Jovana and her son, David
by Vesna Radeka, Executive Director, Choose Life Center
In our pregnancy help ministry, we have experienced the joy of assisting clients who chose to go against the Culture of Death surrounding us, deciding to keep their babies even in the midst of a crisis pregnancy.
While these women would listen to our advice and receive encouragement by our words and whatever help we could provide—including baby clothes, diapers, and money—we would still see them struggle from day to day.
These women are usually young, and do not have the support of either their baby’s father, their families, or both. When we come into contact with them, they are either far along into their pregnancy, or now have a baby up to about three months old.
These women need to be able to work in order to pay their rent, but there are precious few opportunities for a pregnant girl or a new mom to find a job. If they are able to find a job, who will take care of the baby?
I am so sad when I think how the first year of motherhood looks for some of these women. But beyond feeling sad about the situation for so many of these, I dare to dream of a better situation for these precious mothers and children.
What if we were able to offer accommodation and care to women in this fragile state, to give them the chance to enjoy being moms? What if this could become a place where moms are coached how to make better life choices, to follow Christ, to change their mind about relationships, to choose to wait, and to learn how to be good moms?
I know this dream could become reality if Christian families were willing to accept pregnant women into their homes. But in Serbia, we face two challenges: First, we have a very small number of vibrant, practicing Christians; and second, our culture largely lives within multigenerational homes—married couples with children, living with in-laws, and usually in small flats.
Social help in Serbia for single moms is around 12.000 dinars, which is around $140 per month. With that income, a single mom can only rent a room, to say nothing of paying bills or putting food on the table.
In the last two to three years, we at Choose Life Center have had to go beyond our month-to-month budget limits to help women as needs have arisen. Whenever we could, we have helped pay rent, bills, or grocery costs, but this type of care was not planned into our budget, so we had to stretch—and sometimes overextend—for the sake of these moms.
As we’ve gone through these seasons, we have thought and prayed about the direction in which Choose Life Center should develop. Is it to become a medical clinic, offering free ultrasound? Is it preventative services? Developing school programs? A housing ministry?
Slowly, God’s leading became clear to us, and Sarah House For Women began to take shape as a maternity housing ministry, adding to the everyday work we remain committed to doing at Choose Life Center.
In addition to reaching and assisting women in the midst of all the difficulties surrounding a crisis pregnancy, we pray Sarah House For Women will also have a huge impact on how the city officials see us as a Christian organization.
Rather than perceiving our work as threatening or as a nuisance, we pray—and expect—city officials to see that what we are doing really does benefit and bless the whole city.
Who knows? Maybe this new work will allow us to apply for and secure future grants and funds from the government, allowing us to continue reaching and rescuing women in Novi Sad, while renewing communities all over Serbia for life in the years to come.
By Mary Peterson, Housing Consultant
Ever tossed a coin into the air, caught it, and cupped it on the back of your hand to see if it's "heads" or "tails?"
It's a classic way of making simple decisions. The two sides of the coin are unique, each with distinguishing marks, but together, they make one coin.
In the context of our maternity homes, we face a wide variety of challenging situations. We know we must always respond in love, that's a given. But just as there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to the love we live out in our homes: tough and unconditional.
Rather than the random response of a coin toss, though, we get to choose which side of the “love coin” to apply in any given situation.
Tough love is the love of coaches, teachers, and mentors. It’s the love that says, "I know there’s more in you, and I want you to challenge you to make the most of it." It’s the love of accountability and direct feedback.
Tough love involves rules, structures, and consequences. It’s the type of love God expresses when He prunes and judges, when He commands us how to live, and when He allows consequences to unfold.
Unconditional love is the love of friends and family. It’s the love that says, "No matter what, I am going to love you." It’s the love of second chances, leniency, and forgiveness. Unconditional love involves overlooking things said in anger, or giving the benefit of the doubt when another isn't at their best.
Unconditional love is expressed in those special moments when a mother gazes at her child. Mercy and forgiveness are expressions of the unconditional nature of God’s love.
As a people defined by love, we are not called to become merely hard-nosed rule-enforcers nor feeble doormats. Love is not an either-or proposition. Love requires the both-and virtue of fierce tenderness, unconditional-yet-expectant.
