was ready to leave town—and then learned I was pregnant,” she says. “I didn’t want the baby. I was about to start a new life, and Alex and I were no longer together. It made no sense to have a baby.”

Krista told Alex, but he didn’t want to be a father any more than she wanted to be a mother, so they sought an abortion. They went to Crossroads Pregnancy Center, Lewistown, Pennsylvania, to confirm the pregnancy, find out where they could get an abortion and learn what it would cost.

“That day is one I will never forget,” Krista says. “The test results were positive and the information was plentiful. Our emotions were crazy!”

The pregnancy center counselor explained all options to the young couple, including what an abortion entails and the feelings a woman might expect afterwards. They were also told about the child’s development in the womb.

“Everything we learned was very overwhelming and a smack in the face with reality,” Krista says. “Both Alex and I were in tears

as we realized that an abortion was actually taking a life—the life that was growing inside me. It had a heartbeat! I would be taking the life of an innocent child because of a mistake we had made. That was unfair. That child was innocent.”

The couple left the pregnancy center shaken but certain that an abortion was no longer an option. “We were leaning toward adoption, something that would give the baby life but wouldn’t entail our caring for a child,” Krista says.

Despite his fears of fatherhood, Alex tried to make things work with Krista. Their relationship became progressively worse, and the couple separated. “It wasn’t until I stood completely alone that my outlook changed,” Krista says.

Raised with Christian values, she had abandoned them in college. Now she reached out with faith. “I began to pray and talk to God on a regular basis, attend church and receive encouragement in my faith through the pregnancy center,” she says. “I was pregnant and unemployed—but God brought me to a place of peace. I felt that I could be a single mom and give my child a good life.”

Almost seven months later, Krista gave birth to a son, Kyler. Alex held his son for the first time and fell in love with his little boy. Krista continued to share her faith with Alex, encouraging him to be part of Kyler’s life. Two years later, the couple married, and today they have two children. Alex has accepted Christ and the parents are raising their children in the faith.

“I would be on a dark path if I had chosen abortion. I would have lived very unhappily and been full of guilt for the rest of my life,” Krista says. “Kyler was a saving grace in my life.”

Through her experience, Krista encourages women in similar circumstances to consider all the lives involved. The Lord can bring good out of a bad situation.

“If you’re willing to be selfless instead of selfish, the pregnancy presents a whole new opportunity to love someone who has the world at their fingertips,” she says. “That child is a blessing in disguise. Life really is precious.”

A still from the movie Bella.
Tammy Blanchard and Eduardo Verástegui play Nina and José. Their day together changes everything for them. bellasite.com

The Birth of Bella

A distraught young woman is pregnant and ready to schedule an abortion in a movie called Bella. But things don’t go as she planned as she spends a day with a quiet chef who, hiding his own secret, wants to show her that life is beautiful.

In Spanish, the word bella means “beautiful,” an apt name for a movie that explores life, faith and family. It’s an engaging tale that will stay with you for days, weeks or longer.

As is often true of independent films, Bella came in through the side door, unannounced. Shot in just 24 days, Bella won the People’s Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival. After an early screening, singer Tony Bennett took the microphone from the film’s star, Eduardo Verástegui, and said, “This movie is a masterpiece. Every single American should see it.”

Churches, Latino groups and other organizations took his advice, forming a grassroots network of support that eventually led to a general release of the movie in October 2007. The film did reasonably well at the box office, earning $8 million in theaters and more since release on DVD. More important, it inspired viewers to make changes in their own lives.

The project started when writer/director Alejandro Monteverde was driving to Los Angeles, having just graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, film school. He worked out the plot as he drove west.

“I wanted to make a film that had a positive message,” he says. “As I was driving, a whole story came to me. It was like someone was whispering to me,” he says.

Eduardo, an old friend of Alejandro’s, was already in Southern California, pursing his acting career. Though new to Hollywood, he found jobs easily at first. However, he “felt empty and lost,” he says. “I realized Latinos are stereotyped as bandits, drunks, womanizers. Those were the kinds of roles I was playing. I was poisoning society with my work.”

Prompted by an English teacher, he recognized his true need: faith in Christ. “It hit me that I wasn’t born to be a producer, an actor, a famous singer. I wasn’t born to be a doctor or a lawyer. I was born to love and to know and to serve Jesus Christ.”

