Pregnancy center wages ‘spiritual battle for life’
Pennsylvania ministry supports women's life-giving decisions before, after birth
Growing up in a Christian home, Kerri Porter had never considered abortion an option. But when she became pregnant at 19, an abortion was the first thing she wanted.
“I was very angry when I found out [I was pregnant],” she said in a telephone interview Jan. 31 from her home in Huntingdon, Pa. “I had big plans to move out west and work on a ranch and live with my best friends.”
She told her parents she wanted an abortion, but they persuaded her to have at least one counseling session at a Christian pregnancy center. This turned into many sessions.
“I rededicated myself to the Lord during that time, and I made the decision to keep my baby,” she said.
Her daughter, Maggie, is now 11. “She was my saving grace,” Porter said.
Porter made her life-changing decision with the help of Crossroads Pregnancy Center, an organization with significant Mennonite involvement. She now attends Locust Grove Mennonite Church, a Conservative Mennonite Conference congregation in Belleville, Pa.
‘What can we do?’
Crossroads traces its origin to the early 1980s, when members of Beth-El Mennonite Church, an unaffiliated conservative congregation in Belleville, gathered for a Sunday evening meeting about the sanctity of life. The congregation’s practice was to choose a topic for Sunday evenings and assign a few members to research and present various aspects of the topic.
“One of my friends did research and shared about the types of abortion and how things are done,” said Lydia Yoder, who was a member there at the time. “It was quite moving. After the service, several of us got together. We were saying, ‘Here we are as believers. We believe that life is sacred. We hear this is going on; what can we do?’ ”
Yoder, a registered nurse, learned about the concept of pregnancy centers from a nurse friend of hers at the local hospital.
“We thought, ‘Wow, there’s nothing like this in our area that we know of,’ ” she said.
After meeting several times, Yoder and her friends teamed up with people from various churches who had legal and medical expertise and assembled a steering committee. They gained the support of the congregation and formed a board of directors.
On March 19, 1985, they opened the first office of what is today known as Crossroads Pregnancy Center, an interdenominational Christian organization serving three counties — Mifflin, Juniata and Huntingdon — with four offices and two medical clinics.
“It’s been amazing to see how God has blessed the work,” said Yoder, who is now on the Crossroads board and a member at Big Valley Brethren in Christ Church in Belleville. “Lives are being saved. We know that every life is very valuable to God. It’s been an awesome privilege to be part of the pro-life cause.”
The center initially began with volunteers working limited hours. They offered free pregnancy tests, counseling, prayer and diapers. Paid staff members were hired in 2002 to maintain regular hours. An initiative called “Bridges” allowed clients to earn cribs, car seats, baby clothes and other supplies in exchange for completed counseling sessions on prenatal and infant care.
Crossroads now offers ultrasounds, testing and treatment for common sexually transmitted infections, relationship counseling on sexual abstinence outside of marriage, male counselors for expecting fathers, post-abortion counseling and referrals for housing, employment, adoption, legal services, child care and community programs.
Crossroads’ REACH (Relational Education About Choices and Health) program gives presentations on abstinence in local public schools and to other groups. A new initiative called LAMB (Love A Mom and Baby) Project pairs an expectant mother with a congregation that supports her with cards and prayers throughout her pregnancy and hosts a baby shower for her.
Crossroads receives no state or federal funding and serves 300 to 400 people each year. Most clients choose to carry their pregnancies to term, according to executive director Cindy Mansberger.
“We don’t want any woman to feel like she’s so unsupported that abortion is her only choice,” she said, describing Crossroads as “a soft place to land” for women who are “abortion-vulnerable.”
Karen Yoder, a member of Locust Grove, is one of the center’s founders who continues to be active in pro-life ministry.
Originally from Michigan, she was determined to practice nurse-midwifery without being involved in abortions — even if it meant moving across the country. She came to Mifflin County, Pa., where the local hospital had taken a pro-life stand.
“Back then the climate was very different from what it is now,” she said. “It was very supportive of abortion rights, so it was very difficult for me to find a position.”
Karen Yoder was part of the initial steering committee and was a Crossroads board member for 25 years. After getting training for post-abortion counseling, she was active in providing that service through the center. In 2010, she stepped away from Crossroads to continue that ministry through Locust Grove.
“I think the pro-life movement and what I’m doing — post-abortion healing — comes from the same belief that we need to take care of our women,” she said. “Abortion obviously takes a life, but more than that, abortion really damages the mother. We serve a forgiving God. Even abortion is forgivable. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just.”
Serving single moms
After the birth of her second daughter, Lila, Porter got serious about following Jesus.
“I owe my life to Crossroads Pregnancy Center — twice,” said Porter, who still keeps in contact with her counselor. “They continue to encourage me and just are a part of who I am. . . . I just totally gave my life to Christ. I don’t date anymore; it’s all about him and all about my children. He’s laid everything else out for me.”
As a single mother, Porter has felt a burden for ministry to single moms in the area. Like Lydia Yoder years before, Porter has teamed up with a few women from Locust Grove and other churches to host a dinner, sharing time and book study every other Friday night for single mothers.
“We’re really hoping to reach out to a lot of mothers who really need Christ,” Porter said.
Mansberger emphasized the importance of prayer.
“Our greatest need is prayer, because we feel like we are on a spiritual battle for life and death and wholeness and beauty that the Lord wants for these women,” she said. “God commands us to love and to do that without judgment and with grace.”
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