Romanian crisis pregnancy center shines as beacon against abortion

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--As the United States marks the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in America, a group of Christians is working hard in Romania to curb the practice of murdering unborn children.

Romania and Vietnam are the top two nations in numbers of abortions performed each year. In 2001, 1.6 million abortions were reported in Romania. Abortion is used as a form of birth control, and most of the women who abort their unborn children in Romania do so because of economic reasons, said Sharon Herrera, founder and president of Iochebed Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Eastern Europe.

Herrera, a former crisis pregnancy counselor who lives in Nashville, Tenn., explained that before founding the Iochebed ministry in 1998, she had no connection to Romania and no interest in missions.

"I would never even have prayed about missions because I knew if I prayed about missions God would send me to Africa," she told Baptist Press. "I had zero interest in Romania."

But when Herrera's pastor began an evangelistic partnership with Romania, God began to make that country more special in her life.

In the fall of 1997, the youngest of her six children went away to college, and she began to feel the empty nest syndrome. By 1998, she decided some things needed to change.

"I do not do New Year's resolutions because I'm not patient enough to keep them, but my goal that year was to love God more," she said. "My relationship with him was too much of a businesslike thing, where I needed salvation and he provided it."

On March 17, 1998, Herrera was asked to travel to Romania and start a crisis pregnancy center there. She said it was a shock, and it took three days of speaking with trusted friends before she knew she was supposed to go. But it was clear, she said. She traveled to Romania for the first time in June 1998.

"They didn't know what a crisis pregnancy center was in Romania. I didn't even know how to start one because I had just been a counselor, but it was obviously of God because when I left there we had one started. I wondered if it was a one-time deal," Herrera said.

When Herrera returned home, she talked about Romania daily because she had developed a new love for the nation. She said her husband, Ric, went back with her in October "to quiet her down," but God caused him to fall in love with the people as well.

The Herreras have worked from Tennessee to start four crisis pregnancy centers in Romania and plan to start a fifth in January 2003. They named the ministry "Iochebed" because it's the Romanian name for Moses' mother, known as Jochebed in the Old Testament. Jochebed knew that whatever she chose to do with her unborn child, her life would change forever and her future would be filled with risk and danger. She knew the simplest thing would be to hand her baby over for slaughter, but she also knew a God who was bigger than her fears and showed her a better way.

A Romanian staff of paid professionals and caring volunteers counsel frightened women and teenagers who have come to the centers at the most stressful time in their lives, according to the Iochebed website, www.iochebed.org. The centers offer free pregnancy tests, post-abortion counseling, crisis intervention counseling, sexual abuse counseling, material assistance for food, clothing and baby items, abstinence presentations in schools, organizations and churches and referrals to social services and medical agencies.

"The need is great in Romania," Herrera said. "There is very little work like we're doing. There are a couple other organizations, but we're just a drop in the bucket. Almost every city in Romania could use our services."

She explained that abortion became legal in Romania in 1989 with the end of communism, and it's not uncommon to find a woman who has had 10, 15 or 20 abortions.

Perhaps the most important service the centers provide is gospel witnessing, teaching the women to place their fears in God's hands and stand back to watch what he can do, not just with their pregnancies but with the rest of their lives. Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you," is a verse Iochebed uses to show women that God loves them and has a plan for the lives of their unborn children.

"Women are still shamed by their families and by the church if they are pregnant out of wedlock in Romania," Herrera said. "It's not as accepted as it is in America. I have an obvious concern for the unborn babies, but my big concern is for the women. I don't think any woman anywhere truly wants to kill her child. She has an abortion just because she cannot see a way out.

"The most important thing we do is get the gospel out. Anything short of a relationship with Jesus Christ is just bandages."

Although using Romanian staff and volunteers to reach Romanians, Iochebed is funded completely by supporters in the United States. The 2003 Iochebed budget is $80,000, Herrera said, for five centers with 16 total employees. She noted that dollars go "really, really far" in Romania.

Herrera said prayer is a major need of the Iochebed ministry.

"My number one prayer is that God would touch people's hearts and make people care about a need that's 5,000 miles away in Romania. I didn't care until God touched my heart," she said. "Not everybody is going to [focus on] Romania, but I wish it could be something that would motivate other people to look and see what God has for them."

Prayers of endurance and persistence also are needed for the Iochebed staff. The lack of heat and hot water as well as the crowded conditions can make Romania a difficult place to minister.

Herrera asked that Christians pray for more doors to be opened so that Iochebed can further minister in the Romanian schools. The government is so desperate for help that they typically allow the group to present abstinence education and even the gospel message in the schools.

"The reason I like to share my story is that I am so ordinary and never thought about missions," Herrera said. "God has a plan, and all I've ever done in life is a part of what I do now in Romania. None of it is omitted."

For more information about the Iochebed ministry, visit the website at www.iochebed.org.


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: A HEART FOR ROMANIANS and A WISE DECISION and A CHILD SAVED.

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