For 23-year-old Josiah Presley, the abortion debate, especially current discussions about babies who survive abortion procedures, is neither theoretical nor partisan. It’s personal.
Presley recounts that he was around 13 and depressed from months of believing, deep down, that he didn’t measure up to his peers, when his parents sat him down and explained the back story of his adoption. They had no idea of his inward struggles.
Randy and Kathy Presley had adopted Josiah from a Christian foster agency in South Korea when he was 13 months old. They brought him home to Norman, Oklahoma—where Randy still serves as a music minister—to join a family that would eventually have 11 other siblings, including nine who were adopted. There he found love and nurture and plenty of company.
Josiah’s birth parents, according to adoption documents, had been living together for five years and already had one child when he was born. They cited financial concerns for giving him up. But prior to that, around two months into his birth mother’s pregnancy, she underwent an abortion procedure. Three months later, at about five months’ gestation, she realized there was still a baby in her womb and he was very much alive.
Josiah was born Oct. 7, 1995, by all signs healthy but with a deformed left arm, likely caused by the abortion procedure. Randy and Kathy had already adopted a baby girl, whom they named Elise, from South Korea, and when they learned about Josiah, they felt called to adopt him too.
Instead of adding closure to Presley’s questions and self-doubt, the story of his birth only made matters worse. He grew bitter toward his birth parents, nameless and faceless to him, yet the ones who tried to end his life. Outwardly he feigned forgiveness, but inwardly, bitterness festered.
“That news affected me greatly,” Josiah says. “I thought, I’m even more worthless than I thought because the people who should have loved me the most—my own birth parents—thought my life was so useless or worthless that they tried to take it.”
Needing affirmation from others, Josiah took comfort in working hard at being that “good Christian kid” other parents would want their kids to hang out with. But even with that affirmation, he lacked the ability to make peace in his heart with his birth parents.
“I had a lot of hatred toward them and blamed them for my deformed arm. We don’t know that’s the case, even though it is very likely.”
But peace finally came one evening when Josiah was attending camp at Falls Creek in Oklahoma. The camp pastor preached about the dunamis, or power, of believers in Christ to overcome the world, including bitterness, persecutions and difficulties. In those moments, Josiah realized his efforts at being that good Christian kid were aimed at human acceptance and not at God.
God saved him that night, and a burden was lifted.
“Not long after that, God started to break down those barriers of hatred toward my birth parents,” he says. “One thing that kept ringing inside my head was that He has forgiven me of so much, and I’ve done way worse to God than what my birth parents have done to me. I’ve offended Him way more than my birth parents have offended me.”
And he could suddenly see the deep connections between human adoption and the Gospel message of adoption into God’s family.
“That was paradigm-shifting for me and just the way I went through the rest of high school and college, and even today.”
After surrendering his life to Christ, he began sensing a call to ministry, which led him to Criswell College, a small Christian college in a resurgent neighborhood near downtown Dallas.
Josiah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in May 2018, and now works as Student Success Manager in the Student Services office of the school while also serving part time as youth pastor at a nearby church. He is engaged to be married next fall.
Talking about the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act that has so far failed to gain sufficient traction in Congress, Josiah says, “This is what happens when we have arbitrary lines for personhood. When we don’t have hard, defined lines for what makes a human a human—this is where we end up.”
And if abortion is really something benefiting a woman’s health, he notes, technology would affirm that idea. But instead, technology is showing earlier and earlier that life in the womb is undeniably human, observable and complex.
“We live in a culture that says we should be able to go into what should be the safest place on earth and take the life of the most innocent of human beings. That’s a culture of death. At the end of the day, what’s going to change a culture of death—the only light that’s strong enough to penetrate that kind of darkness—is the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which changes lives. And as believers, as a church, we’ve been given the message of that light. We’ve been given the means by which to take that light into the darkness.”
Josiah doesn’t know the names of his birth parents, but if he had a message for them: “I would want them to know that I forgive them and I don’t hold anything against them. But more so, I want to convey the forgiveness that can be found in Jesus Christ, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I forgive them; it matters that they’re forgiven by God, that they’re cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Photo: Luis DeLuca/Genesis Photos