Unborn—Calvary Chapel Downey
Unborn—Calvary Chapel Downey

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Calvary Chapel Downey Believers Support Many Facets of Pro-Life Ministry

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Steve Shambeck, Isabel Herenandez, Sinatra Chan, and Geoff Odell

Calvary Chapel Downey believers support many facets of pro-life ministry: a local pregnancy center, outreach at an abortion clinic, and sharing their own stories of choosing life.

Their hearts heavy, believers Melissa and Cory Desselle drove together in silence to meet a seasoned pastor, the father of a friend they trusted. The past six weeks had been a nerve-wracking maelstrom of confusion and fear. Because of her medical condition, Melissa had been told by her doctors to get an abortion—or face a 50 percent chance of losing her life and a 30 percent chance of losing the baby. In fact, all three of Melissa’s specialists told her she would be foolish to have this third child. Melissa was a nurse, so she understood the reality of these risks. She didn’t want to leave behind her husband and their other two children. She couldn’t believe she was facing such a decision—to choose between her life or her baby’s.

She and Cory knew abortion is murder. How could they choose death for this precious new life? Yet even Melissa’s family had assumed that she would terminate the pregnancy for the sake of her other children. A few minutes later, she and Cory were sitting in the pastor’s home, explaining the situation to him and his wife, who listened quietly to their fears and confusion and urged them to pray about the situation.

Pray to end abortion prayer huddle

A Calvary Chapel Downey, CA, team prays at the abortion clinic before church on a Sunday morning.

The two couples bowed their heads and prayed for God’s direction and peace. “While we were praying,” Melissa recalled, “I felt this peace come over me, and I just knew that everything was going to be okay. That no matter what happens, God’s got this. He’s got me, the kids—whatever happens is going to be okay.” When they left, Melissa declared, “We’re not doing it. We’re going to have this baby.” Cory’s eyes lit up as he told her that was how he felt. “So we continued with the pregnancy. I was considered high risk the whole time, had intermittent bleeding, and had to go on bed rest.” Though her daughter Ciara was born six weeks early, she was healthy and above average in weight and development. “It was all God!” Melissa happily told her skeptical doctor on the day they were discharged.

Melissa had been surprised at the amount of pressure she faced to have an abortion. “My Christian family, my coworkers, my doctors—everyone was telling me that we couldn’t have her,” she said. “I never thought my family would say that. I know it was because they were afraid.” She held to her faith and continued to feel God’s peace and presence. Smiling, she added, “And I’m still here, and now my daughter Ciara is 12! She’s my little miracle girl, and we know she and I are both here by the grace of God.” To others who feel pressured to abort their baby, she said, “God is in control. Doctors can quote statistics; they are just trying to do what’s right in their eyes medically. But they don’t have the complete picture. Only God has the reins; only God is in control. It’s in His hands.”

People stand with signs on sidewalk

Other Christian ministries join the CC Downey team as they hope to reach women seeking abortions.

Involving the Next Generation

Melissa grew up going to Calvary Chapel Downey; she and her husband returned there after Ciara was born. On the recent National Day of Prayer, Melissa and Ciara attended a pro-life prayer walk organized by Pastor Tim Hearron, who oversees the pro-life ministry at CC Downey. Tim explained, “We took the CC Downey Christian School 6th graders and spent the day going to the abortion clinic for a couple hours, walked down the street to city hall, and spent an hour in prayer there for the National Day of Prayer. We’ve done it two years in a row. We do whatever we can to get the students out there. They know abortion is wrong, but it’s another thing to go out there and pray—to put action to their beliefs.”

Melissa applauds the school for involving students in pro-life ministry. The Desselles pulled their children from public school after teachers touted the alleged benefits of abortion. At the recent rally, Melissa reported that Ciara and her classmates spontaneously started singing “A Person is a Person No Matter How Small,” a song based on a book by Dr. Seuss that was part of their school musical. “That was really amazing, how God connected that for them,” Melissa said. “It was a special moment.”

Pastor prays with guy on street

Tim Hearron, right, assistant pastor at CC Downey at the time, prays with a man at the outreach. He often meets concerned men.

Hearing a Heartbeat

CC Downey also supports a nearby pro-life pregnancy center called LivingHelp Center, which has helped save many lives.

