by Sydna Masse

Ten years ago, after moving into a new neighborhood, I met Diane. She had three children?one near the age of my son, Bruce?and she lived directly behind our house. For nearly two years I would often chat with her and join her family on walks around the neighborhood.

I never learned Diane?s last name. But I knew she loved the Lord. Ever since I?d had an abortion as a teen, I had felt estranged from God; with the birth of Bruce, I finally understood what a precious life I had lost so many years earlier, and I longed for the peace Diane had.

One night in May 1990, my husband, Tom, and I were out with our son when Diane and her children came around the corner with a handsome, well-built man. She introduced him as her husband, Brian. He seemed angry and spoke only a quick hello. After chatting for a few minutes, Diane caught his stare and made an excuse that they needed to be moving along.

As they walked away Brian gave Tom and me a stare that sent a shiver up my spine. From that point on my relationship with Diane changed. She was no longer a fortress to me but was instead a simple woman trying to walk with the Lord in a difficult marriage. I hugged her more and encouraged her often.

In September of that year, a news report shocked our community. A mother of three had been shot outside a support-group meeting. The assailant, wearing a ski mask and military fatigues, had fled down the alley. The weapon was found the next day and traced to a woman, who was arrested and charged with murder. There was allegations that she had been romantically involved with the victim?s husband.

The papers soon reported that the dead woman?s husband had been arrested as an accessory to her murder. The papers also reported the address of the victim. Tom and I read in disbelief?it was our own Diane.

My thoughts went back to that evening in May and Brian?s angry countenance. It all made sense now. Instead of blaming Brian, though, my anger turned toward the accused murderer, Jennie. I hoped Brian was innocent. That way Diane?s children might still have one parent. Deep down I knew I was fooling myself, but hating Jennie eased my grief. I asked God, "Why did I have to know Diane? Why do I have to feel this grief and hatred? She could have lived anywhere else in the city."

In December 1991, Jennie was sentenced to spend the rest of her natural life in prison with no chance of parole. A few months later, Brian was put away for 28 years. The children went to live with their grandparents.

The trials were over, and both were in prison, but I found no release from the pain. Just two months later I was at a Bible study on Matthew 18:21-35, the story of the unmerciful servant. Jesus ends the parable with these words: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

I asked God whom I needed to forgive, expecting it would be someone connected with my abortion experience. I did not want the answer I got: Jennie. I pleaded, "Lord, she killed a mother of three and my friend!"

Immediately I thought to myself, And I killed my first child. How am I any different? I knew that had society?s rules been different, I would be in prison for murder too.

That truth hit like an arrow through my heart?Jennie and I were the same! If I didn?t forgive Jennie I would be like the unmerciful servant, and God would hold me accountable.

It became obvious that the Lord wanted me not only to forgive Jennie but to reach out to her. Writing my first letter to her was difficult. I was a stranger, and any such letter asking for forgiveness needed to be carefully worded. When I placed the letter in the mailbox, peace filled me. My anger was gone, and I understood why God makes forgiveness such a high priority in the Christian?s life. Anger and bitterness hurt us more than the ones they are directed against.

A few days later I received a letter from Jennie. She began by asking for my forgiveness. It turns out that she had accepted Christ in prison. Such a development was unexpected and overwhelming, and soon we began a writing relationship. Two years later I finally got to meet her in person.

I was struck by her beauty and sincerity. Jennie was nervous, as was I, but we soon fell into conversation. Several hours later, as I got up to leave, she placed her hand on my arm and said, "I?ve had two, you know."

"Two what?"

"Two abortions, Sydna. No one is ministering to us here in the way that you experienced. I believe that easily 60 to 80 percent of this prison?s population have had abortions."

As I drove home, I asked the Lord for direction. At that time I was employed as Focus on the Family?s manager of Crisis Pregnancy Ministries. It seemed natural to begin encouraging crisis pregnancy centers to reach out to prisoners. Some accepted the challenge and soon discovered how difficult it is to be permitted into a prison for ministry.

In July 1997 I was preparing to address a group of crisis pregnancy center volunteers in Grand Rapids, Mich. A beautiful young woman sat down at my table and introduced herself as Valerie Cook. Her father was the new president of Prison Fellowship. Prison Fellowship could open the prison doors to postabortion ministry! This "chance" meeting confirmed a prayer, and I felt led to share the story of forgiving Jennie to encourage others to forgive. As a result, within a month the Pregnancy Resource Center of Grand Rapids went to work on a joint proposal with Prison Fellowship to develop a pilot postabortion program in two women?s prisons.

It had taken months for my heart to soften and convict me of my need to forgive Jennie, but without that one step of obedience I wouldn?t have had the blessing of being a part of seeing the prison postabortion ministry come to fruition.

I thought back to that time years ago that I asked God, "Why did I have to know Diane only to lose her?" Now I know why. From her tragic death postabortion women in prison will have the opportunity to learn of the One who forgives them. The One who can take them to the end of bitterness, as He did with me, to forgiving themselves and others.

Reprinted by permission, Focus on the Family.