Sylvia Johnson served as executive director of two Care Net-affiliated pregnancy care centers in the Houston suburbs. But she had a vision to open a facility where it was most needed: the inner city. Johnson told her dream to John Keeler, who volunteered at the centers.
Keeler, a commercial real estate broker, identified a building to lease and others lent their expertise as well. A friend from Johnson's Bible study, Richard Rainer, oversaw the remodeling, rallying building contractors, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to donate materials and labor.
The Houston Fifth Ward Pregnancy Help Center opened last year. In August, 45 abortion-minded clients changed their minds and decided to keep their babies. Forty women and girls who visited the center became Christians. Before the Fifth Ward facility opened, neighborhood residents had to ride three different buses to reach the nearest pregnancy care center.
Johnson's experience represents a new paradigm in the pro-life movement. Pregnancy care centers are opening in the inner city, staffed by volunteers from various neighborhood churches. Eight area churches staff the Fifth Ward center with 60 volunteers.
"We should have been here 15 years ago, but thank God we're here now," Johnson says. "If we plug these women who accept Christ into churches, this entire nation could be changed."
Johnson isn't alone in seeing a need. Two years ago, Care Net, which has helped develop 975 pregnancy centers, began identifying underserved major metropolitan areas, according to president Kurt Entsminger. Besides the center in Houston, 15 independent centers have opened with Care Net's logistical and financial support in cities such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. They typically provide a wide range of services, including free ultrasounds, individual counseling, and nutrition classes.
"The abortion tragedy has a disproportional impact upon minority communities," said Entsminger, whose organization hopes to assist in opening 35 additional urban centers in the next three years. "Most pregnancy centers are in the suburbs, but we need to locate where they are most needed." According to Entsminger, Hispanics and African Americans obtain 57 percent of all U.S. abortions, even though these minorities together represent only one-fourth of the female population.
Heartbeat International, based in Columbus, Ohio, is building relationships with Miami congregations in the hope of eventually opening up to five pregnancy care centers in the city, which has 37 abortion facilities. If the Miami pilot project works, Heartbeat will take the initiative nationwide. John Ensor, executive director of the organization's Urban Initiative Program, says Miami has only three pregnancy care centers now.
"Financial support has to come from a broad spectrum of churches for them to be sustained," Ensor said. "They must be staffed by volunteers from the local churches."
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Pregnancy care centers mentioned in the article include Care Net, Fifth Ward Pregnancy Help Center, and Heartbeat International.
A list of similar care centers can be found online.
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