By H. Lynn Gardner
At the LifeChoices annual banquet in 2010, Christian recording artist Rebecca St. James said, “During the last two years, I’ve been to almost 50 crisis pregnancy centers around the nation, and I can tell you that LifeChoices is by far the most effective, most innovative, most professional, most savvy ministry of its kind. You all are leading the way.”
All across the country, pregnancy medical clinics function as MASH units promoting sexual well-being and working to save the unborn in the deadly war conducted under the name of choice. They provide love, life, and hope to those in difficult circumstances. Since 1989, LifeChoices Medical Clinic in Joplin, Missouri (www.lifevoices.org) has served as an effective teaching and rescue unit.
An Unexpected Opportunity
On Sunday, May 22, 2011 at 5:41 p.m., an EF5 tornado churned through Joplin, Missouri leaving 30 percent of the city in rubble. It cut a swath a mile wide and 14 miles long leveling everything in its path. It left 161 people dead, 1,150 injured, 8,000 houses destroyed, 18,000 vehicles wrecked, 500 businesses demolished, and 5,000 workers affected. The physical and emotional devastation defied description.
The community responded with overwhelming unity and mutual helpfulness. Thousands of volunteer helpers converged on Joplin. Along with numerous churches and organizations, LifeChoices responded to this challenge.
While several staff members lost their homes, the tornado did not damage LifeChoices’ facilities. This tragedy presented opportunities to serve babies, youth, those at risk for abortion, those in need of medical care, and families in need.
LifeChoices supplied needed newborn supplies and dispatched their nurses throughout the city to help the injured. They felt honored to visit the shelters and provide diapers, formula, water, and most importantly, deliver hugs and hope.
Hundreds of pregnant women faced uncertainty about the care of their unborn. Quickly reorganizing space in their facility, LifeChoices provided exam rooms, ultrasound machines, medical supplies, phones, and Internet for seven doctors and their 23 staff members so medical service could continue for those in desperate need. Though some question God after a tragedy, LifeChoices answered with a powerful testimony of love, faith, and hope in action.
“Empowering Individuals to Make Healthy Life Choices Through Education and Medical Services” is the LifeChoices mission. It accomplishes this mission in several ways: promoting adolescent sexual health, strengthening families, saving unborn children, and sharing resources and strategies.
Promoting Adolescent Sexual Health
LifeChoices addresses the root of unhealthy sexual decisions through Connection Institute, its preventive services arm. In this 10-day program, trained youth service providers go into public classrooms with medically accurate and age-appropriate teaching that results in attitude and lifestyle changes. In a nonjudgmental way, speakers inform students of their options and empower them to make healthier choices regarding relationships, dating, love, and sex. They teach the benefits of saving sex for marriage.
These high-energy sessions deal with real-life issues. Student responses include: “Why has nobody told us about this information?” “Thanks for giving me a future.” “They taught me about girls.” “They showed me forgiveness.” During 2011, more than 8,100 young people from 12 school districts participated in these programs. In the last 14 years, more than 100,000 junior and senior high students have been educated through Connection Institute programs.
Joplin Schools Superintendent C. J. Huff expressed his appreciation for the program: “I can’t even begin to tell you how many positive comments I’ve heard about the LifeChoices [events] you and your staff did with our kids. I truly appreciate the innovative approach to a challenging conversation with our teens. Thanks so much.” Churches, civic groups, and other agencies also host LifeChoices presentations.
LifeChoices cares about moms and dads as well as babies. It offers free parenting and life-skills classes empowering them to be good parents and build strong families. Community professionals teach on child care, discipline, building a child’s self-esteem, budgeting, and career goals. Basic Parenting 101 gives young moms and dads essential information about prenatal and newborn baby care. The staff gives spiritual as well as medical answers to sexual and lifestyle problems.
Saving the Unborn
To those at risk for abortion, LifeChoices provides a listening ear, a loving heart, and medical assistance. Its medical clinics provide free and confidential laboratory quality pregnancy testing and limited obstetrical ultrasounds to verify pregnancy. It has conducted more than 15,600 pregnancy tests. It offers early prenatal services and assists clients with verification for Medicaid and WIC applications.
LifeChoices is an official Missouri Infertility Prevention Program site in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control. Its 4U Testing facility is an official STD (sexually transmitted disease) testing site for the Missouri State Health Department. Ten years ago, LifeChoices conducted one test for STI (sexually transmitted infections) each week; in 2011 it conducted 54 each week. The clinic has conducted more than 13,000 tests for STI.
Individuals tested for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections receive confidential counsel. Follow-up appointments review lab results and physician consultations. In 2011, LifeChoices ministered to more than 2,000 individuals and provided more than 5,800 services. Of those planning on or at risk for abortion, 94 percent chose life instead.
Denise considered abortion because she believed she could not have a healthy baby due to her cancer treatments. Tears filled her eyes when she saw the flicker of her baby’s heartbeat on the ultrasound screen. Hand in hand, she and her boyfriend decided to move the wedding date up. They soon became a family of three.
Becca, a high school junior, made a poor decision under the influence of alcohol that resulted in pregnancy. Neither mom nor dad was ready to be a parent. LifeChoices helped Becca get in touch with an adoption agency. She chose adoption as the right choice for her and her daughter. The father waived parental rights. A Southwest Missouri adoption caseworker commented, “LifeChoices is more effective in their adoption initiatives than any of the other eight clinics in my jurisdiction.”
In counseling those at risk for abortion, spiritual needs surface. LifeChoices has recorded more than 13,000 spiritual discussions with clients in their clinics.
Sharing Resources and Strategies
LifeChoices helps other clinics and organizations by sharing materials, strategies, and instruction. Twice a year, other clinics send representatives to Joplin for training. Its assistance has extended to Africa, Canada, and Europe.
The ministry provides training manuals, medical brochures, curricula, webinars, and consultations. It trains school youth service providers and STI clinic staff. Individuals from clinics in 30 states and three countries have attended STI training seminars.
A Mission Field
After having been raised on the mission field in Africa and serving 20 years in medical missions there, Karolyn Schrage began serving at LifeChoices in 2003 and became the executive director in 2008. She describes the work of LifeChoices as mission work:
At Ozark Christian College I learned to package the gospel in a culturally relevant way. We did that in Kenya, and now I’m trying to do that here. I often think our clients are like the woman at the well in John 4. She made poor choices and felt ostracized by society, but Jesus met her where she was. That’s what we do. People who would never darken the door of a church come in here and they sense something different.
She continued, “People are fearful they can’t be forgiven, but we know God really does forgive. Most of all, we want them to know he loves them. The compassion of Christ speaks volumes. LifeChoices is the hands and feet of the church.”
H. Lynn Gardner is a freelance writer in Carl Junction, Missouri.
Joplin LifeChoices Ministry Activity in 2011
1,985: Number of women tested for sexually transmitted diseases
1,208: Number of women tested for pregnancy
1,041: Number of ultrasounds performed
734: Number of women assisted who were considered “abortion vulnerable”
694: Number of “abortion vulnerable” women who changed their minds and carried their babies
8,100: Number of students in junior high, high school, and college who received Connection Institute programming
82 percent: Amount of income received that went directly to program services
9 percent: Amount of income received that went to administrative services
9 percent: Amount of income received used for fund raising