“My name is John. I come down here every day because Jesus has called me to be here,” says a man through a white, plastic megahorn, while leaning on crutches in front of the Orlando Women’s Center. The center provides abortions up to 24 weeks and refers patients to locations in Maryland and D.C. for abortions up to nine months.
John Barros is a kind-hearted, middle-aged man who has been going to the clinic every day of operation for nearly seven years. He arrives before the doors open, and he leaves after the doors are locked for the night.
Barros sat down with me over the phone and told me the backstory that began 14 years ago when his pastor invited him to the sidewalk of the clinic. With a hearty laugh, he recalled his instant response, “Why would I want to go down there?”
I imagine most of us would react in a similar fashion.
The late R.C. Sproul, a profoundly respected theologian, author, and pastor, referred to the abortion clinic where Barros works every day as “the very gates of hell – where the worst of all evil is present and manifest.” Sproul thought highly of Barros for his commitment. “My biggest hero,” he called him during an interview on his Renewing your Mind radio show on January 22, 2015.
When Barros went to the clinic on that first day, his eyes were opened. He was distressed – he had to do something. So he went to the clinic on Saturdays as his schedule would allow.
But then he was diagnosed with cancer and informed he had only six months to live. Major adjustments followed.
“I had to fight,” he said. With God’s help, his health was finally restored.
But then, after having back surgery, someone rear-ended him, and he had a spinal cord stimulator implanted in his back. If that wasn’t enough, he was also found to have two brain aneurysms.
“I had to have major brain surgery,” explained Barros. “It took me a long time to recover.”
Barros’ life was turned upside down and inside out. Everything was different now. One day as he thought about the powerful ways God had moved during those Saturdays at the abortion clinic, he decided to go there to pray. As he sat there alone on a brick pony wall lining the property, a young lady walked toward him.
Though the clinic was closed, the woman had already made plans to abort. She and Barros sat on the wall and talked for more than an hour, and after she decided to keep her baby, Barros felt what he called a “crazy kind of warmth” that enveloped him.
“There were no words or voices,” he said, “but I just felt I was supposed to be there.” That’s when Barros began going to the clinic on a daily basis.
After Sproul’s son and grandson had sidewalk counseled at the Orlando Women’s Center, Barros was invited to make a presentation to the elder board of St. Andrew’s Chapel, where Sproul co-pastored until his death.
Barros had so many stories to share, but he knew his time was limited. So he placed photos of seven couples who had chosen life and suggested the elders choose one.
“John, I want to hear them all!” Sproul responded.
“Ever since that day St. Andrews Chapel has taken on a major part of my support,” said Barros. “Not just financially, but he and his wife prayed for me every morning. And he came to the clinic.”
After Sproul went to the clinic sidewalk and worked with Barros, “everything changed” said Barros. “He loved me. And he loved what I did. It was what he wanted to do if he could. But he had much bigger things to do.”
“He always sent people, he always told people to contact me, to get out in the street, to get out into the dark world,” said Barros. Sproul even invited him to speak at a Ligoner conference before 500 attendees. As a result, over 200 pastors from around the world have traveled to serve with Barros at the Orlando clinic, to learn from him before returning to encourage and train their congregations.
Although Barros doesn’t often talk about the mistreatment he endures, there is plenty. There are threats of violence, profanity, name-calling, and spitting. But he realizes their anger is really directed toward the gospel, the Christ he preaches, and he considers it a joyful privilege to share in this kind of abuse for the sake of Christ.
When I asked Barros to share a hopeful story with me, it was difficult for him to choose just one. His voice cracked as he began to share:
There was a mother and a daughter who came. They were Christians. I cherish this story because I believe my main purpose, my number one reason to be there is to keep sisters from making a terrible mistake and not trusting God in this kind of situation.
This mom had brought her daughter, and they had parked in the back and came walking up. I had noticed they had Christian things on their car. I asked, “Are you Christians?”
They said yes. The mom was angry that I was there – that was a given. So, they went in, and the mom kept coming out. You could see that she was very troubled. I kept talking to her every time she came out the door. She just seemed to get angrier. Then, I started preaching.
When I preach a sermon, I'm about 20 feet from the front door. And they can hear every single word I say inside the building. When I was about halfway through my sermon, the mom came out the door dragging her beautiful daughter. She was walking really fast toward me. I was thinking Oh boy, she's going to smack me – she’s had it!
She walked up and she stomped, and she looked me in the eyes, with that angry look on her face, and she asked, "Would you pray for us?"
"Of course I will," I said. I put one hand on the mom's shoulder, and the other hand on the daughter's shoulder. As soon as I said, "Father," they grabbed and held each other harder than I have ever seen two people hold each other. They were literally trembling like nothing I've ever seen. Tears were pouring down their faces – sobbing, hugging each other. And I just kept trying to pray, but it was very difficult. As I was praying, the mom pulled her arm out and placed her hand out with her palm toward heaven, and she said, "Thank you Jesus." And she did not let us go. Yeah, that was incredible!
The week before Thanksgiving this year, Barros received a shocking, impromptu invitation to join the abortion clinic staff for their Thanksgiving meal inside the abortion clinic. He accepted the invitation immediately and walked into the building.
As he sat there and shared a meal with the workers, they thanked him for being there. Even the abortionist, in the process of losing his medical license for competency issues, thanked him for his years of service on the sidewalk.
“While sitting there, I was able to talk to them all one by one,” explained Barros. “I told them I wanted them to leave. And I stood up in the middle of all of them and said, ‘You’ve got to get out of here. You’ve got to stop doing this. You're going to go to hell if you don’t repent. I love you guys with all my heart, and that's why I tell you this. I tell you the truth because I love you.’”
Over the next few days, he was able to have extensive gospel-centered conversations with workers. And several quit. One even committed to visit St. Andrews, where Barros has been a member for the last several years. This isn't new for Barros. In addition to countless mother turnarounds, a total of 18 employees left their stations at the abortion clinic.
Sproul put it this way:
“Each one of them has a living testimony to the grace of God and the power of the gospel. It’s living proof – and proof of life and life in the spirit. It’s one of the most exciting things for us at St. Andrews to be able to help in some small way in this ministry. We are teaching. [Barros] is doing. He’s living it out. He’s reaching people. That’s the glorious thing – how many lives are saved down there at this place.”
Barros and Sproul had a special love and respect for one another. It is unclear which man influenced the other more heavily.
Once Barros lightheartedly told Sproul, “Sir, I know you think you have a pretty good dig, but I think I have you beat by a mile.”
Sproul responded, “John, I think you do."
Sproul and Barros in front of the abortion clinic
Barros preaching in front of the abortion clinic