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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: John C. Cissel II

Promoting Life One Woman at a Time

John C. Cissel II serves as the chairman of the board of Heartbeat International, the first network of pro-life pregnancy service providers founded in the United States and the most extensive in the world. Started in 1971, Heartbeat International serves more than 1 million clients a year through nearly 1,100 affiliate centers in 50 states and 47 other countries.

Cissel became chairman in May 2009 after serving on the board for a year. Previously he served 10 years on the board of A Woman's Concern, a regional network of pregnancy help centers in Massachusetts and part of the Heartbeat network.

Cissel has worked for more than 20 years in commercial real estate, managing projects in some 50 cities and 12 countries. In addition to his work with public and private companies, he provides real estate advisory work for nonprofits. He also serves as chairman of the board of advisors to the president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary for the South Hamilton, Mass., campus.

Cissel and his wife, Nancy, have four children. They attend Calvary Christian Church (Assemblies of God; Timothy P. Schmidt, senior pastor) in Lynn-field, Mass. He recently spoke with Dr. Christina Powell, a Harvard-trained medical research scientist and ordained Assemblies of God minister.

POWELL: How does Heartbeat International promote life?
We answer the call to promote life by equipping Christian communities in the development of pregnancy help centers, medical clinics, maternity homes, nonprofit adoption agencies and abortion recovery programs across the county and around the world. We serve as the leadership development and support supply line for the growing pregnancy help movement worldwide. Heartbeat's passion is to make abortion unwanted now and unthinkable for future generations. We estimate that our affiliates save more than 2,000 babies per week, serve about 1 million people per year, have 25,000 volunteers and receive approximately $125 million per year in charitable donations.

POWELL: Why is the cause of promoting life so important to you personally?
The issues surrounding abortion are controversial. These issues polarize families, churches and workplaces. You may be sitting in a church pew today asking, "How can I make a difference? What can I do?" That was how I felt more than 15 years ago when a guest preacher came to speak at my church. John Ensor is now vice president of mission advancement for Heartbeat International. From him, I learned practical ways to promote choosing life.

I have come to believe that life choices have a great eternal effect. Choosing life is like throwing a stone into a clear, flat pond. The ripples from that choice just keep going farther and farther out. For example, I am grateful for the choice for life that a young 17-year-old mother made for her son. She chose life for me, unselfishly giving me to my adoptive family that loved and cared for me.

A theme that travels throughout Scripture is that God, the Creator of the universe knows us all by name. In fact, He knew us before we were even born. My faith in God our Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, has been shaped in large part by not only the act of that young mother, but also by the unconditional love of my adoptive parents. The gift of salvation ties into the cause of life through the theology of adoption. When we accept Christ as our Savior, God the Father adopts us into His family.

My desire is to make a difference in one person's life. Through my own experience, I am confident that one choice for life can have a far-reaching positive impact on many people's lives.

POWELL: How does Heartbeat International assist an affiliated pregnancy center?
Heartbeat strives to help their affiliated pregnancy centers reach and rescue as many lives as possible while renewing their communities for life. Heartbeat provides vision, training and resources that members can adapt to their own communities. For example, Heartbeat offers training on topics such as talking to women about abortion, complying with regulatory standards for medical pregnancy centers and understanding the function of effective board leadership.

In addition to opportunities for networking and more formal avenues of training, affiliated centers enjoy unlimited free phone and e-mail consultations with Heartbeat affiliate services. Altogether, we are building the confidence and competence of God's people to serve as life-saving and life-changing agents in their communities.

POWELL: How can a person help a woman facing a crisis pregnancy?
At Heartbeat we teach people to use a LOVE approach, based on 1 Corinthians 13 wherein the apostle Paul teaches us to show real love to people through patience, kindness and hope. You can remember how to help a woman facing a crisis pregnancy with the L-O-V-E acronym.

L: Listen and Learn about her feelings, thoughts and wants. Let her know that you are interested in her, not just the baby she is carrying.

O: Open her Options beyond abortion to include parenting and adoption, loving her by providing accurate facts and health information.

V: Introduce a new Vision and Value that she is made in the image of God and can be redeemed. She can make positive choices for her baby.

E: Extend and Empower her to carry through, with concrete resources and support. For example, help her get to the local pregnancy center if she needs a ride.

Remember that help for her is only a phone call away at 1-800-395-HELP (4357), the number for Heartbeat's 24/7 Option Line. Help is also available through Option Line's two Web sites: and in Spanish at

POWELL: Tell me more about Option Line.
Option Line is a cooperative effort between the two major Christian affiliate service groups, Heartbeat International and Care Net. Option Line, established in 2003, is a live contact center based in Columbus, Ohio, that provides 24/7 assistance in both English and Spanish to women seeking information about abortion and pregnancy resources. In 2009 Option Line responded to more than 250,000 contacts. That is about 20,000 calls for help per month, or 600 per day!

