Pregnancy counselor's goal is to save lives

by Carolyn Nichols, posted Friday, January 18, 2008 (10 years ago)

LEESBURG, Fla. (BP)--Wanda Kohn, director of the Pregnancy Care Center at First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Fla., said she is in the people business. She is enthusiastically pro-life on behalf of unborn babies whose futures are in danger and on behalf of their mothers who don't know the love and forgiveness Jesus offers.

"One purpose is to save the babies, but our bigger purpose is to draw people to Christ," she told the Florida Baptist Witness.

The Pregnancy Care Center in Leesburg is part of the central Florida church's multi-faceted ministry to those in need, all with the motto, "meeting needs sharing Christ." The center annually serves more than 1,200 women and teens at some time during their pregnancies. Of those who visit the center while deciding whether to abort a child, 80 percent decide against abortion, Kohn said.

In recognition of Kohn and others who World Magazine said "receive little or no pay, power, or honor, [who] keep coming forward to save lives," the conservative publication gave Kohn its "Daniel of the Year" award.

The annual award honors those who "exhibited bravery in defense of God's authority, not their own autonomy." Kohn was chosen to represent those who provide encouragement and counsel in pregnancy centers nationwide.

Kohn is happy that the ministries are being recognized, but she shrinks from the attention the award has engendered.

"There are a lot of people doing as much or more than I am," she said. "We are all just going what God has called us to do."

Marvin Olasky, editor of World, visited First Baptist in Leesburg two years ago and was "really touched" by the church's Ministry Village, according to Executive Pastor Art Ayris. Ayris introduced Olasky to Kohn and began forwarding Kohn's e-mailed stories of Pregnancy Center clients to the editor.

"I was almost apologetic knowing he was getting these e-mails. I just cringed to think that I was bothering this busy man," Kohn said. "Then he asked me for more stories."

Kohn and Ayris began to suspect that an article on the Pregnancy Center was in the works when requests for stories and information came from the publication. Then a photographer came -- twice.

"I thought the first pictures just didn't come out," Kohn said.

Kohn and Ayris were notified that she was the Daniel Award winner only two days before Kohn's magazine cover story hit newsstands nationwide.

"When I found out, I just began weeping," Ayris said. "Wanda is just a perfect choice."

Ayris told the Florida Baptist Witness Kohn "runs a salvation station on the edge of hell" and "never gives up on those who need help."

Along with other counselors, Kohn was the inspiration for the character "Wanda," a women's counselor in the movie "The Touch," produced by First Baptist Church in Leesburg and written by Ayris.

Kohn's stories of the center's clients -- those with positive endings and those without -- were featured in the five-page magazine article along with glimpses into Kohn's background and philosophy of ministry.

"I thought it was important that they see the negative, too," she said. "Not all who walk into these doors decide to keep their babies."

Kohn herself chose abortion when she became pregnant at 17 and now views the event as a reminder of God's mercy. Five years after the abortion, Kohn married the father of her child, but the marriage survived only two years.

She then married Bob Kohn in 1986. Both new Christians, they joined New Life Presbyterian Church in Fruitland Park, and Wanda began volunteering with First Baptist Church's Pregnancy Center in Leesburg. She also co-founded Lake County's Habitat for Humanity. Volunteering at First Baptist got the Kohns "involved with the church as a whole," and the couple eventually joined First Baptist to be in a more conservative environment, she said. Kohn became director of the pregnancy center in 2002.

Because of her multi-denominational background, Kohn said she has an "ecumenical vision for ministry in general." The Pregnancy Center receives funds and volunteers from churches of other denominations in the community. Kohn said the "Lutheran ladies" supply the center with hundreds of New Testaments to distribute to clients.

She proudly affirms Southern Baptists' staunch defense of the sanctity of human life and appreciates the support received from Florida Baptists. Kathleen Hiers, Florida Baptists' sanctity of human life director, can be counted on for supporting prayer and counsel, Kohn said.

Kohn, stepmother to two, works 12-14 hour days at the center and then travels about an hour to the family's home "out in the swamp" in Bushnell. On her only day off, she retreats to the woods and photographs wildlife.

"I guard my Saturdays. I think that is what keeps me going," she said.

Even photographing her beloved swamp critters cannot compare, however, with the joy of seeing women choose life over death for their babies and eternal life for themselves.

"These women are not just clients. They are friends, and some of them are sisters in Christ," she said.

Kohn also has developed long-term relationships with some of the women who visit. She told of a woman who came into the center several years ago considering an abortion. Although married and a mother to another child, the client was not a U.S. citizen and saw no hope in her situation. Kohn said she "basically promised her whatever I needed to" to help her choose life, and was with her at the hospital when her baby was born. The mother and her now 5-year-old son visited Kohn at the Pregnancy Center during the Christmas holidays.

Other former clients and their friends come to the center just "to hang out" because they are trying to avoid temptations. Kohn said Rachel Caruso, assistant director of the center, excels at making the center "a safe and welcoming place."

Since the World Magazine article was published Dec. 15, Kohn has been the subject of a radio interview in Montana and Nevada, and a donor has made a substantial one-time donation to the pregnancy center.

Kohn hopes the article inspires other Christians to pray for pregnancy centers, to donate much-needed funds and to volunteer to help. The centers especially need volunteers who have a God-given passion to impact young women.

"When they come to the center, we have one hour to talk with them," she said. "We need people who will make a difference in their lives."


Carolyn Nichols is a newswriter for the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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