Back before Choices Women’s Center opened its doors in 2012, there were more than 800 abortions in their community. Now that number is below 500, a 46% decrease. While we praise God for that decrease, this community is still seeing women who end up choosing abortion from in their community. According to the Virginia Department of Health, their community is ranked number two in the entire state of Virginia with the highest rate of abortion. One out of every 37 pregnancies are terminated by abortion, whereas the state average is one out of every 111.

In this episode of Care Net TV, Care Net President & CEO Roland Warren talks with Chris Johnson, CEO of Choices Women’s Center, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Watch the full interview, view the full transcript, and find out more about Chris Johnson as he discusses what ministry looks like in Fredericksburg, VA””how he serves families facing pregnancy decisions, and ultimately, how they are giving compassion, hope, and help to Fredericksburg.

Watch the Full Interview: Chris Johnson, Choices Women’s Center (Fredericksburg, VA)

In this new episode of Care Net TV, Care Net President & CEO Roland Warren chats with Chris Johnson, CEO of Choices Women’s Center, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Roland and Chris discuss what ministry looks like in Fredericksburg, VA””and how Chris is supporting families and helping them make pregnancy decisions in this Post-Roe environment.
 
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Roland Warren (RW) and Chris Johnson (CJ) are noted as follows for their remarks. What follows is not the full transcript, only a few selected questions and answers pulled out of the interview for highlighting. You can find the full interview transcript

Roland Warren (RW):

It’s a pleasure to talk to you and learn a bit more about what you’re doing. And so just to get started, for the folks out there who are listening, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your history, how you came to your center, and then maybe transition to a bit of a discussion about your center.

Chris Johnson (CJ):

Sure. It’s hard to believe this is already going to be my sixth year here at Choices Women’s Center, and it’s because of this ministry that I retired from the military back in 2017, but my story started long before that. My biological mother was raped on a college campus back in 1969,

Were it not for her uncommon courage in a pregnancy help ministry much like this one, I wouldn’t even be talking with you today. In our ministry, we love to talk about the ripple effects of the choices that we make. And my kids wouldn’t even be alive today if it weren’t for the choice that she made. My daughter also works in the pro-life movement, and my son is getting ready to go into ministry himself. So it’s fun to watch the ripple effects of people who choose life.

Roland Warren (RW):

So this is just such an amazing example of how one meant something for evil, but how God is using this for good and that your mom was able to make that courageous decision to bring you into the world. It’s such an amazing thing when you hear those types of stories. She’s blessed for sure. Pretty amazing.

Well, I’m delighted that you’re part of this, and as I’m sure you know there aren’t as many men who are involved in pregnancy center work as there are women. The number’s grown over the years since I’ve been with Care Net, which is about 11 years now. I’ve seen the number of men who have taken positions and been involved in the men’s ministry part of the ministry, but also in the CEO role grow over the years. And I’m delighted to see that because we need to be helping the women who are involved in this issue in a significant way. And certainly, you answered the bell, and so I appreciate that. So just a quick thing. So what part of the military were you in before you transitioned to pregnancy center work?

Chris Johnson (CJ):

Army.

Roland Warren (RW):

Oh, okay. And so what were you doing in the Army?

Chris Johnson (CJ):

I did a little bit of everything. I had a very unusual military career. I did everything from infantry to family programs to, I did a fellowship at the US Chamber of Commerce, national recruitment, marketing, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. And I thought of those things as random dots, but then when this opportunity became available, I realized that those weren’t so random dots, those were God dots because a lot of those experiences that I had though unusual for a military career, helped me in my role right now.

Roland Warren (RW):

Yeah, I definitely can see that in my own life as well. You may not know I started in the business world and was there for a number of years and then transitioned to National Fatherhood Initiative where I was for about 11 years. And then God kind of transitioned me from there to Care Net. And one of the things I brought from that was just this connection between fatherhood, marriage, and the life issue, which frankly, if I had come directly from the business world to Care Net, I’m not sure I would’ve had that perspective. So God doesn’t waste any of it. So I’m delighted to see that you kind of connected the dots too, that God connected for you in this call. So talk to me a little bit about your center and how long it’s been in operations, where it’s located, kind of what the demographic is of the community that you serve.

