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New director aims to help women in panic over unplanned pregnancies – Arkansas Democrat

In 2012, Gayla Parker was a speaker at a leadership conference for LifeWay Christian Resources and its Women’s Forum in Nashville that was being filmed.

Although Parker’s topic was a Bible study that was being recorded and had nothing to do with abortion, one of the women who was a camera person shared her story with Parker.

“Folks usually relate abortions to teenage girls or maybe a young college girl who just doesn’t want that interruption in their life,” Parker said. “But this woman was married with three children, and her husband had just taken a job in Michigan, and he didn’t want to have another child.

“And he kind of gave her an ultimatum of abortion or divorce. She didn’t know anybody, and she didn’t have a support system, so she ended up having an abortion. She was telling me her story 23 years after the fact, and as she told me her story, she was just weeping.”

Parker said that the woman, at the end of her story, said something that has haunted Parker from that point forward. The woman said that if someone had stood by her, maybe she could have been brave.

“As I listened to her share her story, I thought, if God ever opens a door for me to be a part of this ministry, I will walk through it,” Parker said.

Parker is the new executive director of the Pregnancy Resource Center for Southwest Arkansas in Arkadelphia.

“As I began talking to the folks in Arkadelphia, I actually went back to the conversation with that woman, and I thought of the girls who need a support system and somebody to stand by them,” Parker said. “I want to make sure we can provide that for them and, hopefully, protect some women like this one, who,

23 years later, was still weeping over that decision.

“We sometimes don’t realize it is the long-term impact of an abortion that can change a woman’s life. We want to avoid that as much as we can.”

The PRCSA is a nonprofit counseling and resource center that serves southwest Arkansas, providing Christian counseling to women and men in crisis pregnancy situations.

Jim Rothwell, chairman of the board for PRCSA, said one of the things that stood out to him about Parker was her variety of experience in different areas of ministry.

“She just seemed to have a real passion for what the center is about,” Rothwell said. “She also communicates well, which will be very helpful in the center’s future.

“[Her story from Nashville] really connected with us as well. It made an impression on all of us who were on the board and the search committee.”

Parker replaces founder and former executive director Beverly Hankins, who retired in September.

“One of the things that makes this center unique is that it is located in a town where there are two universities,” Parker said. “Even though Ouachita Baptist University is a Christian campus, that does not mean things don’t happen, and Henderson is also there. So having two universities in town increases the need for a resource center, especially for these girls who may not be close to their parents or family.

“We can be that for them.”

The center recently opened at a new location, 911 Clinton St. Parker said the resource center used to be downtown but recently moved after its former building was sold.

“The new house was purchased by the Arkansas State Baptist Association office in Arkadelphia and used to host missionaries in the past, but no one has been in the house for a long time,” Parker said.

“They were more than willing and excited about moving the resource center there — it has a terrific layout for what we do,” she said.

“A lot of things just fell into place,” Rothwell said. “We have been in transition and trying to find the right person, but with Mrs Parker, I believe we have found the right fit, the last piece of our puzzle, to really push this ministry forward.”

The center offers pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, consultations, emotional support and parenting classes, all at no charge.

“Before you can have an abortion, you have to have an ultrasound, so one of the things that we do is partner with a local OB-GYN who provides that service for free,” Parker said. “If someone comes in and says, ‘I think I’m pregnant; I’m thinking about an abortion,’ the first thing we can do for her is to have her see an OB-GYN and have an ultrasound.

“One of the things that we do different is, we allow the young lady to see the ultrasound and to hear it — to help her grasp and understand what is growing in her belly.”

Parker said at that point, the center begins counseling the woman in the decision-making process.

“Obviously, our goal is to council her into not having an abortion, and with that decision, promising to stand by her,” she said. “If she opts for adoption, we can connect her with folks to help her do that. If she chooses to keep the baby, we have parenting classes to help her be a mom.”

The center has also partnered with the Red River Baptist Association in Arkadelphia that provides food, clothes and baby supplies. She said that for every class the mom or dad attends, they receive points they can spend at the site to get food and clothes from the ministry, which also has things like baby formula, diapers, baby clothes and blankets.

“The first several months of this ministry, I will just shadow what Beverly has done and begin looking toward the future,” Parker said. “One plan for the center is to become a medical facility and house an ultrasound machine and have a technician on staff to do that.

“We also hope to grow some of the services that we provide, just for the community in general and for the families that find themselves in these unplanned pregnancies, and provide some resources for them to better their lives.”

Parker, originally from Little Rock, graduated from McClellan High School in Little Rock in 1975. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University in Alabama and a master’s degree from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. She is also in the process of pursuing a doctorate.

Kristen Lavender and Parker taught together at Baptist Preparatory School in Little Rock for three years and still sustain a friendship, talking weekly.

“She’s joyful, and she is a great mentor,” Lavender said. “She is servant-hearted and carries a lot of wisdom and is very compassionate.

“She truly lives out what she believes, and she does it with love and grace.”

Lavender said that even though Parker is 20 years her senior, she gives a lot of good guidance and is judgment-free when she speaks.

“She does a good job of listening and loving people,” Lavender said. “She does a really good job of pouring into the younger generation and walking beside them.”

Rothwell said one of the things that was attractive about Parker, who is also an adjunct professor for Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, was her ability to relate to students.

“I know the students respond to her well, and she seems to connect well with that age group. … I think it’s just a fact that her relationship with Christ makes a difference and connects everything through that,” Rothwell said. “Kids realize that and see it, and they are able to connect with her.”

Parker and her husband, Fred, were missionaries living in the Philippines from 1989 until 2003, mostly assisting with church planting and community-development work. She said there were also a lot of unplanned pregnancies there, just like here, and “we did a lot of counseling of young women.”

“We partnered with an agricultural ministry, and we worked with a group that made $200 a year and helped teach them some substantial farming to provide income and increase their level of living so they are not living in such extreme poverty,” she said. “We also taught them how to provide clean water without using equipment that needed maintenance because it doesn’t help to put in a well if you don’t have the money to maintain it.”

Parker said she and her husband returned to the United States in 2003 to help care for her mother-in-law, who was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“My father-in-law needed us to come home and help him with what he was dealing with,” Parker said. “We have continued to go back to the Philippines almost every year.”

Another former associate of Parker’s, Rob Hewell, is director of OBU’s online program but has known Parker for several years. The two worked together when he was on the staff of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

“She is certainly very intelligent and bright,” Hewell said of Parker. “She loves people, and she loves God, and she brings those together in a very delightful way.

“I’m really excited for her and that opportunity. She is someone who loves people dearly and sees any opportunity to help anyone in any way — it’s who she is as a person.”

Parker talked about how she was influenced by her mother, who was 15 years old when she had Parker and was a single mom by 17.

“In spite of the good and bad choices she made, she raised a productive daughter,” Parker said. “I’ve seen the challenges she had firsthand, but I’ve also seen the other side of that — people who are my age who chose to have abortions and still struggle with that decision.

“They still battle with depression, still struggle with that choice they made. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. I want to help the mom who chooses to keep the baby and struggles with it — I want to help her be a productive mother, or if I can help a young lady, if she gives her baby up for adoption, to not regret it 20 years down the road.”

Parker said an unplanned pregnancy can create a state of panic.

“And what I hope we can do is take that panic and turn it into a calm,” she said, “work through a decision-making process in the midst of calm, instead of panic.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.