Part of a Family
Lutherans support mothers and their little ones through pro-life ministries in Texas and Missouri.
Pictures hang on the wall of the Sealy Pregnancy Resource Center in Sealy, Texas, showing dozens of faces: Adriana. Sergio. Selah. Bryson. Emily. Conner. All are babies born to mothers who were and are clients of the center.
“What won me over when I first came here was that they make you feel like part of a family,” said Tierra Cloud, who found the center when she was pregnant with her daughter who is now 2 years old. “When I walked in the door, they knew me.”
Cloud counsels clients and teaches classes at the center. In fact, many members of the center’s staff are current or former clients.
On this morning in July 2022, Cloud had just met with two teen clients, ages 16 and 17. Both were facing first pregnancies and were terrified. “I use my story to help them,” Cloud said. “They can relate to me, and I can relate to them.”
She and the other staff members received training from director Pat Penner. Penner served for years at a similar center in Houston. Although she had planned to retire after moving to Sealy a few years ago, the idea of starting a pregnancy resource center there was always in the back of her mind.
Penner began attending LifeBridge Community Church, and within weeks the congregation had offered to host the center in the side wing of their building. While an accountant predicted that it would take them 18 months to gain 501(c)(3) status, they received it in just four weeks.
“I want to work myself out of a job. I want to set it up so that long after I’m gone, it continues on,” said Penner.
Welcoming Mothers and Families
“Let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action” — these words are printed on the center’s wall, above a stack of diapers, baby clothes, teddy bears and toys that are distributed to mothers.
The center offers over 300 classes for mothers, walking them through every conceivable topic to prepare them for maternity, labor and delivery, parenting, healthy relationships, employment, financial health and more.
Parents can shop at the center’s “store,” which is stocked with donated items for babies and parents, using points they accrue by attending classes, OB-GYN appointments, well-child checkups, WIC appointments and church services. Items such as baby food, formula and maternity clothes are available to all.
The Rev. Scott Heitshusen, pastor of LifeBridge, is always available for prayer or pastoral counseling. LifeBridge members support the center with donations and volunteer service.
“There are kids who are around today [who might have been aborted], and that we get to be a part of that is tremendous. The day that I got to baptize a couple of these folks … to have that opportunity and that privilege and honor, there’s nothing like it,” said Heitshusen.
“This is actually the only [pregnancy resource center] I’ve ever been in,” said Dafney Edwards, another employee of the center, who first came as a client when she was 16. “I never knew they existed. I knew about Planned Parenthood, but nothing else.”
That afternoon, a 16-year-old client came in to meet with Edwards. It was her second visit.
“I feel welcomed here,” she said. “At first, I was nervous, but now I feel comfortable. I have lots to learn — I’m just getting started.”
In 2016, the center’s first full year, it had around 250 visits. In 2022, as of July, it already had 2,500 visits.
Space is tight. A storage shed outside is crammed with donations. Since 2016, Penner has taken donated clothing home to wash, since there was no space for a washer and dryer.
With the help of a grant from LCMS Life Ministry, as part of the Synod’s 1 John 3 Initiative Million Dollar Life Match, these space issues will soon be resolved. The future home of the center is being constructed on additional land on the church’s lot.
The new building will expand the center’s capacity significantly. It will include six client meeting rooms, a computer area where clients can sign up for appointments and create resumes, a kitchen with space to hold classes, a private bathroom for families, space for a washer and dryer, an exam room, a private counseling room with a lab for pregnancy testing, an ultrasound room with a desk for the ultrasound technician, a larger “store” with room for more items, a larger reception area with space for children to play, and a “man cave” to encourage fathers to come along to appointments.
During construction, members of LifeBridge and of the community were invited to write Bible verses on the still-exposed beams of the floor, walls and ceiling.
“We love because He loved us first,” someone had written on the wall in several places.
As the congregation of LifeBridge has received the love of Christ, so they have welcomed this ministry of mercy into their building with open arms. As the people of Sealy, Texas, have been loved and given new life, so they are working to support God’s gift of new life in others.