Chris Johnson (CJ):

So about 15 years or so ago, there was a small pregnancy center here in our community called the Rappahannock Pregnancy Center. And it was struggling, and Bethany Christian Services subsumed them for a little while just to kind of keep them afloat. But it was really outside of Bethany’s mission, outside of their scope.

And so in 2012, a small group of folks founded the Fredericksburg Pregnancy Center. That’s when we were incorporated. Fast-forward a few years after 2012, and we obtained a DBA to do business as the Choices Women’s Center. That was in 2017. And when we went through that name change, we saw an immediate increase, almost 20% increase of abortion and vulnerable clients that were finding us and coming to us. Fast-forward again, a couple of years, last year in 2022, we obtained another DBA to do business as Imagine Life Ministries.

And so we recognized the need to have two separate brands because we have two different customers. Right. We’ve got our prospective clients that are looking for our pregnancy help services, and then we’ve got our donors, our ministry partners, and the messaging and the look and feel of everything online and social is just drastically different. And so,

That was the genesis behind the Imagine Life Ministries. Basically, we took the first syllable of the word imago or image bearers, and we took the first syllable of the word generation, so imagine. And because that’s who we have the burden for, right, the burden for the next generation of image bearers. And so we were very happy with the addition of that brand.

Roland Warren (RW):

Wow, that’s cool. I love that. That is really great, to put those two things together, IMGN Life. That’s fantastic. Well, tell me a little bit about just kind of the area that you serve. What’s the demographic of clients that you have and maybe a little bit about the community of Fredericksburg? I’ve been there a few times, mostly through the highway.

Although it’s kind of the start of it from a traffic perspective. So tell me a little bit about that community demographic and then the clients that you serve from a demographic perspective as well.

Chris Johnson (CJ):

Yeah, absolutely. So we are considered a bedroom community of Washington DC. So we’re about 50 miles or so just South of DC. I made that commute for many years, and that was the better part of two to three hours a day commuting. I definitely don’t miss it. But I guess just a little bit about Fredericksburg, is kind of what makes us a little bit unusual. According to the Virginia Department of Health, we are the number two in the entire state of Virginia with the highest rate of abortion.

So back before we opened our doors in 2012, there were more than 800 abortions from our community. And now that number is below 500, so that’s about a 46% decrease. And while that sounds great, the reality is that we still are seeing about 10 women who end up choosing abortion from right here in our very own community. So that number two, in the entire state of Virginia, what that basically comes out to is one out of every 37 pregnancies are terminated by abortion, whereas the state average is one out of every 111.

We still have a lot of work to do, and I think what differentiates us we’ve been trying to put our thumb on why is that rate so high. Because surely there are other communities throughout the state that are not that different from ours. The only thing that we can put our finger on is that because we are a bedroom community of DC, there are a lot of young professionals that live here and then commute up to DC. Most of our clients, over 60% of them are aged 20 to 29. And so our theory or assumption is, is that a lot of young women are just getting started on their careers and they find themselves pregnant and feel that they can’t go through with it right now. But the good news is, is that last year we had 174 abortion-vulnerable women and abortion-minded who ended up choosing life. So we are making a difference, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Roland Warren (RW):

Well, that’s fantastic. Now I understand you’ve had some pretty creative growth over the last few years, and so what’s been kind of driving that in terms of what you’ve been doing?

Chris Johnson (CJ):

Well, the two biggest efforts were related to church engagement. So the first one was what we call our PLANS program, which stands for Potential Life Affirming Next Steps. And that stemmed from your Making Life Disciples Program.

So the intent there was to find a bridge between our ministry and the local church. So we used our existing Earn While You Learn Program for the first six weeks would be spent at our location along with a group of what we like to call local missionaries from a church, pro-life missionaries from a local church establishing relationships with our clients while they’re going through the Earn While You Learn program. And then the second six weeks of it is done at the church once those relationships,

Are established and there’s trust and rapport. And then the second big initiative was our fatherhood program. We call it our Legacy League, kind of like, what’s that? Justice League. But we call it our Legacy League. And so we recruit and invite men to be part of our Legacy League. These are mentors to the young dads that are coming in. And we’re super grateful to Care Net for the grant that you guys awarded us. We wouldn’t have been able to get this program off the ground without that. And so it took us a little bit longer to get, really get it going, but it is running on all four cylinders now. Thank you.