As if by arrangement, Eduardo and Alejandro met up about this time in L.A. Alejandro told his friend about the story that had come to him on the drive to California. Eduardo loved the idea, and the two formed a company to produce Bella.

The story is unusual for a Hollywood movie. For one thing, it is unashamedly pro-life. Also, the film doesn’t preach—as Alejandro had determined while writing the screenplay. “I was talking about a sensitive subject matter,” he says, “so I always went back to reasoning and compassion.”

The main character, José, is a listener, not a man with all the answers. “St. Francis said, ‘Go out into the world and preach the gospel, and only use words if necessary,’” Alejandro says. “I didn’t want José to talk. I wanted him to listen.”

Or, as Eduardo says, the key to Bella is “what comes from the heart goes to the heart.”

Bella is definitely from the heart. The message is simple: Being human can be difficult but grace is always ready to surprise us.

Movie Review: Bella

Bella is a love story. It celebrates infants, mothers, fathers, siblings and the relationships cherished by people all over the world.

Even though the word is barely mentioned, it is also about abortion—and death, guilt, shame, lost causes and some of the least appealing aspects of life. That sounds like an awfully dark movie. But it is, in fact, a movie very much in the light.

It’s about two people who are overwhelmed by fears and circumstances. But at its center, the movie is even more sharply focused on two unseen people: a child who is dead and a child who may soon be dead. These unseen characters animate the actions of the two appealing characters that we come to know at the deepest level.

In just over 90 minutes, the makers of Bella tell the story of chef José and a temporarily unemployed waitress, Nina. He is recovering from a deep, brutalizing wound and she is on the cusp of an irreversible mistake. In glancing looks, a few lines, a scene around a family table and a walk through New York neighborhoods, the viewer slowly gets to know these characters and their motivations.

Hiding behind José’s dense, ungainly beard, it’s hard to tell that actor Eduardo Verástegui is movie-star handsome. In the guise of the chef, his burdens are eloquently communicated through his eyes. He speaks rarely, and his story emerges slowly.

Equally compelling is Tammy Blanchard as the unhappy Nina. The audience knows about her problem very quickly. Through the early stages of the story, she seems to be the only person lugging a huge weight on her back.

In the classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian carries the weight of his burdens on his back. This weight is his sin, which he finally throws off at the foot of the Cross.

Much the same as Pilgrim, the main characters in Bella are bearing burdens that are crushing their spirits and lives. But by God’s grace, they have not come together by chance; they have come together to help free each other from guilt and potential sin.

Adding power to the story are a team of first-rate actors playing José’s parents, brothers and a friend. In a few scenes, particularly a dinner that is a valentine to familial love, they help the filmmakers achieve one of their goals—breaking the stereotypical portrait of Latinos on film. This jostling, joshing, meddling, ingratiating group is the family so many of us want.

Movies about abortion aren’t typically referred to as sweet, but Bella is a life-affirming story with quiet power. Get it on DVD to be entertained and inspired.

A still from the movie 'October Baby' featuring Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey.
During a road trip, Hannah, played by Rachel Hendrix, is searching for her birth mother. She is accompanied by her friend, Jason, played by Jason Burkey.

The Birth of October Baby

A pair of 30-something brothers—already successful at making music videos, reality TV shows, documentaries and commercials—had been picking through ideas for their first motion-picture drama. Then, seemingly out of the blue, Jon Erwin approached his brother, Andy, with a script Jon had written in secret.

“Read it.”

“What is it about, Jon?”

“It’s called October Baby and it’s going to be our first feature film. It’s about an abortion survivor.”

The script had grown out of an evening when Jon heard a speaker, Gianna Jessen, who survived an abortion attempt and now lives a full life. As a pro-life Christian, Jon was deeply moved by Gianna’s testimony. As a filmmaker, he was inspired to fictionalize the story. October Baby is the tale of a young woman who discovers she is an abortion survivor.

As he was reading it, Andy realized his brother had drafted something very special.

“It really was compelling and human,” Andy says, “and it came from an angle on the abortion issue that I had never looked at before. It’s dramatic, thought-provoking and it’s a hot-topic issue. But at its core, it’s this love story and this beautiful story of forgiveness.”

Avoiding the temptation to overdo the melodrama, the movie asks important questions:

  • Is the baby in the womb anything other than a human being? It’s a baby, the film says.
  • Does the baby have value? Yes, the film says.
  • Do mothers always get the choice they expect? No, sometimes the Lord has something entirely different in mind.