‘Give Them Jesus’
Across the country in Clinton, Mo., members of Trinity Lutheran Church are also reaching out to mothers in their community through Zoe’s Home.
When a Clinton resident walked into the pastor’s office in 2017 and offered to donate a three-bedroom house for the congregation’s use, member Emily Stocking started thinking about the ways Scripture describes the church caring for its neighbors.
With this house, she thought, they should care for those without housing. Within months, they had opened a maternity home and were welcoming in pregnant mothers. The project received a boost in 2022 with a grant from the Synod’s Million Dollar Life Match.
Since 2017, 34 women have resided in Zoe’s Home. Pregnant women who enter the home are given free, safe housing; offered classes, counseling and support; and expected to set and work toward short-term and long-term goals. They attend church weekly. They work and save money.
Most of these women, Stocking said, are on the verge of having to give up their baby upon birth. Many have lost custody of other children in the past. Zoe’s Home seeks to equip these women to bring their families back together.
“I’m going to raise this one,” said resident Jenny True, gesturing toward the baby in her womb. True came straight to Zoe’s Home from the ICU, where she was admitted while 32 weeks pregnant and dangerously ill.
“If she had not gotten sober, if she had not gotten the meds she needed, things could have turned out very differently,” said Stocking.
True is not a first-time mother. The little one she carries now is her seventh child. When her first three children were young, things were peaceful for a while. Then, she lost custody and, in despair, started using drugs. Her next two children also were taken from her.
“I’ve been telling my kids forever, ‘not much longer, not much longer.’ But really, I’ve been lying. Really, I gave up. But being here, I get a second chance — it gives me hope that I’ll get to be a mom again to them all. Now that I’m here, it’s different. Everybody knows it. It’s not just words anymore, it’s actions,” said True.
True was coloring an Advent candle decoration for the home’s Christmas tree. On the candle was the word “peace.” She discussed this word with Stephanie Robbins, who has worked as director of ministry operations for Zoe’s Home since 2019.
“God gives our peace to us,” said Robbins. “He is always going to be the same. He loves you regardless — He loved you just as much back then as He does now.”
“These words haven’t been in my life for a long time,” replied True. “I’m just now starting to find some kind of peace in my life, or some kind of joy. Before being here, those words didn’t exist in my vocabulary.”
Unlike a secular institution, Zoe’s Home offers women the hope and forgiveness found in Christ alone, and to model family for them by enfolding them in the family of the congregation.
When a resident arrives, the congregation sends her a bouquet of flowers. One member brings each woman a Bible and talks with her about Christ. Another member leads a Bible study in the home. The congregation holds frequent drives to collect paper goods, toiletries and other supplies for the women. They also throw a baby shower before each child is born.
“We want to show people that we are not just saying all life is important and then leaving it at that. We believe life starts at conception, and we love and care for that baby and mother deeply. We also realize parenting is hard and expensive. We want to … show them we love them and care about them,” said Stocking.
True said she is grateful for the community and grateful to be attending church weekly. “The longer you’re here, the more you want to have God in your life. The more you want to be like all of you guys.”
This work is challenging. Many nights, Stocking and Robbins are up late working or discussing something that happened that day. Both work other jobs. Getting and keeping women at the home can be a struggle. It can be a hard adjustment for women who are not used to trusting anyone or receiving help or care. Some have come and stayed as little as two hours.
Despite all of this, Stocking has never questioned that this work is worth it. “I’ve told myself from the beginning: I’m just going to give them Jesus for whatever amount of time He puts them in front of me.”
Pray with Us
Heavenly Father, You commended the care of Your Son to Joseph and Mary, who fled to Egypt to grant Him safety in peril. Be with all those entrusted with the care of children. Equip Your church to assist them and to aid those who face difficulties in their vocation as parents. May all learn of and trust in the love of the Christ Child, whose death and resurrection grants to all the right to be Your children by grace. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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Staff editor and writer for LCMS Communications.