Eva sat at home, confusion and fear gripping her mind. At age 21, she had been accepted to study international business at a school in Paris, France—a dream opportunity. However, she was pregnant. Eva knew her family would be devastated and angry when they found out. Her boyfriend was adamant that they weren’t ready for children. She agreed; they weren’t. But is that the baby’s fault? Why should this little one have to pay the price for our choices? she asked herself.

Discovering that Planned Parenthood would charge $2,000 to terminate the pregnancy, she searched online and found LivingHelp Center. The website offered free pregnancy testing, options information, ultrasound, and baby items. She made an appointment.

Pink hair ultrasound

Sarah reacts joyfully to seeing her baby for the first time. Women receive free ultrasounds at LivingHelp Center in a mobile van owned by Horizon Pregnancy Clinic. Hearing one’s baby’s heartbeat can change a mind.

Alone and afraid, she walked in. Mari Wingate, the director, “welcomed me warmly, like a friend. She told me I had nothing to worry about and gave me a hug, which felt really warming and helped calm me,” she recalled. She was ushered into a comfortable room. Mari listened sympathetically. When Eva said she felt unsure of her choices, Mari reminded her that it was her decision. Then she offered Eva options, including an ultrasound.

“No, no; I can’t,” Eva said quickly. Mari asked her why. “I’m just afraid that if I hear the heartbeat, I’ll want to keep the baby.” Gently, Mari asked her if that would be so bad. She told Eva about her own two unplanned children, how God had provided, and how much she loved them now. Eva thought about it. She realized that she had been pushing away motherhood as something impossible out of fear; but that deep down, part of her longed to bring her baby into the world.

Mari looking at photos with pink hair girl

Sarah shares her sonogram image with LivingHelp Director Mari Wingate.

Two days later, she heard his heartbeat during the ultrasound. “In that moment, something clicked. I just knew I wasn’t going to get rid of my baby. Now I’m so thankful to have this little munchkin by my side,” she said of her son Damien. Her boyfriend became supportive, and they married before Damien was born. “Now he comes to church with me, and we always have family time after. He tells me that he is so glad that we chose to have our son.” Initially, Eva had been petrified to tell her father, but now she says, “He loves and adores his little grandson and helps take care of him all the time.” To others with unexpected pregnancies, Eva encouraged, “Don’t be scared. No one ever expects an unplanned pregnancy. I was able to finish my degree, and now I’m raising my child. Look for help, especially at a place like LivingHelp Center. They didn’t judge me at all; they gave me options, support, and comfort. The choice was mine.”

Spiritual Care

LivingHelp Center’s director, Mari, explained, “Our mission is to support women and families going through an unplanned pregnancy by addressing their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs with unconditional love.” Mari was a teen mom years ago who chose life. “God showed me that, just as He comforted and strengthened me, I can comfort and strengthen others going through this.” She added, “I know the fear and lies that the enemy wants them to believe: How are you going to do this? Being insecure, afraid, unsure. I tell them, ‘I have been there; we’re going to help you get through this.’”

Many girls come from backgrounds of abuse, neglect, poverty, or addiction. Some age out of foster care and have nowhere to go, making them vulnerable. “It’s all about building trust, showing love, being a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on. Some of the girls don’t have a family; it means so much for them to have a hug because their mom is not present in their lives. We are truly being the hands and feet of Jesus.” Mari seeks to convey the loving character of Jesus. “God’s heart is so for the heartbroken, the hopeless, the hurting, the downtrodden, the voiceless,” she said. “Our goal is to shine His light, to say: ‘You have people who care about you and want to help you; you are of value to God.’ As they believe that, they start to see that [choosing life] is something that they can do.”

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Eva and Damian in pool

Eva swims with son Damien. Hearing her unborn baby’s heartbeat during ultrasound led her to keep her baby.

God’s love is key, Mari shared: “God’s perfect love casts out all fear. And they will have the capacity and desire to love their baby regardless of their circumstances.” Many who have been traumatized come for deep, inner-healing prayer. They share about their background, struggles, family, childhood, or trauma. Then Mari prays specifically with them, asking the Holy Spirit to heal. She says, “Those prayer sessions are some of the most powerful times of my Christian walk. It makes way for God’s heart—which is to heal, redeem, and restore.”