Option Line works by connecting women concerned about their possible pregnancy to the affili-ated center nearest them from anywhere in the United States and Canada. Many times we are able to schedule an appointment for a woman at her local pregnancy help center even when the center is closed for the day. If the nearest center is open, we can connect her live to the local center. She receives help that is personal, immediate and friendly.

POWELL: Name some practical ways that local churches can partner with local pregnancy help centers.
I attribute the incredible growth and maturation of the pregnancy help center movement to individual Christians and local churches answering this biblical call: "Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked‚" (Psalm 82:4, NIV).

Answering this call, people commit their time, talent and treasure to their local pregnancy center. One approach is a baby bottle drive, where each member of the congregation gets a baby bottle for collecting loose change. At the end of the drive, the church comes together to celebrate the lives touched by the work of the center. Some people may want to volunteer at the local center. After the appropriate training, they can answer phone calls, perform administrative tasks and counsel clients.

Women's Ministries in a local church can host a baby shower for a young mother who has decided to keep her baby. What an opportunity to mentor her and love her! Opportunities for men include helping with the local center's mentoring program for dads. Men can encourage these young dads by modeling Christian marriage and the importance of fatherhood. Men can also get involved in the practical side of caring for facilities through workdays. Professionals (architects, lawyers and medical people) might donate time to serve the center in an advisory capacity.

POWELL: What are some examples of how churches have promoted life?
When I served on the board of our local pregnancy help ministry, A Woman's Concern, local churches came together to help build two of the medical clinics. Almost like an old-fashioned barn rising, churches sent their members who were plumbers, electricians, painters, sheet metal workers and HVAC people. Over a series of weeks and months, volunteers built these medical clinics. We augmented the volunteers with hired professionals. We built a $400,000 medical clinic for about $100,000 thanks to the work of the volunteers.

Local pastors came to the centers to provide a pastoral presence at board meetings and staff training. The pastors would pray at the start of a meeting or provide teaching. During dedications of centers, community pastors would talk about the impact the new center would have on the community. Pastors can get involved by calling a center and asking, "Do you need pastoral leadership in any way?"

POWELL: Suppose a woman visits a local pregnancy center and finds that she is not pregnant after all. What are the next steps for ministry to her?
One of the most exciting parts of the pregnancy help center movement is the continuous advancement of sexual integrity teaching. When you have a young lady come into a center thinking she is pregnant only to find out she is not, what a great opportunity to transition from the crisis of the unwanted pregnancy to asking her, "What is going to prevent you from needing to come back again three months from now?" We try to inspire the young men and ladies coming through our doors to reserve sexual intimacy for marriage.

POWELL: Has Heartbeat International developed any resources to help a woman who has already had an abortion?
Post-abortion recovery is a very important part of the pregnancy care movement. Between 1973 and 2005, one in three women have had an abortion before the age of 45 in the United States, for a total of more than 40 million abortions. This statistic means that a large number of women and men are suffering from the experience of abortion. Heartbeat International estimates that its affiliates annually serve between 8,000 and 10,000 women and men through the centers' post-abortive ministries.

Once a woman has had one abortion, her likelihood of having a second more than doubles. If she has two abortions, the likelihood of having the third increases fourfold. Forty-four percent of all abortions are repeat abortions. Post-abortion recovery is vital for breaking the cycle. Inherent in post-abortion recovery is the gospel message of forgiveness and healing.

POWELL: Describe the global outreach of Heartbeat International.
Worldwide approximately 46 million to 50 million babies are killed each year by abortion. In the United States and Canada we have 2,500 pregnancy centers, and yet the United States and Canada represent only 3 percent of abortions around the world. In the rest of the world, there is only a fraction of the centers found in North America to counteract 97 percent of all abortions. These numbers point to one of the greatest global missionary opportunities. The challenge for Heartbeat is that we are in 50 countries, but abortion is available in 180 countries, so we need to start centers in the countries most devastated by abortion.

POWELL: How would Heartbeat International come alongside a missionary interested in promoting life in a foreign country?
Heartbeat International can help a missionary learn more about the issue of promoting life in their country, possibly even connecting an interested missionary with an affiliate center. Heartbeat can also train and equip a missionary desiring to start a center. Every other year, Heartbeat International brings together directors of centers from all over the world for a training conference. The 2010 Conference will be held in Orlando, Fla., on May 18-20. A missionary could come to the conference to learn more

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