Editor’s note: Jan. 22, 2023, is Sanctity of Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
DACULA, Ga. (BP) – Not every church is debt free with nearly 100 acres of unutilized land, but glorifying God with the land was an early priority of lead pastor Landon Dowden at Hebron Baptist Church.
“My question was how can we use this property for the glory of God and for the good of our community,” Dowden told Baptist Press. “After all the research, there’s not a single maternity home (for mothers under age 18) in the metro Atlanta area. The closest one is in Savannah, which is about four hours away.”
Other homes exist, such as Sheltering Grace Ministry in Marietta for woman at least 21 years old, and House of Dawn in Jonesboro for women as young as 18. But the nearest home for unwed pregnant women regardless of age is The Living Vine in Savannah.
Since beginning at Hebron in November 2018, the pastor has led the church in planning The Haven, envisioned as a residential pregnancy home for women under the age of 21, with admission allowed at any stage of their pregnancy until eight weeks post-partum. Under Georgia law, the women cannot stay at the home past eight weeks after giving birth.
“If you have a young lady who’s 21 and pregnant and has no place to go, we want them to know we’re building a place for you,” Dowden said. “Which means stricter requirements from the state of Georgia, but we’ve all just had a burden this is the best route to go, to provide a safe place that would be for the most vulnerable, the youngest ones who may get kicked out of their home, or these sorts of things.
“The Lord has blessed us with property and we are in a highly populated area, and there’s a need for a ministry like this. Our folks couldn’t be more excited. … We want to be a blessing.”
Hebron Baptist member Leah Manning, The Haven’s executive director, joined the work in its investigative phase as an answer to prayer, she said.
“I felt like I needed to be involved more in a ministry. I wanted to serve more. I was serving in the preschool, but I just felt like God was calling me to do something more, and I didn’t know what that was,” she said. “I just made it my personal prayer request. I basically said, ‘Put a door in front of me, if you open it, I’ll walk through it.’ I just made that commitment.”
She had worked for the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services immediately after college, and was still drawn to social work.
“I’ve always felt my heart was back in social work, and I didn’t know how I was going to get back there. That’s when Pastor Landon started at Hebron, but he had mentioned something about a maternity home, just on a Sunday morning during church,” Manning said. “He mentioned, maybe that’s something we should start. I touched my husband’s shoulder. Hey, I think that’s what I’m supposed to do.
“God opened the door and I walked through it.”
Hebron Baptist, which averaged 2,000 in Sunday attendance before the COVID-19 pandemic, ended 2022 within striking distance of its $3 million fundraising goal for the home to be built on a 20-acre site with room for expansion adjacent to the church. The congregation owns an additional 80 acres across the street from its campus, Dowden said.
“We have just seen the Lord provide. We’ve been blessed,” he said. “Within two days the Lord brought in $300,000, and so we are within about $200,000 of that $3 million goal. It’s just been really incredible to see.”
The original home, with groundbreaking anticipated this winter, will house up to eight pregnant mothers. The church will be heavily involved in the home’s being built as a separate non-profit, Dowden said, with plans to help the young mothers thrive either in parenting or through placing their children for adoption.
“We won’t pressure them either way,” he said. “We want to meet them where they are, and then figure out what are the next steps we need to do to help them for what’s coming. That’s our goal. It’s not an easy ministry.”
Dowden participates in annual pro-life community prayer walks, and sees the ministry as a logical extension of that work.
“It certainly is easier to walk and pray and get money, and talk,” he said. “And it’s certainly easier to provide care and then send them back to their car or wherever, versus opening up a home where you’re going to care for them around the clock.”
The Haven is partnering with Obria Medical Clinics of Gwinnett, a network of accredited, non-profit and faith-based educational and humanitarian centers for women and their children, as well as fathers who wish to be involved.
Expectant mothers will be screened for admission to the home and then mentored by a live-in married house couple, will attend Bible study and weekly worship services, and will receive training in basic life skills.
“The reality is I have no idea how it’s going to turn out,” he said. “But the Lord gave us a burden and we’re trying to be diligent with our research. He knows already how He will use this ministry, and our responsibility is to be obedient. His responsibility is results.”
The church is studying the possibility of building additional homes on the 20-acre site, perhaps a transitional home to help mothers after they leave the Haven, or a home for elderly widows, thereby impacting both ends of the life spectrum.
“My hope is that there are a lot of lives that are saved,” he said, “not just the babies, but the moms, and that there’s a lot of Gospel impact beyond what we can ask or imagine. Even as we pray, that the Lord knows the little ones that He’s knitting together and the purpose that He has for them here.”