Saving Lives through Love

“Many young women who consider abortion are fearful and have no support,” said Karyn Johnson, whose husband Jeff is senior pastor at CC Downey. Karyn urges women to show love and compassion: “Pray and ask the Lord how He would use you to encourage those with unplanned pregnancies to choose life. Perhaps there is a young woman in your church, neighborhood, or circle of friends who could use a Christian friend, spiritual advice, or practical support. Buy diapers for a young mom or single mom in your church. Being there for them is priceless. Jesus taught us to help believers in need: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40b).”

Ultrasound photo baby sucking thumb

The sonogram shows Sarah’s baby with its thumb in its mouth.

Women who abort vary in age and religious beliefs. Teens account for about 10 percent of all U.S. abortions while women in their 20s account for about 60 percent, according to the CDC. Teens give birth to nearly 200,000 babies each year. Today, even young women who identify as Christians abort because they feel they have no other option or will be judged instead of supported. In fact, more than 4 in 10 women who have had an abortion were churchgoers at the time, according to a survey sponsored by the nonprofit Care Net.

Both Pastor Jeff and Karyn have a personal sympathy for those with unplanned pregnancies. “We have four children; three of them were born before we were married,” explained Karyn. “If abortion had been legal at the time, I’m not sure they all would have been born.” After coming to Christ, Karyn was so grateful that God had spared her children; she wanted to do something for other women with unplanned pregnancies. After seeking the Lord, Karyn began the House of Ruth with CC Downey, helping those who cannot keep their unborn children to connect with Christian couples who feel called to adopt.

Ways to Engage the Church

Karyn added, “I would like to see every Calvary Chapel have a pro-life ministry or support a pro-life clinic. Some have no such ministries at all. They [the pastors] believe in choosing life; they just don’t know where to go or what to support.” She noted that ways to support the unborn are endless. “People often imagine pro-life ministry as standing on a sidewalk outside an abortion clinic, but there are many ways to save unborn lives. I’m not a sidewalk counselor,” Karyn said. “I don’t think everybody is.”

For this reason, not only does CC Downey’s pro-life pastor Tim Hearron train believers for local outreaches, but the church offers other ways for students and churchgoers to get involved. “Last year we did a ‘Project Moses’ campaign—we put out a big blue tarp that was the Nile River, and a poster with Pharaoh’s daughter picking up baby Moses from a basket. We asked for baby items to send to Israel. You wouldn’t believe how much the church responded.” Forty-five graduates from CC Downey’s Christian school carried several hundred pounds’ worth of items to a pro-life clinic in Israel. “There is nothing like giving a pack of baby clothes to support a child in Israel who will not be aborted.”

Mari march

Marchers walk in support of the unborn at the Pound the Ground Walk for Life in Downey, CA.

Helping out in practical ways also blesses the giver. Karyn said, “Some girls who had abortions [before coming to Christ] come to me and want to do something. I tell them, ‘Help a single mother in the church—donate money for her, buy her diapers.’ One man who pressured his girlfriend to have an abortion years ago is now supporting a child of one of our single moms.” She added, “If you don’t feel called to counsel at a pregnancy center, you can babysit for a mother who does.”

Mari testified that even a handmade blanket given in Jesus’ name can be a powerful blessing. One young woman who had grown up in foster care fell into drugs and had her baby taken away. LivingHelp helped her find a rehab program. Later, she needed baby items for a visit to see her baby; Mari gave her a crocheted blanket. “We told her the people who donated these items want to help her because they love Jesus. It was so foreign to her. She said, ‘I can’t believe people would just give their time and do something like this for me.’ It brought her to tears, and we were able to lead her to Jesus.”

Another pro-life ministry supported by CC Downey is Save the Storks; a van owned and operated by Horizon Pregnancy Clinic, which partners with LivingHelp to provide free ultrasounds. “Nothing changes the heart of a mother like seeing the beating heart of the child inside of her,” Karyn said. “Call and find out [nationally]where those vans are in your area.” CC Downey has a pro-life ministry called Crossroads with quarterly meetings to pray, plan, and train for outreach. They pray at a local abortion clinic, and they sponsor a “Walk for Life” to raise funds for the ministry and the LivingHelp Center. The church also refers people to LivingHelp Center as it ministers to women who have been wounded by past abortions and want to follow Christ.

Lady smiles in foyer

Mari Wingate shares her desire to save babies with congregants at a CC Downey service.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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