This is a guest post by Marcia Buterakos Marron, Executive Director for Life's Choices Women's Clinic in Eustis, Florida. It is the first in a two-part series on Marcia’s experience finding and implementing Making Life Disciples in her Center.
I will never forget how I felt one morning when I walked through the door of our center and realized something wasn’t right. Looking around the waiting area, all I saw was a room full of young people waiting for their parenting class. Toys on the floor, bottles scattered, nursing moms, etc. While this was not a bad picture, it was not the picture I believed God had called us to when we first opened the center in 2006.
I knew deep within my heart we were called to serve abortion-minded women, those who were determined at all cost to get an abortion. Where were they? They certainly were not sitting in our waiting room.
It was in that moment I began to formulate a strategic plan to recapture God’s vision for our center. With the board’s full support, we started restructuring our program. We separated some services out to an Education Center and began a plan to move to clinic status on our medical side. This would require us to drastically downsize our parenting program.
You see, at this point, we were keeping our clients for 4-5 years with no life change.
No matter how long we held onto them their lives weren’t changing. In fact, many of them would be pregnant with their next child while still in our program. I knew in my heart that something was missing, but I wasn't sure what it was.
It was at the Care Net Conference in 2017 that I found the “Golden Ticket:” Making Life Disciples (MLD). This program was created to be a bridge to connect pregnancy center clients to local churches. Through MLD, we would be able to introduce our clients to people within the local church who would be trained to walk out life with our young women and men. The workshop taught my Care Net’s Executive Director of Church Outreach and Engagement, Dr. Greg Austen, put everything in perspective for me; our center had been trying to perform long-term discipleship - which is actually the church’s mission, not ours! There was no doubt in my mind we had to implement this program.
I returned with new vision and excitement for what we would do next. With the board’s approval, we used MLD as the focus of our annual banquet. It was intimidating, standing up in front of 500 people and admitting our center had experienced mission drift. But we pledged to refocus and engage the church more deeply in our ministry.
Our board knew if we were going to be able to successfully implement MLD, we had to demonstrate to our local churches that this was a program we believed in and were willing to invest money in.
As a result, we planned a generous breakfast for churches at an historical inn in our area and invited Greg Austen to come share the MLD vision with the attendees. We intentionally didn’t use the same venue as our banquet because we did not want anyone to associate this invitation with us asking for money.
We included Greg’s bio in the invitations we sent to about 50 local churches. I wanted the pastors receiving the invitations to immediately have the connection of seeing that Greg is also a pastor. To make sure the church’s decision-makers would be the ones attending, we extended the invitation to the pastor and one staff member.
When the breakfast finally rolled around in January 2018, 38 pastors from about 17 local churches attended. Of those, eight churches immediately grabbed onto vision and started MLD classes at their churches. Within the next eight months, three of those eight would graduate a class of what our center calls “Life Coaches.”t
I met with each graduating class to introduce them to our center and thank them for answering the call to disciple men and women facing pregnancy decisions. I’ve made it a priority to meet with people completing the course because it helps strengthen the relationship between them and our center and also gives me as an executive director a chance to get to know the people with whom we will be connecting clients. I also answer any questions they have.
Within two weeks, an abortion-minded client gave us written permission to have a Life Coach contact her, and a beautiful connection was birthed. I could not have asked for a better relationship than the one we saw grow before our eyes. After a lot of tears and getting to know each other over several days, the abortion procedure was canceled and a new friendship had been formed.
Seeing this come together has allowed us the freedom to scale back our parenting classes and graduate our clients when their babies turn one-years-old. We now have relationships with four local churches, a Catholic, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Pentecostal. This variety allows our clients to choose a Life Coach from a faith background they are comfortable with.
I was so excited at our 2018 annual banquet to be able to share the way in which we’d kept our commitment to realign ourselves to our mission and grow our partnerships with local churches.
It took us a year to see the changes I believe God placed in my heart that morning when I looked around our waiting area. Our abortion-minded clients are our focus now and their numbers have increased drastically. In the last year, with conversion to a clinic model, we performed 325 pregnancy tests, along with 216 ultrasounds. Of the tests performed 270 were positive and 252 were abortion vulnerable/minded. Of those, 164 babies were saved from abortion.
If you too have noticed a drop in abortion-minded clients, I pray you will consider taking your church partnerships who a whole new level. To God be the Glory, GREAT things He has done!
All of us at Life’s Choices Women’s Clinic BELIEVE in Making Life Disciples.
It is our hope and prayer that within the next year we will see many more young women form a relationship with a “Life Coach” outside of our clinic, and one day they will become a new disciple for Christ.
To find out more about Making Life Disciples, and how to introduce it to your local churches, click here.
t The "life coaches" designation used by Life Choices Women's Clinic does not denote a professional, certification, or accreditation status. This is a term developed and used specifically by this center. Care Net refers to MLD trained individuals as "life disciples" or, in the center context, "church representatives."