by Ellen Foell, Esq., International Program Specialist
It is always a privilege to travel on behalf of Heartbeat International, whether it is to Arkansas or, in the most recent case, to Serbia, for the 2018 European Pregnancy Help Leaders’ Summit. A small Heartbeat team, which included as an honorary Heartbeat member, Mike Spencer from Life Training Institute, met with representatives from 16 organizations and 14 countries—from Romania to Ireland to France—to network, fellowship and share challenges, victories and current issues facing the pregnancy help movement. Topics covered in breakout sessions included a range from self-care to engaging the church and digitally reaching donors and clients.
In that kind of setting, one sees the hand of God working behind the scenes in so many instances (perhaps because one is actively looking for the intervention of God in the context of 14 languages, different alphabets and cultures, and a good dose of jetlag). Maybe one instance that this writer found most dear was the presence at the Summit of four women from Ireland, still reeling from the recent vote abolishing the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution banning abortion just four months before.
As they face legalized abortion for the first time in their country, their attendance at the Summit was truly due to the providence of God. They needed to connect with other European pregnancy help leaders, to be encouraged and to reevaluate pregnancy help in a country committed to a path of abortion. In addition, they needed to connect with an attorney who might be able to help their centers in Ireland deal with some specific new legal challenges. They wanted to know if Heartbeat knew anyone who might be able to help.
Imagine their delight and praise to God to be told that one of the plenary speakers was an Irish barrister working with Alliance Defending Freedom who would make time during the Summit to speak with them.
That is what God is up to. That is the way God works. He is still working his purposes out day by day and year by year such that one day abortion will be unwanted throughout Europe—and the world—and unthinkable in the generations to come.
Click here to read Choose Life Serbia's December 2017 Newsletter.
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.
Walking the Novi Sad streets, Molly Hoepfner and Betty McDowell pass row after row of square, grey buildings—standing monuments that remain 20 years after the breakup of Communist Yugoslavia.
Yet, even amid the seemingly unvaried landscape of drab, graffiti-covered structures that line the busy streets of Serbia’s second-largest city, an occasional flash of color bursts through a new, freshly painted edifice.
Little by little, life is returning to Serbia.
On behalf of Heartbeat International, Molly and Betty were there to see to it that even as life returns, the long-forgotten value of human dignity and life would truly take root.
Molly and Betty led a four-day volunteer training conference Oct. 4-7, hosted by Serbian pregnancy help organization executive director Vesna Radeka, who is one of more than 300 non-U.S. Heartbeat affiliates.
The conference included training on The LOVE Approach™ and Talking About Abortion™, two of Heartbeat’s signature programs, and welcomed a total of 50 attendees from five nations that were part of Yugoslavia as recent as the early 1990s—Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia.
“They got The LOVE Approach, they really got it,” Betty, Heartbeat’s director of ministry services, said. “Vesna had written scenarios that fit the culture, and that was really exciting. It was exciting to see The LOVE Approach really translate, and to see that it works in any language, any setting. It’s truly ‘Love in every language.’”
The conference is believed to be the first of its kind in the region, which has undergone constant political upheaval and deadly clashes between ethnic groups throughout the last century.
The fledgling growth of unity in the Eastern European pro-life movement was one of the highlights for the Heartbeat mini-envoy, particularly considering the deep entrenchment of the culture of death in the post-Communist region.
“We kept promoting the message that, ‘We’re better together,’” Molly, Heartbeat’s international coordinator said. “They really embraced that, even though that’s not how they tend to think.”
With a population of just over 7 million, Serbia reports an average 23,000 abortions every year. However, unofficial data, reported by The Southeastern European Times, estimates the annual average at 150,000 abortions—twice the number of live births—giving Serbia the highest abortion rate in Europe.
As Molly related, one woman who attended the conference said her mother had undergone 10 abortions after giving birth to her older brother and before giving birth to her, which was a tragically common story among the conference’s attendees.
“I’ve read about survivor’s guilt, but to see it so blatant and prevalent in that room was just so painful,” Betty said.
“This is generational,” Molly said. “Woman after woman after woman at this conference—whose average age was 35-40, stood up and said that they were either an unwanted child or that they grew up with abortion as a way of life.”
Abortion on-demand was legalized in its current form in Yugoslavia in 1977, but has been prevalent in the culture since just after World War II, when abortion was legalized in cases citing socio-medical grounds.
The conference’s attendees, many of whom are actively involved in bringing the sanctity of life message to their local public school systems, welcomed further training on how to speak the message of life into culture that has systematically devalued human life for several decades.
In addition to training related to The LOVE Approach and Talking About Abortion, another Heartbeat resource, the Sexual Integrity™ Program, played a major role in the conference training.
“These women are really stepping out in faith because it’s still so opposite of what their culture is saying,” Molly said. “They’re really going into uncharted waters because they’re in the infancy of pregnancy help centers even though their culture is much more entrenched in death than ours was by the time these centers began.”
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