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Monday, 29 November 2010

Pro-life in the Texas Panhandle

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Candy GibbsCandy Gibbs has served for the past eight years as executive director of a CareNet Pregnancy Centers (CPC) in the Texas Panhandle, which has two other branches. Prior to being named to that post in this Christian ministry, she was director of Amarillo’s Northeast branch of the CPC for five years.

She was interviewed for The New American by Julie Hays, who has been a volunteer at Amarillo’s main CPC since 2003.

The New American: Tell us about your background — how you became involved with the CareNet Pregnancy Centers.

Candy Gibbs: I initially came as a client — to the Medi-Park CPC, Amarillo’s main branch — when I was 18, for a pregnancy test. First, though, I’ll give you my background that led up to that moment.

I was raised in a Christian home. I had a relationship with the Lord — I really loved Him. I had always been quiet and shy, but I wanted to be popular, and was very much a people-pleaser. I also wanted my parents to be proud of me.

So in high school I became a cheerleader. It was a pivotal time in my life — I began making friends of a different sort. One of these friends was a boy — immensely popular, involved in a lot of school activities, smart and athletic. In fact, Mr. Wonderful.

And he liked me.

Well, my mother and father knew him, and they told me I couldn’t date him. But we started a relationship anyway. We had to sneak around. I began compromising — and then the relationship became sexual. It was a huge change for both of us.

Then in April of 1992, I realized I might be pregnant, so I went to the CPC, and the test was positive. I remember telling the counselor, “We’re a Christian family. We’re going to do the right thing here. Of course I’m not going to get an abortion.” But the desire to keep my friends and extended family from knowing my shame was just overwhelming.

So, because abortions aren’t done in Amarillo, my father drove me two hours down to Lubbock for an abortion. Now, my father was the youth pastor of our church, and so this was a dreadful, emotional time for him … for my whole family … as well as for me. We knew what we were doing was terribly wrong. And we were oppressed by guilt.

I can still remember that waiting room at the abortion clinic. It was full to the brim with young women — but everyone seemed so completely isolated and alone, sitting there.

When I was taken back for the abortion, the doctor came in and never spoke the whole time, or even once made eye contact with me. I actually began kind of “shutting down” — I think as a sort of defense mechanism. I got to the point where I was not emotional at all. And, in fact, that lasted for two years. Afterward, I couldn’t seem to cry or laugh or feel any emotion. I wasn’t suicidal, but I didn’t care if I lived or died.

In fact, the whole agonizing experience was tearing my parents apart. It had a devastating effect on not only me but my entire family.

Later, I did begin to feel an emotion: anger. I would be driving somewhere, and I would just scream at God, “Why did you let this happen to me?” Really, I think I was on the verge of losing my mind.

But somehow I got through graduation. And then, after that, when I was attending Amarillo College and working, a woman I worked with handed me a brochure one day for New Dawn — the abortion-recovery program at CareNet. I remember looking at it and thinking, “There’s nothing anyone can say to make me feel better. There are no ‘take-backs.’”

But I did decide to go through the New Dawn program — and it was not so much the curriculum — it was spending time with the Lord that helped. I asked God to forgive me, and I believe that He did. In New Dawn the women who have had abortions even have a memorial service for the children who have died in the abortions.

I don’t feel guilty anymore. God has given me a wonderful husband and three precious children. I love them all very much. The greatest thing the Lord has done for me is to allow me to speak about pro-life. I feel I’m doing it for my aborted child.

TNA: You and your father speak at CPC fundraising banquets around the country, don’t you?

Gibbs: Yes, we do — at about 12 to 15 a year. And also, my father — who has repented of his part in my abortion and has been forgiven by God — is now involved in the Bravehearts mentoring program for teen young men at CareNet. He also teaches a monthly Bible study on godly character development to graduates of Bravehearts. In addition, he evangelizes regularly at a local youth detention center.

My favorite thing now is to talk with parents of teenagers.

TNA: Tell us about the mentoring programs for teenagers and pre-teens at the pregnancy center. How did they get started?

Gibbs: Mentoring these young people is something very dear to my heart. Here’s how it all began. In 2003-04 we were seeing so many families — Christian parents — who would say to me, “Candy, last night when we went to bed, we said to each other, ‘Life is good.’ But this morning when we woke up, our teenage daughter came and told us she is pregnant. She has changed completely — she’s like a different girl. We’re shocked and devastated. We had no idea.”

But you know, that scenario reminds me of when a thunderstorm is approaching. First, you feel a shift in the atmosphere. Soon you see the dark clouds forming. And then you begin to smell rain in the air. In other words, you have many warning signs.

But with our children, we parents often ignore these signs, or we are not even around to notice them. We must spend enough time with our children to feel when the atmosphere shifts.

So in 2004, we began a mentoring program for teen girls, called Pearls, with classes to help them overcome their daily battles. Class topics include their relationships — with God, their parents, friends, and young men; society’s pressures; purity and abstinence; and drugs and their effects.

TNA: How is this program organized?

Gibbs: Well, I’ve written a Pearls mentoring curriculum which includes a book for the parents, one for the girls, and a guide for the teachers. We also have a DVD set.

TNA: What about other mentoring classes?

