PIKEVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- When Lisa Welch* began volunteering at the Appalachian Pregnancy Care Center, she had no idea that one day she would find herself relying on the center's support during a crisis in her own family.
At the time, Welch was teaching abstinence throughout the community. Her husband served as a supply preacher for local churches and their family was actively involved at church. Yet in 2008, Welch learned that her 15-year-old daughter Katie was pregnant.
Though she tried to remain strong for her daughter, Welch said she was struggling and turned to the center for help. Over the coming months, counselors guided Welch and her family through the difficult journey of an unplanned pregnancy.
On Jan. 15, Baptist churches in Kentucky and throughout the Southern Baptist Convention will observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday by focusing on life issues, as well as the critical role played by pregnancy centers such as Appalachian Pregnancy Care Center in helping women choose life.
"It was like God sent the pregnancy center just for me," Welch said. "We were in the ministry, I taught abstinence, and then my own daughter was pregnant. I was in shock. I knew I needed good, strong, biblical advice."
The center, located in Pikeville, Ky., encouraged Katie to stay in school and helped her complete her high school diploma. The center also counseled Katie's boyfriend who "didn't grow up with a father figure," Welch said, "and needed guidance on how to be a dad."
Three months after the birth of their baby girl, Katie married her boyfriend. Welch continues to serve as a volunteer at the center and will be hired on full-time there in May.
Appalachian Pregnancy Care Center, which has served more than 1,000 clients since it opened in 2007, is one of 52 such ministries across Kentucky that relate to the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Eric Allen, KBC director of mission service and ministries, said the convention supports these centers by raising awareness of their services, encouraging church partnerships, providing grants to the centers, enlisting volunteer teams to help with maintenance and repair and praying for their work.
"Many organizations promote abortion. The church has a responsibility to promote and take a stand for life that God has created," Allen said.
In 2011 alone in Louisville, an estimated 3,367 abortions were performed through November at the EMW Women's Surgical Center, according to statistics provided by Right to Life of Louisville.
Allen encourages churches to actively support pregnancy care centers as a way to demonstrate their commitment to life. Sanctity of Human Life Sunday also provides an opportunity for churches to teach what the Bible says about life issues, Allen said.
"It's easy to condemn abortion, but my prayer is that Kentucky Baptists will put forth an even greater effort by partnering with local pregnancy care centers that are showing the love of Christ through their ministry to women in need."
Pregnancy care centers play an especially critical role in the lives of clients such as Marie Thomas* who was "abortion-minded" when she first entered one of the clinics before finding help and counsel from the workers.
Not long after finding out she was pregnant, fear and shame motivated Thomas to seek an abortion. She already had two children from a previous marriage and her boyfriend felt unprepared to father a child.
Thomas soon learned about A Loving Choice Pregnancy Center in Shelbyville, walked inside, and immediately asked the volunteers to help her find a place that would perform an abortion.
After several conversations with a counselor, Thomas decided to keep her child and gave birth in 2009 to a baby boy. Just before the birth, Thomas married her boyfriend.
"I don't even believe in abortion, but sometimes you get desperate," said Thomas, who was active in church at the time and was afraid of what people would think. "I felt like I had to do that at the time. The counselors helped me think and calm down, and they prayed with me."
Thomas is grateful for the ministry of A Loving Choice and believes "it's really important work because women need that kind of support. They let you know it's going to be OK."
More than 900 clients have been served by the center since its inception in 2006 and the lives of at least 10 babies have been saved.
*Names changed to protect the privacy of individuals referenced in this story. Kristie Randolph writes for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Information for groups interested in starting a pregnancy care center is available at www.namb.net/pregnancy-care. In Kentucky, individuals interested in more information about partnering with a pregnancy care center can visit www.kybaptist.org/pregnancycare or contact the KBC's Mission Service and Ministry Department at 502-489-3530 or (866) 489-3530 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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