Has God ever inspired you with an idea or a project that made your heart race? Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament at 3:00 a.m. in his home church in New Orleans, investment banker Mike Hammer had this experience.
But the “instructions” were unexpected: Host a free luncheon that brings together pro-life workers of all denominations—and at one of the finest restaurants in town.
Mike could see potential benefits. “It’ll get them to have a little break. They can share what’s working, what their struggles are, the good the bad, and the ugly.”
But how to go about it? Back then in 2005, he had no clue. Then he remembered a colleague whose daughter worked at a crisis pregnancy center—his one such connection at the time. He made a mental note to call her. Everything unfolded from there.
A couple of months later, Mike sponsored the first “pro-life luncheon” at Delmonico’s, a legendary Louisiana restaurant. Dozens of workers and volunteers from around the state came to share their stories and be inspired by other people’s experiences. Many met for the first time. “We learned over the first year or so that the Baptist pregnancy centers weren’t in touch with the Catholic centers, who weren’t in touch with the nondenominational centers, even though they were located just a few miles apart,” Mike recalled.
Since then, the networking lunches have become a tradition. Every month, Mike invites sidewalk counselors, college students, lobbyists, crisis pregnancy center workers —anyone involved in area pro-life activities. Each relaxed meal—still all-expenses-paid—takes place at one of New Orleans’ well-known restaurants.
At a typical luncheon, Kathleen Benfield, a Christian radio host, chats with pro-life lobbyist Benjamin Clapper, who has just come from speaking at a local high school. Enjoying gumbo at the next table is Rachel Adair, who spends her days counseling women facing unplanned pregnancies. She’s talking with Sharon Rodi, a lawyer who works closely with Louisiana’s congressional delegation.
As it turns out, sharing a meal was just the thing to get people talking to one another. And talking was just the beginning. The conversations often lead to real solutions for real challenges.
Friends to Share the Load. When the lunches began, Rachel Adair was the newly appointed director of Northlake Crisis Pregnancy Center, which offers a range of free services for pregnant women, from STD testing to professional counseling and ultrasounds. “I didn’t have anyone to mentor me,” Rachel recalls. “I was so young and it was such an overwhelming job.”
The monthly luncheons soon became her one-stop shop—a place to get advice and practical help. At one of them, Rachel shared a time-sensitive need for one of her staff members to be trained on ultrasound scanning equipment. Immediately, another director offered her clinic so that Rachel’s staff member could train there with a nurse during peak hours, expediting the process.
Other kinds of luncheon connections, too, have proven fruitful and mutually encouraging. Benjamin Clapper, the director of the Louisiana Right to Life Federation, educates people around the state about pro-life issues and policies. It can be difficult to spend all day, every day doing this kind of work, he said. “The successes can seem few and far between, but the luncheon shows us we’re making progress. It reminds me that the body of Christ is working in a proactive direction to change our culture.”
Last year, Ben and his staff were developing a piece of legislation based on the statistic, “Sixty-four percent of women are coerced to have an abortion.” They brought their data to the luncheon, where they traded ideas and obtained on-the-ground feedback from maternity home mothers and crisis pregnancy center counselors. Some of the pro-life workers who attended the lunch later testified before legislative committees.
The resulting Signs of Hope Act passed and is now being implemented by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. It directs that signs be placed in every abortion-performing facility in the state telling women they cannot be forced into an abortion, and explaining what public resources are available to help with the costs of carrying their children to term.
Collaboration between such different arms of the pro-life movement used to be rare in Louisiana. The unity that has sprung out of the luncheons has benefited everyone.
A Ripple Effect. Over the years, the seed of Mike’s inspiration has sprouted other outreaches and initiatives. One of them comes from his wife, Dana, who has helped support and host the luncheons from the beginning. In the process, she felt a growing tug to take a more active role.
The result is a recent billboard campaign in New Orleans to reach pregnant women who are unsure what to do. Aimed at young people, the ad features an attention-getting image: the slogan “OMG” in the results box of a pregnancy test stick.
Through the Web site and hotline displayed, women can connect with pregnancy resource centers to receive immediate help.
Dana hadn’t thought much about abortion—other than deciding she would never consider it for herself. But her involvement with the luncheons has brought her to a deep level of conviction about the sanctity of life. “Being involved with this movement and growing spiritually have gone hand in hand for me,” she said.
Dana is thinking big. Her goal is to bring a message of support to even more women in crisis pregnancies by expanding the billboard campaign to other cities in Louisiana.
Mike hopes to do the same with the luncheons and has been discussing the idea with friends in other cities. “We’ve been alone in doing this for long enough,” he said. “I would like to see businesspeople around the country stepping up and doing the same thing.”
When God plants a call to action in you, Mike admits, it can cost something to be obedient. As he has learned, though, the return on investment is immeasurably greater than what you can conceive.
Kathryn Elliott is a freelance writer in Northern Virginia. For information on starting a pro-life luncheon, call 504-523-7400 or send an e-mail to [email protected]
A Future Full of Hope
Women who are in crisis pregnancies or distraught over an abortion need to know that God wants to give them a future full of hope. And the people who work to bring them this assurance also need support and spiritual refreshment for their vital service.
This is why everyone who attends the luncheons sponsored by Mike Hammer receives information about The Word Among Us Partners. This program supplies Christian pregnancy centers and post-abortion programs with The Word Among Us and materials like the pamphlet, After Abortion.
The magazine is especially helpful to those who, “upon finding healing for their abortions, are now anxious to return to the church, Mass and Scripture,” wrote a Rachel’s Vineyard coordinator. It’s an “incredible resource,” wrote the director of a crisis pregnancy center—for the women who come and also for the staff.
Thanks to generous readers like you, thousands of people in difficult situations are receiving materials to help them connect with God. Working with prison and military chaplains, we are building bridges of hope and faith to 52,000 inmates in the U.S. and Canada and to 21,000 service men and women. Through crisis pregnancy centers and Project Rachel postabortion ministries, we offer some 6,500 women a bridge to life.
But many more need help! Will you help us reach them? Please pray for these ministries and become a Partner. You can make a tax-deductible donation—of $100, $50, or whatever you can give—online at www.waupartners.org, or by sending a check to:
In the U.S.
The Word Among Us Partners
7115 Guilford Drive, Suite 100
Frederick, MD 21704
Attn: The Word Among Us Partners
Box 1107, Station F
Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2T8
(Canadian donations are tax deductible only if sent to this address.)
Evangelisation Resources Down Under
A Ministry of Petrie Catholic Community
38 Armstrong Street
Petrie, Qld 4502