For actress Shari Rigby, who plays the film’s birth mother, the film was a cathartic experience. In October Baby, the birth mother and her now-adult daughter meet for the first time.

“Just like my character, I had worked in a law office,” Shari says, recalling herself near age 20, “and I didn’t want people to know that I was pregnant. So I had an abortion.”

No one knew except her and the child’s father. While reading the script, Shari realized she had to tell the secret. When she rededicated her life to Christ at age 21, she had prayed for forgiveness. Now, married for seven years to a godly man, she had to tell him for the first time, too, and seek his forgiveness.

“I told him and we cried—just held each other and cried,” she says.

In a crucial scene within the movie, Shari’s character receives a note of forgiveness from her daughter. After reading it, Shari had to slowly break down and crumble to the floor in deep sobs. This was not acting for Shari. These were deeply personal moments of grace, she says.

“God showed up as we filmed. When I looked at Rachel, I felt I was looking into the eyes of the little girl I aborted 20 years ago. Waves of emotion hit me—feelings of shame and loss.

“But we know from the Word that we are forgiven if we ask,” she says. “I visualized my little girl writing that note and God just coddled me and shared with me. I really mourned for that little girl. It was such a cleansing moment for me and a moment of real forgiveness.”

Movie Review: October Baby

Actresses Jasmine Guy and Shari Rigby deliver powerful performances in October Baby. The movie is a rarity for Hollywood—it’s staunchly pro-life. It tells the tale of a 19-year-old woman who discovers that, prior to her birth, she survived an attempted abortion.

Jasmine plays a former abortion clinic nurse, bone-tired and weary. Known primarily for TV roles, Jasmine brings subtlety and depth to the part. In a riveting long take, she meets with abortion survivor, Hannah, and describes the attempted abortion in unsettling terms.

Shari excels as the long-gone birth mother and central to her performance were events from her own life. At a critical point in the movie, Shari displays the raw, real emotion of a woman whose past has rushed into her present like a tsunami. It wasn’t an act, as Shari says in “The Birth of October Baby,” above.

Though their screen time is limited, the roles these actresses inhabit are essential to the story. Take away the heartfelt acting of Jasmine and Shari and the movie would almost be a blank canvas. Fortunately, the film offers several other high points.

The rest of the cast combines appealing young actors backed by a collection of seasoned pros. Rachel Hendrix connects as Hannah, a college student who discovers she is a survivor. Jason Burkey is equally effective as the concerned friend. If you are an American Idol fan, watch for an amusing VW van driver played by bearded Christian singer Chris Sligh, who was top 10 Idol finalist in 2007.

John Schneider, who you may remember from TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard, portrays the adoptive dad. He’s a little grizzled here and sometimes tough, but the love a father has for his daughter comes through. There are also good turns by actors in smaller roles, such as a consulting doctor, a veteran police officer and a Catholic priest.

The appearance of the Catholic priest is a nice ecumenical touch. Though Hannah is a self-proclaimed Baptist, the character seeks refuge in a Catholic church late one day. She needs wise counsel and the priest is there to dispense.

There are a few production quibbles worth noting. The film suffers from too many montages backed by flaccid Christian pop, and there is a wee bit too much talking in some scenes. Still, October Baby is at the top of the recent crop of Christian-themed movies shown in theaters. Its production values, script and acting set it apart.

Though the theatrical run of October Baby is mostly complete, look for the DVD coming in mid-September. It’s a keeper.

After the Film Ends: A Cry for Forgiveness

With the success of the theatrical release of October Baby, churches are the next venue for this exceptional pro-life story. The filmmakers are now licensing the movie for church showings starting July 9. That’s good news as long as pastors and other ministry leaders understand that the subject matter requires special care and considerations.

There may be a pregnant mother in a congregation considering an abortion. Also, most churches have members who have had abortions for which they may need forgiveness. Viewing October Baby may bring secrets to the surface and uncover emotional wounds requiring wise and tender treatment.

Andy Erwin, codirector of the movie, says, “The movie will help a lot of churches talk about this. That’s what’s needed because there are a lot of people in the churches living in kind of a silent shame. They wonder, ‘Am I the only one?’”

For pregnant women, church leaders should be able to offer guidance, the names of counselors experienced in this field material assistance, such as clothes, diapers, furnishings and even housing.

