The Missions Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) recently hosted two events with the title: Equipping Churches to Minister to Women in Crisis. The second of the two trainings was held in the ABSC building on August 8.
“We knew that the overturn of Roe v. Wade would create the conversation of how churches could properly respond,” said Clint Ritchie, who serves as the assistant team leader for the ABSC Missions Team. “Abortion advocates have proclaimed that there is no longer any help available to women with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, and while we know that to be untrue, we felt it important to equip our churches to be more proactive in engaging this need.”
Wendall Haugh, pastor at First Baptist Church in Magazine, and his wife, Sheila attended Monday’s conference to gain insight in how their church can be involved in ministry.
Haugh expressed his desire to shepherd his flock to have an impact. He said that when he heard of the recent Supreme Court decision concerning Roe v. Wade, he talked to Clint Ritchie at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and asked, “What can we do?” He stated that he feels that churches are now in a unique position to explore ministry avenues and applauded the courage of some of the speakers in the opening session as they shared their stories.
The morning began with a word from ABSC Executive Director Dr. J.D. “Sonny” Tucker, who encouraged attendees that sharing the love of Christ with women around the state who are experiencing difficult life circumstances is imperative.
“One of the three essential intents of the ABSC teams is to assist churches in reaching the unengaged, unreached, and underserved. Women in crisis, whether it is someone with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy or a single mom struggling to raise her children on a single income, are among the underserved in our communities. Arkansas Baptists are loving people, and love is what these women need,” Ritchie said. “They need an advocate, a support network, and our churches can be strategic in standing in the gap.”
Dr. Derek Brown, executive director of Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries, also spoke about the need to invade the darkness that many women with unplanned pregnancies face with the light of Jesus. Two members of his team, Tim Noel and Debi Walker, emphasized the need to advocate for these women from a counseling perspective.
While sharing her personal testimony, Women’s Ministry Specialist Andrea Lennon spurred those in attendance to share five truths with every woman they encounter: “(1) she is loved, (2) she is never beyond God’s reach, (3) God cares for her and so do we, (4) her mistakes do not define her, (5) God has a plan and she can trust Him.”
During the morning session, attendees also heard from representatives from Deeper Still, a ministry for both men and women who have experienced or been impacted by abortion.
Janet Dixon and Maria Speer, who both serve as directors of their respective pregnancy care centers, also took part in a panel discussion before lunch. When asked about their greatest needs, they both agreed that volunteers and donations are always helpful. They also mentioned how meaningful encouragement was in their line of work. Whether it be a kind text or a box of doughnuts, a “thank you” goes a long way. Fighting the good fight isn’t easy, but bearing one another’s burdens helps make the load lighter.
Attendees were able to choose two breakout sessions throughout the afternoon, ranging in a variety of topics.
Supporting women through local church ministries
William Jaques, pastor at First Baptist Church in Maumelle, and his wife, Marabeth shared how their church ministers to families through Families First Ministry Center. The ministry center provides free consignment-quality clothing and baby items to foster families and to families in crisis. They are open two Saturdays each month, on Wednesday evenings and by appointment.
William spoke about the importance of the church stepping up to assist families to care for their children in tangible ways. “Being pro-life is not the same thing as being anti-abortion. Sometimes children do not have to go into foster care if we, as a church, step up,” William said.
Marabeth shared the importance of setting guidelines for accepting donations that are in excellent condition because those who shop should feel loved by God and feel worthy of good things. She offered to share what she has learned with anyone who is interested in setting up such a center or invited churches to partner with them in their ministry.
When it comes to ministering to families in crisis, Marabeth said, “Just do something.”
Jay Ham, pastor at Church in the Dirt, challenged attendees by saying, “Look for what you can do in the community around you. Sometimes we think we know what our community needs or wants.”
Ham noted the number of grandparents raising grandchildren as an example of needs that churches are being faced with currently.
Ham introduced Kate Riggs, CEO of Recovery Health Systems, a mental health and addiction rehabilitation treatment center. Riggs suggested that churches in outlying areas could provide a private space with internet access for telehealth services.
Supporting women through starting an advocacy ministry
Debi Walker, Director of Family Care for Arkansas Baptist Children & Family Ministries, told of the need for advocates to walk alongside women in crisis as a means of encouraging healthy families.
In stressing the need for an advocacy ministry, Walker asked, “What do you do when you stumble?” and “At a time when you were unsure, what did you do?” The answer to both questions is to reach out for something/someone stable.
Desired Haven Family Care wants to equip church members to be an advocate in their community to assist families in their desire to succeed.
Sanctity of Human Life and the Next Generation
As an apologetics enthusiast, Bill Newton, generations pastor at First Baptist Church in Hot Springs, took a unique approach in discussing the sanctity of human life at his breakout session on Monday afternoon. His focus included having conversations with the next generation as he walked attendees through how he would bring up the subject when talking with students. As a former youth minister, he discussed the different defenses for his Christian worldview on the topic.
Newton said he would start the conversation with a student by talking about why abortion is an important issue and clarify its ramifications. Next, he would walk the student through why he believes an unborn baby is a member of the human family because of their distinct, living and whole characteristics. After this, he would outline the four “claimed” differences between the born and unborn using the acronym: SLED – Size, Level of Development, Environment and Dependency. Ultimately, he would provide logical evidence for why an unborn child is both alive and just as deserving of life as a born baby.
Responding to the Sexual Ethics of the Next Generation
Among the crises that young women (and men) are facing is sexual identity. As a prevalent cultural issue, Matt Bell, student pastor at Indian Springs Baptist Church in Bryant, combatted what the world is saying with Biblical truth. He shared resources with attendees in his session as well as advice on how to minister to kids growing up in today’s confusing climate.
The conference also included a breakout on “Preaching on Tough Topics with Grace” with John McCallum.
After an impactful day of equipping and learning, Arkansas Baptist leaders returned home better prepared to show the love of Jesus to a hurting world.
“It is vital for churches to continue to champion life and teach the sanctity of human life, especially to the younger generations,” Ritchie said.