Mercy is kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation. It is loving-kindness, grace, favor, compassion. Jesus was often moved by compassion and he asks us to be merciful.

I have seen the Church extend mercy in many ways. One that has meant the most to me is the mercy shown through the ministry of Pregnancy Care Centers (PCC).

Care-Net, a website that assists many PCC’s, describes these ministries this way: “Care-Net supports more than 1100 affiliate pregnancy centers across North America. Pregnancy centers have been widely noted as the ‘kind, calm, nonjudgmental’ face of the pro-life movement (TIME, 2008). Our affiliate pregnancy centers are faith-based organizations with deep roots in their communities. Each center empowers women and men facing unplanned pregnancies with practical help, emotional support, and information about their pregnancy options.”

Suppose you’re single and just found out you’re pregnant. You want to be “unpregnant.” This is the very bad or desperate situation many people find themselves in. This is the reason that pregnancy centers exist: to offer help and hope—mercy—to people in a desperate situation.

As the Executive Director of a Pregnancy Care Center for nearly 34 years, I have been involved in this issue for decades. Bethesda Lutheran Brethren Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I am a member, showed the film series “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” It was in 1980, shortly after my first child was born.

This series (by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop) is about abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. What happens to our society when we accept these practices? After watching five sessions, I was sure that I needed to get involved, to do something, to try to make a difference—to save babies. When women began to tell me their abortion stories, God used that to change my focus, and to help me understand how abortion injures women, and also men.

I got involved in starting one of the first Pregnancy Centers in the US, right here in Eau Claire. Our Center is named APPLE Pregnancy Care Center. APPLE stands for “Aiding Problem Pregnancies with Love and Encouragement.” The Scripture that inspires us is Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” APPLE is a support ministry to restore, equip and empower women and men to make life-affirming choices. We are an affiliate with Care-Net, a national organization based near Washington, D.C.

And what an amazing journey it has been.

We have seen women change their minds and carry a child to term who would have been aborted.

We have seen men turn their hearts toward their children, and learn to become better fathers.

We have seen many women find healing and forgiveness after an abortion through our Post-Abortion Bible Study.

We have given presentations to schools and church youth groups on “Love, Sex and Healthy Relationships,” and have had wonderful responses from these students.

We have seen people come to know the Lord, get involved in a church, and find their lives completely changed through a relationship with the Lord.

We have been in labor and delivery with women who had no one to support them. We have found women a place to live. We have been at weddings, baptisms, and funerals of the people we minister to at the Center. We have visited clients through the Jail Ministry.

We have seen sacrificial giving by people in the Church, our financial partners who are so incredibly generous because they believe in helping others—in mercy.

I have seen amazing answers to prayer. God’s provision above and beyond.

Our “Earn While You Learn” Program offers a long-term educational and support program for the moms and dads who need help and encouragement as they face being new parents. They are able to come in and learn from a long list of topics: Fetal Development, Labor and Delivery, Bringing your Child Home, Discipline, Financial Skills, Nutrition, and many other life skills. They “earn” points to purchase many items that have been donated to the Center. We offer diapers, baby and maternity clothing, strollers, car seats, bassinets, toys, books, beautiful quilts and blankets that are hand-made with love, and much more.

Our families receive accurate information, wonderful education, and the material items they need, along with love and mentoring from the amazing staff and volunteers at APPLE. They tell us they don’t know what they would do without us. We are able to minister to them—to offer hope, the love of Christ, kindness, and a listening ear. We often see people long-term, sometimes for years.

This wonderful program isn’t a handout. It requires them to participate, to show up, and to do something. They are rewarded, and they feel as though they’ve accomplished something. They EARN what they receive and because of that, it is much more valuable to them. It teaches responsibility. They also learn to give back and often return with items to donate after their child outgrows something.

Mercy, kindness, help… it doesn’t mean enabling people to continue in the difficult situation they are in. It doesn’t mean letting them take advantage of you. It isn’t a handout. After so many years of being involved, I know that asking good questions, challenging false thinking, praying for and with people, and getting involved makes a difference in people’s lives. It is also difficult and challenging, and we depend on the Lord for everything at our Center.

Mercy. What would happen if we showed mercy when a young teenager in our church is pregnant? If—instead of ignoring her, avoiding her, not helping her—we surround her with the love, support and forgiveness God gives us all. Mercy. It’s something God freely gives, and it changes everything.

Melinda Gardner lives in Eau Claire, WI and is a member of Bethesda LB Church. She is the longest serving Care-Net PCC Director in the US and this fall won the “Perseverance Award” from Care-Net. She is a Hillcrest Academy graduate and an alumnus of Trinity University. She is the daughter of Rev. Omar Gjerness, married to Daniel, the mother of two adult daughters, and grandmother to Braeden Omar.

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