Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6
“So what brings you here today?” Client Advocate *Gary smiled as he led *Tony to the counseling room. As a volunteer counselor at First Coast Women’s Services, Gary opened the door and offered a seat to the distraught man whose girlfriend was in the next room scheduling an ultrasound. But Gary wasn’t quite ready for the barrage of difficult emotions his client was ready to unload.
“This is all her fault!” Tony fired off as soon as he was seated, followed by a tirade that would take up the next five minutes and every ounce of his breath. Furious at his situation and frustrated with life in general, the disgruntled father of the baby unloaded every reason he believed his girlfriend should have an abortion. “And like a slap in the face, Planned Parenthood charged us out the nose just for a pregnancy test and ultrasound. They don’t really care about us!” he vented.
Seeing he had a moment to respond, Gary scanned the intake sheet and began to explain the Pregnancy Center’s policies, including what they did and didn’t provide. “Just so you know what to expect from us,” he concluded, hoping the clarity might relieve at least some of his confusion. But looking up at Tony, Gary thought the man’s eyeballs might simply explode out of his head. “You’re telling me you don’t even do abortions here?” Tony yelled back, dumbfounded. Sticking to the rules of Best Practice, Gary faithfully followed protocol by asking him questions about his religious orientation. Maybe he’ll respond to the gospel, Gary hoped. But he never got past the first Scripture pit stop in the Romans Road. Instead, a steady stream of expletives erupted from Tony’s mouth as he aggressively exited the room to get his girlfriend and go. Finding her at the front desk, he grabbed her arm and they both left before anything else could be said.
“When I first heard about what happened with Tony, I couldn’t help but sigh,” Mark Eiginger, the Men’s Ministry Director of First Coast Women’s Services admitted. “I’ve been serving here for three years, and two of those as Director. I have 50 male Client Advocates trained and spread through five different Centers and I have been managing all of that as a volunteer!” he explained. “Establishing standardization across all five centers has been my greatest challenge in developing the Men’s Ministry. We encourage Best Practices because they help provide order,” Mark continued. “But sometimes God’s Spirit has other plans, and we have to make room for the Holy Spirit to do something new.”
Providentially, God provided a way to redeem the botched interaction with Tony. Two weeks later, while Mark was on duty, Tony returned to the pregnancy center. “He was still very angry,” Mark recounted, “but he was actually sorry for the way he had acted earlier. He wanted me to convey his apology to Gary.” As before, Mark welcomed the 40-year-old man back to the same counseling room. But when he opened his mouth to speak, God gave Mark something different to say. “Tell me what your relationship was with your own father growing up,” Mark began, searching the man’s face for a clue to how he’d respond. The question disarmed him. Tony’s eyes, once filled with anger, now suddenly brimmed with tears. A flood of emotion followed as he opened up about his painful past. “My dad was an alcoholic and abusive,” Tony disclosed. “He beat me with hangers.” The resulting shame and emotional wounding festered into adulthood and Tony vowed he’d never have kids. Even throughout his first marriage he stuck to his guns. But now his girlfriend was pregnant and he still didn’t want to be a parent.
“Look, what your dad did to you is unconscionable,” Mark comforted. “I totally understand why the thought of parenting seems so bleak. But you can be a cycle breaker. You don’t have to walk in the footsteps of your father,” he encouraged. “We can walk you through the path to becoming a good dad.”
Tony locked eyes with Mark for the first time as he leaned forward. “Really? You can do that?” he asked, the wheels of hope beginning to turn in his mind. Mark smiled in the affirmative but explained the next needed step. “Your girlfriend is next door getting her ultrasound. She’s going to see her baby and you need to tell her that you want her to keep it.” Tony stood up with a new look of determination and disappeared behind the ultrasound room door. Just a few minutes later he re-emerged, beaming. “We’re going to have a baby!” he announced to everyone within earshot. Mark rejoiced with him, and prayed a silent prayer of thanks for the Holy Spirit’s divine intervention. The situation that had seemed a disaster now shone with God’s redemptive glory.
Most of the men who come to pregnancy centers with their distraught girlfriends have no clue how powerful their voice can be when it comes to choosing life. “That’s why it’s critical to have trained male Client Advocates who can engage the fathers right from the very beginning,” Mark asserts. But Best Practice isn’t a science. It’s an art learned from listening to and following the Holy Spirit’s lead. “Sometimes you have to ask the right questions to get to the ‘Why?’ behind their anger,” Mark advised. “Once we reach the core of their fears, we know better how to best lead them out from under it.”
*Names changed for privacy.