More than 50 percent of pregnancies among American women are unintended and half of these are terminated by abortion, according to research from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm for the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Each year, three out of every 100 women age 15-44 have an abortion. At current rates, an estimated 43 percent of women will have at least one abortion by the time they are 45 years old.
The North American Mission Board has been challenged to educate Southern Baptists on the alternatives to abortion. To that end, the Alternatives for Life Ministries exists to assist churches, associations, and state conventions in providing ministries to women who are facing crisis pregnancies or who have experienced abortion.
Lura Sheppard was named director of the ministry, formerly Alternatives to Abortion Ministries, in April 1997. In connection with Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, January 17, SBC LIFE talked with Sheppard about her role and the direction of the ministry.
SBC LIFE What is the primary function of Alternatives for Life Ministries?
Sheppard To set-up, train and follow-up with Crisis Pregnancy Centers across the United States. When I took the position, we had thirty-eight CPCs. Since April, we have set up and trained volunteers to work in twelve more, bringing the total to fifty.
SBC LIFE What is your vision for this ministry?
Sheppard I would like us to be a resource and support to our states, associations, and churches in crisis pregnancy ministry and to use the crisis of suspected pregnancy for evangelism. I want the focal point of the ministry to be evangelism, to change the lives of the women who come into our centers. There is no life change without Christ. About 50 percent of our work is abstinence counseling. Women come in who think they are pregnant, and find out they aren't. That's a great opportunity to introduce them to Christ.
SBC LIFE What is the reason for changing the name of the ministry from Alternatives to Abortion to Alternatives for Life?
Sheppard We felt it was a more positive approach to what we do. We don't just deal with abortion counseling, but also abstinence and lifestyle counseling. The new name also fits better with our strong evangelism approach. In my training sessions, I tell the volunteers the first choice we hope these women make is Christ.
SBC LIFE How did you become involved in pro-life causes?
Sheppard About five years ago, my family lived in Kentucky, and I worked in human resources in the insurance industry. Planned Parenthood was assigned to me as a client. One day, I had to call on their offices, and there was a young college student there for abortion counseling. I became burdened to find out what I could do and what I believed about abortion. The Lord led me to Psalm 139, and I began to get involved on the political side of the pro-life movement. I marched and held signs and took part in a life chain. I volunteered in a pregnancy care center.
We moved to Georgia, and I began working in the human resources department at the (then) Home Mission Board. I believe God was readying me for this ministry because for more than twenty years, I have been involved in training and that's the main focus of Alternatives for Life Ministries.
My heartbeat is for promoting a hands-on ministry, and for the directors of the Crisis Pregnancy Centers. I have found my training/human resources background experience to be invaluable with the CPC directors and their volunteers.
SBC LIFE How can pastors and churches best be involved in this ministry?
Sheppard If there is already a CPC in their area, they can volunteer in the center. I encourage Sunday school classes or other groups in churches to adopt the center as their project. Throw a baby shower for the center and provide baby and maternity clothes. Sponsor a counseling room and decorate it for the center. Provide the center with literature for counseling and for evangelism. Most centers need volunteers and donations and support from the local church.
If there is not a center in the area, consider starting one. The Alternatives for Life Ministries office will train volunteers and walk you through the process step by step.
The main thing I encourage people to do is to become educated about abortion and educate others. Get involved in your community. Learn the abortion voting records of your state and national senators and representatives. Write your senators/representatives, asking them to initiate or support legislation on pro-life issues. Write your local newspaper or sponsor an ad. There are so many things people can do. The first step is to become aware.
SBC LIFE How effective have CPCs been?
Sheppard In 1997, our CPCs saw 26,292 clients. From that, 2,768 babies were born, forty-seven were adopted, and 785 people made salvation decisions. Keep in mind that half to three-fourths of the women who come into our centers are not pregnant.
A Sampling of CPC Ministries
Crisis Pregnancy Center
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Ministry of Oklahoma Baptist Children's Homes
Established twelve years ago
Monthly Stats: 75-100 Clients, 10-15 Births, 10 Professions of Faith
Evidence of God's work: A pregnant 16-year-old girl was living in her car with her boyfriend and small son. The center helped find housing, provided baby supplies, counseling, and parenting classes. She placed her faith in Christ.
Full Circle Pregnancy Resources
Ministry of First Baptist Church, Athens
Established less than one year
Monthly Stats: 15 Clients, No Births or Professions of Faith Yet
Evidence of God's work: A 31-year-old single mother of two came in for pregnancy test. She said she thought she was a Christian but wasn't sure. The pregnancy test was negative. The staff shared the plan of salvation and continue to minister and witness to her.
CPC of Southwest Oklahoma
Established four years ago
Monthly stats: 90 Clients, 8 Births, 6 Professions of Faith
Evidence of God's work: A mother and father brought their 13-year-old daughter in for a pregnancy test which was positive. A few days later, unbeknownst to the CPC staff, they took the girl to an out-of-state abortion clinic. The parents became convicted about their actions while waiting for the procedure to be performed, and went in and took their daughter off the abortion table, rescuing their unborn grandchild.
North Manatee Pregnancy Center
Opened less than six months
Few clients but some telephone calls
Evidence of God's work: God has given the center time to build tremendous community support and a volunteer base well-trained in counseling and evangelism prior to sending clients.