By Mark Ellis
The stately building at the corner of Ransom and Fountain was originally built as a synagogue in 1881. Then the Greek Orthodox Church held services there for many years, followed by a variety of other uses, until the largest abortion provider in western Michigan settled in, killing 20,000 babies over a 10-year period.
“The building – originally created to be a church — was turned into an abortion facility,” says Kurt Dillinger, the founder and president of LIFE International, an organization that establishes life-giving ministries wherever abortion is provided around the world.
Dillinger and another member of his team, Bill Velker, both had unusual dreams within a couple weeks of each other about the building at72 Ransom Street. “I don’t know what to think about dreams, but that’s how the story started,” Dillinger recalls.
In Velker’s dream, he saw several people gather silently at the front door of the abortion facility. They went inside and moved through the rooms, crying as they went. In the dream, the clinic had been vacated in a hurry, with many of the implements of the abortion trade left behind.
On the ground floor, he saw a steep set of stairs that many women had descended to sacrifice their babies. But in the dream the atmosphere changed suddenly. Now women were worshipping and praising God on the same set of stairs, because they had given their lives to the Lord.
Velker had never been inside the building and had no idea the building contained the set of stairs he saw in his dream.
Two weeks later, Dillinger had his own dream about the abortion facility. He saw strange fire fly through the roof of the old synagogue, which rose like a fountain sweeping the earth in an arc. A crowd cautiously approached the extraordinary spectacle. When they got near the front door of the building, the presence of God was so strong they fell to their knees in repentance.
Then a voice said, “I will make this place ten times more powerful for life than it was for death.”
Both men pondered the dreams in their hearts and agreed to seek the Lord about their meaning. For years, they prayed about the building at Ransom and Fountain.
In 1998, a group of sidewalk counselors headed by Mary Verwys with newly formed LIFE International paced the sidewalk in front of the facility, attempting to provide women with alternatives to killing their babies.
The women continued their lonely vigil despite significant resistance from the nursing staff and Dr. Gordon. Gordon began to use a back-alley entrance into the clinic and asked Verwys not to speak with him anymore.
“OK, I won’t speak to you again,” Verwys told him. “But when you see me and I am silent, just remember God loves you with an everlasting love and there is nothing He will not forgive.”
The following year, Dillinger and the staff at Life were shocked to learn the building was for sale. They knew they wanted to reclaim the building for Christ, but with limited resources, they weren’t sure how or when it might happen. They prayed even more fervently as they waited on the Lord.
Three years went by. Mary Verwys rented an apartment next door to the former synagogue. The apartment was situated only six feet away from the abortion clinic, separated by the narrow alley where the Dr. Gordon made his furtive entries. In the apartment they christened “The Upper Room,” a team of intercessors began to pray every Wednesday through Friday as the abortions took place.
They prayed for many things, for the light and life of Jesus Christ to break through the darkness, for the sidewalk counselors to be effective, and about reclaiming the building for God’s purposes.
Fulfilling the dream
In 2003, several pro-life business-people came together and raised the money to make the dream a reality. They finalized a purchase agreement and acquired the property, then gave it to the ministry of LIFE International.
In a strange twist, however, the abortion clinic still had time remaining on their lease and were fully entitled to stay to its conclusion.
For six months, LIFE International became the landlord to the largest abortion clinic in western Michigan. In this unusual situation, Dillinger felt impelled by the Lord to meet privately with the abortionist and share his heart.
“I’ve been praying for you for many years,” he told a surprised Dr. Gordon at their meeting. “I disagree intensely with your work, but God loves you and your life has great value to God.”
Despite Dr. Gordon’s vain plea to continue as a tenant in the building, his “Heritage Clinic for Women” relocated to another building in Grand Rapids a few blocks away.
As Dillinger and Velker finally walked through the abandoned facility in 2004, they realized the fulfillment of the dream implanted by God so many years before.
Some on the LIFE team wept as they entered the forbidding basement where so many babies were lost. There they saw operating rooms that still contained the remains of former patients’ dried blood etched into the linoleum floor. There was the outline of the ominous suction machine, where so many babies were sucked out from the nurturing environment of their mothers’ wombs.
“It’s a place where blood was shed,” Velker noted. The residue of death hung in the air, no less stark than what greeted the first American G.I.’s who toured the killing camps at Dachau and Bergen-Belsen after World War II.
LIFE International decided to leave one operating room as a memorial to the thousands of babies lost. It contains the suction machine, operating table, and other equipment used in abortion.
Shortly after LIFE reclaimed the building for God, Dillinger gathered his board to pray-walk through the facility. As they stood in the hallway near the back door Dr. Gordon used for his clandestine entries and exits, Dillinger began to pray boldly.
“I ask you Lord God, in the name of Jesus, to fill this place,” he said, as his voice lifted in intensity. “Death, you may no longer enter through this door!” he declared.
As soon as Dillinger said amen, the heavy steel door burst open from the inside-out. Then a strong wind rushed in from the outside and it was quiet.
The board members stood and looked at each other in stunned silence. “What was that?” one of them asked.
“I think something just left in a hurry,” Dillinger said.
“It was as if the spirit of death rushed out and God’s Holy Spirit came in,” Raul Reyes, vice-president of LIFE observes. “They had just witnessed an exchange of authority over the building. It was unbelievable.”