Gibbs: We have Bravehearts for teen boys, the counterpart to Pearls (but more “manly”) — to encourage them to be young men of godly character; for girls 8 to 12, we have Chosen, and its counterpart, Squires (for boys of the same age). Each of these programs has sessions that include the parents as well.

TNA: What are the services offered at the pregnancy centers?

Gibbs: The list of our CPC services — all free of charge — is fairly extensive, including a 24-hour hotline, pregnancy testing and sonograms, confidential counseling about pregnancy, adoption — and information about abortion. Also we have maternity clothes, baby clothes, diapers, and formula; and the young women can come in once a month for a fixed number of these items.

And then there’s so much more. All the classes — childbirth, abortion-recovery, pre-marital counseling, parenting, Dr. Dad (basic first-aid teaching for fathers of newborns), baby safety, Young Moms, and of course all the mentoring programs — as well as a prayer ministry and Bible studies. Our volunteers have the privilege of sharing with our clients the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. Each year, 200-300 of these young women trust Christ.

TNA: Though the teen pregnancy rate in the Texas Panhandle is among the highest in the nation, do you feel the CPCs are having an impact?

Gibbs: Oh, absolutely — for instance, with our counseling against abortion. Last year, of the 60 abortion-minded young women who came to our centers, 58 of them chose life for their unborn children. Of course, as I say, those two who chose to have abortions are two too many — but we are definitely having an impact.

TNA: That’s a high percentage. How exactly did that happen — how were you able to get those 58 young women to realize that what they were planning to do was wrong?

Gibbs: Well, let me give a few examples.

First, when we give an abortion-minded young woman a sonogram, we want to show her the ultrasound picture of her unborn child. We’ve had many young women who’ve said they were told that in their early pregnancy, what was inside was “just a mass of tissue.” So often a client doesn’t realize that she is carrying a living, moving human being until she sees the ultrasound picture — and can make out the little arms and legs and head of her baby. It’s a defining moment. Many times I’ve seen their amazement. They’ll say, “Nobody told me!”

Many of these single young pregnant women come to us scared and confused, almost overwhelmed — perhaps being pressured by a parent or boyfriend to just have an abortion and “get rid of the problem.” We let them know they have other options — for instance, that there are loving, childless couples out there who dearly want to adopt a child. That they would not be “giving up their child,” but rather placing that child in a loving home where there are two parents able to provide the care for the baby that they as single teens so often cannot.

Some of our teenage clients have told our staff later that placing their child for adoption was one of the wisest choices they ever made. And in many cases, the birth mother can visit her child and enjoy a loving relationship with that child, and also with her child’s adoptive parents.

We also inform the girls of the various area “shelter homes” where, depending on their circumstances, they may choose to spend the remainder of their pregnancy, away from pressures for abortion, or possibly a difficult home life — or an abusive boyfriend, for instance.

When the girls decide to go through their pregnancy, we let them know that we will help them every step of the way — first with maternity clothes, later on with classes on childbirth, baby safety and parenting, and eventually with clothes and formula for their new child. Just knowing that there will be someone there with them through their pregnancy can be a powerful incentive for these girls to turn away from the idea of abortion.

TNA: I understand that the main pregnancy center in Amarillo — the Medi-Park branch of which you are the executive director — is one of the largest in the country in terms of clients per month and community outreach.

Gibbs: True. And that’s among 2,400 CareNet Pregnancy Centers affiliates nationwide. This branch sees over 700 clients every month — and that’s just who walks through our doors for events within the building. That doesn’t count our community outreach programs. Our three area CPCs combined see an average of 1,000 clients a month.

TNA: That’s pretty impressive. How is this ministry sustained financially?

Gibbs: We have two major fundraising events a year: the Walk for Life in the fall, which brings in about $50,000, and the annual banquet in the spring, from which we receive about $180,000. And then, of course, we’re given donations throughout the year by individuals and churches. We receive no government funding.

We have excellent community support here in Amarillo. We’re in the Bible Belt — and I believe our pregnancy centers actually create unity among many different denominations in this area: We’re all pro-life. And God has poured out His blessings on us.

TNA: How did the first CareNet Pregnancy Centers in the nation get started?

Gibbs: Well, with the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in the Roe v. Wade case, abortion became legal in all 50 states. So then in 1975, several concerned leaders, like Dr. Billy Graham, Dr. C. Everett Koop, and Dr. Francis Schaeffer, got together and formed the Christian Action Council — and then in 1980 the CAC opened its first pregnancy center in Baltimore. Later the name of the CAC was changed to CareNet Pregnancy Centers.

TNA: I understand that last year you earned a degree in psychology. Tell us how that degree has helped you in your work.

Gibbs: I would say mainly in learning to understand the way people think — that there are many factors at play in each person’s life. I’ve come to be more empathetic and compassionate with our clients, realizing that each young woman’s crisis is different for her individually.

When you share truth with these young women, you must do it with compassion and tenderness. Truth is the essence; compassion is the vehicle.

The Lord has truly blessed our ministry. Looking back on my life, I see now how He has prepared me for where I am today. But I want this not to be about me, but about the Lord — how faithful He is, and what wonderful things He is doing through our CPCs. I want Him to get all the glory.

Photo: Candy Gibbs

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