We are called to live out both dimensions of love— tough and unconditional—in the context of relationship as we face daily life in our maternity homes. But we need the Holy Spirit’s help to know when and how to rightly apply love in each situation, and so we pray:
Come Holy Spirit! Make us more capable of perfect love!
Tina Turner got it wrong.
When answering with the question, "what's love got to do with it?" she called it “a second-hand emotion." No way. In the Christian walk, love is both the ultimate goal (being unified in Love with God) and the way to get there (loving God and our neighbor).
In our homes, the demands of love are a constant invitation to show up, speak up, and lift up. Here’s a few ideas for how you live and love incarnationally within the work of maternity homes—loving tough, yet unconditionally.
There is a spiritual insight that suffering expands one's capacity to love. The women who join our homes have often known great suffering—some due to their own decisions and some due to the horrific decisions of others.
We have the noble challenge of trying to help each mother understand that the heartache of their lives can produce a bedrock strength and a beautiful ability to love deeply. Starting with themselves and their children.
As we exercise compassion—literally, suffering with—the moms, we too are being perfected in love!
by Mary Peterson, Housing Consultant
Image courtesy NorthWestGifts.com
Image courtesy NorthWestGifts.com
The mothers often arrive to our homes without a social safety net. Many have burned bridges in their relationships, or are coming from a history of deep dysfunction.
In addition to all of the other skills we encourage, such as life skills, educational attainment, and parenting strategies, maternity homes are meant to model and teach relationship. In our example and structures, homes invite the moms into regular, healthy interactions.
Beyond the high-drama, over-sharing, or closed-off habits, we invite the moms to build a network of genuine friendships.
We are inviting them into community.
With that said, the big question becomes "How?" Here's a few practical brainstorms to consider!
Goal: Use the physical space to encourage people to interact.
Goal: From the very first moment she arrives, welcome the mom as a true member in the home.
Goal: Build a relational aspect into every part of your structure.
Goal: Have anyone within the home embrace a culture of belonging.
Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, wrote a simple yet profound book about his work with gang members, “Tattoos on the Heart”.
It’s an impressive story for a variety of reasons, but the chapter entitled, “Success” speaks to any ministry leader who deeply shares life with people. In it, he writes:
Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. …Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I’m not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones. (p.172, 178)
We are all seeking results for our labors, longing for moms to know profound and lasting transformation in their lives…and many times, we get to see incredible successes. But, not always.
Sometimes, we give without ever knowing the impact we will have. Other times, we watch as women make painfully destructive decisions about their future.
In your work as a maternity home leader, you have been called to be faithful to the task of welcoming the stranger…the women standing at the door in need of a loving place. She may arrive bad-mouthing, attention-seeking, closed-off, or beaten-down.
But, regardless of appearance, she is Christ before you in wonderful disguise. In welcoming her into the embrace of your home and your heart, you are living out the gospel…whether you “succeed” or “fail.”
Over 330 homes exist in the US! Our goal is to unify the work of homes across the country so that we can strengthen our programs and better communicate the important role that maternity housing programs play in supporting pregnant women.
NMHC’s Mission Statement: We inspire excellence among maternity housing providers and articulate a collective voice to advance the culture of life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this by providing training and tools, facilitating an exchange of knowledge and experience, and fostering fellowship among members.
“The power of the Coalition is in providing a unified voice to amplify our message of hope to pregnant women who are in need of support,” said Chris Bell, long-time Executive Director of Good Counsel Homes and founding member of the National Maternity Housing Coalition. “In our work of building a culture of life, we need to leverage our voices.”
When asked about the goal of the Coalition, Mary Peterson, founder of Maggie’s Pace notes, “The work of maternity homes has been around for a long time, but the challenges of women now are quite complicated involving addiction, abuse, trauma, and lack of support. In order to be more effective in our work, we need to learn from another.”
“What a great win-win situation to be partnering with Heartbeat,” affirmed Gloria Lee. As a long-term director of Our Lady’s Inn, Gloria has been involved with Heartbeat for many years. “Heartbeat’s mission of building up the capacity of life-affirming ministries is a perfect fit with the direction of the National Maternity Housing Coalition.”
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