Roland Warren (RW):

Well, praise God. That is just fantastic. And as you know, I mean, the role of the church in this issue is central. And as I’ve said often until people shut me up, is that the church has to lead on this. We’re a parachurch ministry. We come alongside the church and the folks at pregnancy centers and abortion clinics for that matter are members of churches that just don’t know it yet. And so the church is the destination of where we’re trying to get folks to.

Because that’s where the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ kind of anchors them in that. On a day-to-day weekly basis, they become part of a community of believers that helps the transformation in their lives. And then also, particularly in situations where the dad’s not involved, it gives an opportunity for those young little boys and little girls to see a father and a mother uniting in marriage, loving each other, loving their child, and hopefully casting that vision to break the cycle so that they don’t become a client in 18 years or something like that or and frankly, for the mom too, so that she doesn’t become a client in 18 months with a new pregnancy and a new guy.

So thank you for the leadership that you have in that area and just the vision that you have and the role that you see that the church has. So tell me a little bit about this. This has been sort of obviously a challenging environment for folks who are doing the work that you do. What encouragement do you have as you kind of look out over the horizon in this post-Roe environment for pregnancy center work? What would you say to the folks who are listening to encourage them and that you found encouragement in as you’ve kind of dealt with some of the challenges that this work can bring on a daily basis?

Chris Johnson (CJ):

Yeah. I’m not sure what other centers are seeing, but in this post-Roe environment with the skyrocketing prevalence of the abortion pill, and in Virginia that has super lax laws restricting or limiting abortion, we are actually seeing more abortion-minded and more change-minded than we ever have before. So that is incredibly encouraging. Once Roe got overturned, we saw a lot of the other things influencing the battlefield, if you will. We weren’t sure what to expect, but they’re still looking, searching, they’re finding us and they’re coming.

So I would also say another thing would just be the church recognizing that their role is not done. That was a concern of mine, that once Roe versus Wade was overturned, a lot of Christians would think, okay, the war has been won, and it’s not. That was just one battle. And now it’s just the beginning,

As far as the hard work for us as Christians in the church, just being intentional about rolling up our sleeves, climbing down that hole with them, and helping them dig their way out.

Roland Warren (RW):

Amen. That’s fantastic. So as we kind of close up here let’s, talk about maybe a client recently that you guys worked with that you found particularly inspiring or maybe even challenging as you’ve kind of done the work that you do. Is there someone who comes to mind that really kind of inspired you or challenged you maybe in some way?

Chris Johnson (CJ):

Well, it wasn’t a client that we saw recently, but rather a former client that we hired recently.

How cool is that? A former client is now on staff with us, and she’s our administrative director, and she’s got a really interesting story. Several years back, she found herself in a series of difficult and challenging circumstances, everything from being homeless to a risky pregnancy and she was advised to be aborted and laid off from her job and just a series of things. And she searched online looking for help, looking for resources, and she found us. And so we were able to walk with her through those challenging times and fast-forward a few years, and now she’s on staff with us.

Roland Warren (RW):

That’s pretty amazing. Just to see God’s hand in that and how he used that unplanned pregnancy in her life to really connect her to the lifesaving work. And now she’s actually someone who’s helping people basically walk through the situation that she went to. Yeah. So many of the folks that I talked to who work in pregnancy center work, I mean, I think when I first started years ago and I just started hearing stories of CEOs, executive directors, and why are you doing this work? And just so many of them have been challenged with a pregnancy decision, either made the abortion decision or made the life decision under very difficult circumstances.

Roland Warren (RW):

And rather than just sort of taking that blessing, they really viewed it as a blessing to be a blessing to others, which is really what we’re called to do as Christians. And we’re blessed so that we can be a blessing. And I can certainly hear that in the story there. So listen Chris, just amazing work that you’re doing.

Chris, thank you so much for answering the call that God put on your heart””the compassion that you have for the women and men that you serve, and the vision that you have for helping people become disciples of Jesus Christ. We’re thankful that you are a part of it. It’s a blessing and an honor to co-labor with you and your team.

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Choices Women’s Center (Fredericksburg, VA)

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