By Ashley Perham
Baptist & Reflector
NEWPORT — When Options Pregnancy Help Center opened in 2016 in Newport, Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church had a “pro-life, conservative, Republican mentality,” said Randy Runions, pastor of Lincoln Avenue and chairman of the board of Options.
However, Runions said the church soon realized that, for them, being pro-life was not about politics.
“It did not take us long to switch from that to just being simply gospel-centered,” he said.
Lincoln Avenue’s basement housed Options from 2016 until this year, when a house was donated to the non-denominational ministry.
Options moved into its new home last month.
Options had started as a calling of Mike Harshbarger, who passed away before he could see the center open.
Harshbarger had a heart for a pregnancy center in Newport and spoke at many churches in the area, including Lincoln Avenue. Harshbarger was the “advocate” who got the center started, said Runions.
Runions said that he was very interested in getting the center started and told the board they could use Lincoln Avenue to host the center.
Options is not affiliated with Lincoln Avenue, although the church is one of many that support the center.
Runions said that although Options needed a place to meet, having a pregnancy center in a church is a bad idea.
“I say that because in a small town, especially, there’s a good chance that a girl has attended our church at one point in time,” Runions explained. “The stigma is you don’t want to go there if you have a pregnancy and you don’t know what to do because it’s going to be nothing but their church members and they’re going to know that you’ve had sex outside of marriage.”
Runions said once clients started to come, they came quickly. “The first month, we had five new clients; the next month, it was 10 new clients,” Runions said, adding that by the next month, they could hardly keep enough diapers on hand for all the clients. “It just got crazy really fast.”
Wendy Ramsey, director of Options, said the center has probably seen about 80 clients participate in some aspect of the program. That is only the number the center has files on and does not include any family members that come with the women.
None of this success would have been possible, however, if not for volunteers from the East Tennessee Baptist Association, said Runions. These volunteers met several days a week in the church but didn’t see their first client for around a year.
Ramsey and her husband, Jesse, are members of Lincoln Avenue and were involved with the pregnancy center in nearby Jefferson City, before Options started. When they heard Harshbarger speak at Lincoln Avenue, they decided the center was something they wanted to be involved with. In October 2017, Ramsey became director of Options.
Options has programs for families that support the clients from pregnancy until the baby turns 2.
A client comes in to have a one-on-one discussion with a “care counselor” to discuss a certain topic or watch an informational video. Ramsey said the curriculum covers many topics in parenting including step-parenting, pregnancy, toddlers, and dads.
Participating in the program earns clients credit in the Options store of donated supplies that includes everything families of small children would need: diapers, wipes, cribs, clothing, bathtubs, car seats, and many other items. Clients can also earn credit by attending church and a Bible study.
“What’s really cool is because our churches are so supportive that if we don’t have it, it’s like an e-mail away, a Facebook post away, (from) getting it,” Ramsey said.
Runions said that clients earning credit in the store is a way to help further the clinic’s main goal: making sure that every client who walks in hears the gospel. “We love children, and we hate abortion, but the bottom line is we don’t want anyone to go into an eternal state without knowing that Jesus Christ died for their sins,” Runions said.
Options also hosts a post-abortion recovery Bible study called “Forgiven and Set Free.” Ramsey said that the study has seen small numbers come but that the age demographic is “random.”
“Our first client that walked in was a 65-year-old man, and he had been dealing with his grief since he was about 22 years old,” said Runions.
Options also has connections to several resources for families and pregnant women, including homeless shelters, medical facilities and halfway houses.
Ramsey was also excited about a new mentoring program Options has started. To continue helping families as their children get older, Options has started pairing clients with women who are interested in mentoring and connecting with them.
“It’s just allowing a woman to be invested in and being the face of Christ to our clients outside our center,” Ramsey said.
Both Runions and Ramsey spoke of the change Options had made in the pro-life mentality of Newport and Lincoln Avenue.
“It’s so easy to be pro-life when all you have to do is walk into a voting booth and pull a switch, but to really be pro-life, it’s just challenged and changed our whole thinking at church,” said Runions.
Ramsey said that through Options, she has experienced that a lot of problems can be fixed just with investment from the church and “just being a real person in families’ lives that maybe aren’t in the church.”
“It’s not just saving the baby in the womb,” she said. “It’s beyond that.”