By Jenny Knowles
The LifeChoices Health Network in Joplin, Missouri, is in pursuit of opportunities to help people, and they’re taking hope on the road.
Three area clinics offer the services most of us associate with pregnancy centers—counseling, ultrasounds, and new parent assistance. LifeChoices literature breaks the services down into three groups: prevention, intervention, and extension.
Prevention includes the sexual risk avoidance program the network takes into 15 local school districts.
Intervention is pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, sexually transmitted infection screening, and treatment.
Extension is prenatal, parenting and post-abortion recovery classes, and new dad training.
LifeChoices has also added a mobile unit, a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van customized to provide sexual health services; the staff named the van Josh because the name means “deliverer, or the one who rescues.” Like the clinics, the mobile unit is equipped for sexual health testing; it makes regular visits to nearby college campuses and underprivileged neighborhoods in the community.
The Whole Truth
Mobility is what defines LifeChoices, and not just because of the van. Executive Director Karolyn Schrage and her staff are themselves mobile units of the gospel. They take the whole truth about sexual health and the life-giving compassion of Jesus to junior high and senior high school students, college students, mothers, new and prospective fathers, trafficking victims, and to strip clubs.
The organization’s numbers are impressive. In 26 years of outreach ministry, the group has provided 10,000 ultrasounds, 24,000 sexually transmitted infection services (screenings available to both men and women), and initiated 22,000 spiritual discussions. It has seen 6,600 clients choose life for an unborn child. LifeChoices currently has 20 employees and about 40 regular volunteers.
The health network has come a long way. It started 26 years ago in a room in a small parsonage, providing counseling and assistance for new mothers. Many such organizations were started in response to the Roe v. Wade decision and the growing number of Americans harmed by abortion. But, as with many such groups, LifeChoices is more than just part of a responsive movement. It is a mature organization advancing a culture of life.
In a recent letter to supporters, Schrage wrote that the LifeChoices team “specializes in forging new and relevant ways of influencing our complex culture.” The group’s willingness to find ways to take healing answers to people looking for help sets it apart.
Three years ago LifeChoices made men a part of its target audience, and with great result. One statistic in particular helped inform the decision to include mentoring for new and prospective fathers: 85 percent of women who ultimately chose abortion said they would have chosen life if the father of the child had been present or involved.
Bringing men into the conversation has changed the dynamic, Schrage says. It has also enabled the organization to be more visibly pro-men and pro-fathers. Since the 2013 inception of Project Blueprint, LifeChoices’ fatherhood outreach initiative, more than 1,400 young dads have been served, with 97 percent choosing life for their unborn children.
Recently LifeChoices expanded its mission further to help victims of domestic sex trafficking. Schrage serves as a steering committee member of the Southwest Missouri Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Interstates 44 and 49 intersect in Joplin, making the community vulnerable to higher rates of domestic trafficking. The mobile unit enables LifeChoices staff to be an on-the-spot medical resource for law enforcement officers aiding a trafficking victim.
This is in addition to the partnership with Rapha House to supply and fill “Go” bags, which law enforcement officers hand out to trafficking victims who are rescued. LifeChoices is also involved in training other organizations to implement medical services for sex trafficking victims.
It’s all part of the ongoing mission to engage people of all types, according to Schrage. “We want to give them an opportunity to hear life-affirming messages.”
The willingness of LifeChoices to help the most vulnerable in society—and its skill at drawing people together for that purpose—has produced a lot of “ecumenical love” for its ministry in the Joplin community. Schrage has personally received some awards recognizing her good work as well as that of her staff. In 2011 she was named one of Joplin’s “Most Influential Women,” and in 2012 the Tri-State Business Journal awarded Schrage its “Salute to Healthcare” award as a patient advocate.
Schrage and some staff members volunteer weekly at strip clubs to support women in that at-risk community. Schrage and her coworkers are known in the clubs as the “church ladies,” and while there they are in the dressing rooms—generating conversations about life, praying for the women, and waiting for the opportunity to share the truth and compassion about Jesus.
They are building friendships with women who need to know they have someone in their corner. “It’s not a neat and tidy ministry,” Schrage says. “It’s a by-the-well-cast-in-the-dirt ministry.”
Schrage points out that Jesus approached individuals differently—contextualizing his message for each one. The majority of people come to God slowly, she says; one study indicates it takes an average of four years. “We’re calling people to Jesus, not just to church,” she says.
“LifeChoices draws the thirsty,” she says. “They may not all drink deeply at first—they don’t even know what they’re thirsty for—but we have a unique opportunity to offer eternal, life-giving water. We draw people to the well and they will come if they understand that you can come as you are and see that the love of God is good.”
Jenny Knowles is a freelance writer and the community relations coordinator for God’s Resort, a relationship-based transitional housing community in Joplin, Missouri.