By Lonnie Wilkey
MARYVILLE — Hannah Watson is just one of thousands of young women who have made “life decisions” at the Pregnancy Resource Center in Maryville, including 905 women who chose life rather than abortion just last year, said Valerie Millsapps, executive director of the center.
Hannah, who was facing an unplanned pregnancy, acknowledged that she felt alone and afraid and incapable of raising a child. “When I saw my baby for the first time (during an ultrasound and later at delivery) I fell in love and I did not know that I could love another human being so much,” she recalled.
“I could not be more thankful that I did choose life.”
Her story is featured on the latest video promoting the work of the Pregnancy Resource center which has been in existence since 1986.
Helping women and men choose life is the central goal of the Pregnancy Resource Center, said Millsapps, who has headed the center since 2014 (see related story HERE). The center provides free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds among its many services.
The ultrasounds have proven to be a “lifesaving tool because we’re able to let them see the life within them,” she said.
She shared the story of a man and woman who came in for the ultrasound and as the dad was sitting in the background, he asked the nurse if the image he saw was his baby. The nurse replied, “Of course, he looks just like you.” Millsapps said the dad started giggling and it rang out across the building.
“Our vision at the pregnancy center is to live in a community where every life is sacred, valued and welcomed. And it is in those moments that we get to see that happen is when we get to be a part of that. It’s really awesome to see families being able to rejoice and celebrate life as we did that day.”
During Millsapps’ tenure, the center has added a mobile unit which has expanded the center’s ministry beyond its location to Madisonville, Lenoir City, Seymour, Townsend and Vonore.
The center’s goal is to reach families in outlying areas who may not have easy access to the central office in Maryville, she said.
She noted that Hannah actually was one of the first patients reached by the center’s mobile unit. Hannah saw the mobile unit set up at the Chilhowee Baptist Association office and stopped, Millsapps related.
Noting that Hannah was at a place of brokenness, she “was drawn to come inside. We were able to connect with her and equip her with her options for her pregnancy and let her know how we could be here for her,” Millsapps said.
During that time, Hannah also connected with East Maryville Baptist Church where Millsapps is a member. “Our students were able to engage with her through her testimony,” said Jason Salyer, youth pastor at the Maryville church. “Our students hugged her and loved on her,” he added. In addition, they remained in constant contact with her throughout the pregnancy.
Salyer stressed that being pro-life is about more than a political statement. “It’s about engaging not just the life of the child, but in this case, the life of Hannah, the caretaker of that child,” he observed.
Like most pregnancy centers across the state, the Pregnancy Resource Center in Maryville receives no state funds and depends on donations from individuals, churches and businesses.
Though the center has been around for nearly 35 years, it’s still a challenge to get the word out about the ministry, Millsapps acknowledged, noting she often hears, “I didn’t know you existed.”
She noted the pregnancy center is in the budget of about 11 area churches, including several Baptist congregations.
Ironically, one thing that has increased the awareness of pregnancy care centers was the abortion bill passed in New York earlier this year. “When everybody witnessed the celebration of abortion, really at any stage, it’s almost like the dust was wiped from many people’s eyes,” Millsapps said. The New York legislation made people think, “What can I do about this?” she said. As a result, Millsapps has been busier than ever in terms of speaking engagements in the community.
Millsapps is optimistic that the community will continue to support their ministry. She noted that just a monthly sponsorship of $30 can make a difference. “Every day we are seeing people who are making a life and death decision. Skipping a meal out once a month can help save a life and rescue a generation,” she affirmed.
The center also is preparing for its annual fundraising banquet on Oct. 1. Plans are underway for the center to sell its present facility and purchase a larger building closer in town. The move will allow the center to double the number of families it currently is serving, Millsapps noted. “We are praying for a quick sale of our building, our community members to join alongside us as we present an offer on the building we want, and to reach our goal at our banquet of $250,000,” she said.
In addition to helping women choose life, the center also counsels those who had abortions.
Millsapps said that occasionally someone will come in not long after having an abortion and voice their regrets. But, she observed, it usually takes some people years because they suppress what they did and move on with life. Of course, that’s what the abortion industry wants them to do.”
The Pregnancy Resource Center is able to come alongside the woman who has had an abortion and meet her “in this place of pain that she is in right now,” Millsapps said. “And when everyone has left and totally deserted her, we’re able to look at her and tell her that we are not going to leave you. We’re going to be here for you.”
And, when they do that, they’re also able to tell her about a man (Jesus) who also will never leave or forsake her, she continued.
Hannah is just one of many who have been impacted by the Pregnancy Resource Center and she is extremely grateful for support from the center, East Maryville Baptist and others. Hannah also credits the Pregnancy Resource Center for sharing with her about Jesus. “That started my relationship with Christ,” she affirmed. Now, her goal is to be a praise and worship leader in the future.
“I think it’s vital when you’re a Christian to show the love of God, not only talk about it. That’s exactly what all of these people who have supported me have been doing. And, that’s what radically changed my life.” B&R — For more information on the Pregnancy Resource Center, visit www.youmakeherbrave.com.