Eighteen overseas pregnancy centers paired up with eighteen U.S.-based centers in a six-month Sister Center pilot program designed to bring mutual encouragement and increased understanding. Rolled out in June by Heartbeat International, the program initially opened to centers attending the Heartbeat International Annual Pregnancy Help Conference in Louisville, Ky.
Andrea Trudden, vice president of Communications and Marketing for Heartbeat International, said, “By connecting those within the movement, we open conversations that help us grow together in a united mission. The Sister Center program allows centers to share ideas and grow relationships within a global movement.”
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Rachel Jones, executive director of ZoeCare in Yankton, S.D., asked to pair with a Ugandan center because of her friendship with a church planter there.
“We had talked together about the high rate of teen pregnancy and young mothers who were in need of help in his country,” she said.
Annabelle Nakabiri Mukisa, founder and executive director of The Remnant Generation center in Kampala, Uganda, had waited nine years to partner with a center like Jones’s.
She said, “During our introduction meeting, we realized that we had so much in common and it could only be through the Holy Spirit that we connected.
“On our recent call, we had an in-depth discussion about running an effective volunteer program. Rachel generously answered all my questions and we have successfully transitioned five key roles into volunteer roles.”
In return, Jones said, “She has blessed me with her encouragement and her faith. I believe my relationship with Annabelle is going to bring depth to my leadership and to my relationship with the Lord. We can learn from each other, share vision, and bring encouragement to one another.”
“Praying for The Remnant Generation and their specific requests is a blessing to our staff and volunteers,” she said.
Mukisa noted that “the crisis pregnancy ministry in Uganda and Africa in general looks in many ways different from the USA. Even as I recognize the cultural and contextual differences, I have watched with great admiration the best practices being implemented by U.S.-based centers.
“There are many practical tools, lots of resources that Heartbeat International has developed, and these centers are using them well and experiencing great results which I have not yet seen back home. I really desired to glean from practical experiences instead of reinventing the wheel.”
Bearing one another’s burdens
Ellen Foell, International Program Specialist at Heartbeat International, told Pregnancy Help News that she hopes the Sister Center program will “open our eyes and our pain sensors to understand and feel the pain of other parts of body.”
“The life-affirming movement is one movement around the globe,” Foell said. “Parts of that movement have more financial trouble than others. Parts of that movement—particularly in areas of the world where it's dangerous to be pro-life—those brothers and sisters are being hurt. They are part of our body.”
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Denise Wittman, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Center in Willmar, Minn., witnessed that kind of pain in a post-conference encounter at the Louisville, Ky., airport with Iness Simwawa from Zambia.
“Iness had several large bags stacked on a cart that needed to be checked,” Wittman said. “I heard this commotion next to me and quickly realized that the payment card Iness had wasn’t working. Immediately, I asked what she needed. I said, ‘We’ve got it!’ I was privileged to be able to cover the cost of getting her bags to their destination.”
Wittman’s gift had been donated by her home church, designated specifically to “bless someone.”
Simwawa, co-founder with her husband Elias of Khumi Children’s Village in Kitwe, Zambia, called that meeting with Wittman and her crew “a miracle from God.”
Her checked bags were filled with clothing and ministry resources donated for her pregnancy resource center and maternity home that admits new mothers each month.
Returning to Zambia to face devastating flood damage to her building, Simwawa said that “becoming Sister Centers with Hope Pregnancy Center makes me think that we are not alone. I really feel God heard our prayers that we needed friends to be encouraging and pushing one another in this noble cause.”
Wittman said her center gained a whole new picture of pregnancy help from Simwawa.
“She told us more about her work, showing us pictures of women and children being served, God’s provision of food (large bags of cornmeal—so different what we can imagine), a vehicle, and the facilities,” she said. “She talked about how her ministry is in part funded—again, so different from our own story. We were pierced by what she shared, and touched by her story, her passion, her heart.
“After checking with Ellen from Heartbeat International and Barbara Mwansa of Association for Life Africa to confirm the structural damage, our board voted to give last quarter’s tithe to the organization under Iness’ care,” Wittman said.
While the Minnesota-Zambia relationship became an avenue for divine financial providence, Foell emphasized that “the purpose [of the Sister Centers program] is not for fundraising, it's to build relationship. What we want to do is to create a two-lane highway where centers in different parts of the world can connect with one another to the same destination, which is the reaching and the rescuing of women in unplanned pregnancies.”
What’s next for Sister Centers?
The Sister Center program will open to more Heartbeat International affiliates for matchups in January.
"There are a lot of centers that applied to be paired up, but we ran out of international affiliates,” Foell said. “We can remedy this in the next phase."
“It is beautiful to connect with a sister in Christ, who is on the other side of the world, and has the same heart for ministry,” Mukisa said. “It is encouraging to see how the Lord is working, not only in my community or through my ministry, but to see how He is working across the globe.
“We are at different frontlines, but the battlefield is the same. It matters when you know that you are not alone and can share experiences, resources, and encouragement with a sister beyond borders.”
Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News.