For the post-abortive woman, there are ways pastors can make the church a safe haven for those who need God’s forgiveness to heal this area of their lives.

After decades counseling and working on behalf of post-abortive women and men, Sydna Masse of Ramah International recommends these practical steps for church leaders. The first should be taken even before showing October Baby or any pro-life movie for an entire congregation.

  • Recognize that there are women in your congregation who have had abortions or there are fathers who assisted in making sure abortions took place. There could even be a woman in church currently contemplating abortion.
  • Do not treat abortion as a special category of sin.
  • Lay a foundation for addressing the issue by using the word abortion from the pulpit when addressing human failures. Reassure people that God will forgive abortion just as He forgives stealing, lying, adultery and other sins.
  • Before scheduling the movie, find a pro-life organization in your community that offers counseling for post-abortive women. Some in the congregation may need this resource.
  • Do not elicit public confession or put anyone in a position where their secret will be revealed during movie night. Because this is a private matter, most people who seek counseling first reach out via email. Make sure those who see the movie know the email addresses for church leaders or outside experienced counselors, who can be found through most pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.

“The greatest gift I ever received was something that Dr. James Dobson said to me years ago,” Sydna says. “He said, ‘God forgives you.’ He was the first one who ever said that to me and he went on to say, ‘You are welcome here, supported here and we love you here. We don’t judge you and we won’t cast stones.’”

“That is exactly the message that the church needs to send to women and men.”

An Adirondack chair sits among lanterns on a beach with the Bible verse Jeremiah 1:5

Reasons for Hope

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 changed the legal landscape regarding abortion. Instead of greeting this unfortunate anniversary—40 years ago next January—with anger and despair, it can be met with hope.

There’s a growing recognition that life is precious.

  • In the most recent Gallup poll, 50 percent identified themselves as pro-life. When the pollsters first asked in 1995, only 33 percent called themselves pro-life.
  • In the same recent poll, those who identified themselves as pro-choice reached a new low at 41 percent.
  • During the healthcare debates of recent years, about 70 percent say they do not want taxes to subsidize abortions.
  • Pro-life organizations have been taking the cause to the public for decades.
  • Thousands of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are helping pregnant women everyday.

All this brings hope.

In the opening of this story, Krista Garner recalled her own decision to abort. While seeking help at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center, she was shown how her baby was developing and thriving. By the time she left the clinic, she had decided to keep the child, a boy.

Krista’s story is not unusual, says Sydna Masse, who has been counseling post-abortion mothers since the early 1990s. Pregnant women reverse their decisions to abort for many reasons. Among the most common are that they have:

  • received convincing information at a pro-life clinic.
  • visited an abortion clinic and are so repulsed by what they see or learn that they simply can’t go through with it.
  • considered the procedure deeply, but in a moment realize that they must face the fact that they are carrying a life inside.
  • noticed someone with a baby and, facing the truth of life, they reverse themselves. It may be that they run into a friend while shopping or see a baby on a blanket at a park. The simple fact of seeing a baby can change everything.

Just as an abortion would have been kept secret, even the decision to keep the baby is held close by most women. They may never speak of it, says Sydna, director of the post-abortive ministry Ramah International who worked in a similar capacity with Focus on the Family from 1991 to 1998.

“They are often embarrassed and even ashamed that they ever considered an abortion, so they seek to keep this fact silent,” says Sydna, author of Her Choice to Heal. “So there is the same secrecy surrounding a life decision as there is the decision to abort!”

As noted, there is hope in the work of various pro-life groups in this country and others. If you are a woman who needs information or help, or you want to become more involved in the ending abortions, here are organizations to contact:

  • Option Line. This is a 24/7 toll-free hotline for women needing information and assistance regarding pregnancy. 800/712-4357; for live chat or email, www.optionline.org
  • Heartbeat International. This worldwide pro-life leader has a network of crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes, adoption agencies and abortion recovery programs. Also active in taking the pro-life message to Congress and other governmental agencies. www.heartbeatinternational.org
  • Care Net. A network of more than 1,000 crisis pregnancy centers. www.care-net.org
  • Ramah International. Under the title Her Choice to Heal, this organization offers small-group materials and other guides for post-abortive women. www.ramahinternational.org

Heartbeat International, a leader in pro-life work around the world, helped arrange Krista Garner’s interview.