by Jay Hobbs, Director of Communications
With 1,100 life-affirming leaders gathered for our largest-ever Annual Conference March 29-31, it’s always a memorable highlight to recognize a handful of men and women devoted to life-saving pregnancy help.
At our 2016 “Celebrating Heroes” event—the 45th Conference in Heartbeat International’s history—the closing banquet provided the opportunity to honor four heroes as Heartbeat Servant-Leaders, as well as the recipient of the annual Heart of the Future award for up-and-coming leaders.
Two recipients of the Servant-Leader award, which debuted in 1996 and has now totaled 80 pro-life foot soldiers in the pregnancy help community, were keynote speakers at the Conference, and another two represented international pregnancy help work.
Pastor Andy Merritt of Edgewood Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga., has been a pioneer in church-based pregnancy help since he started the nation’s first church-sponsored pregnancy center in 1981.
Having served 65,000 clients at the center—Sound Choices Pregnancy Center—since 1981, Pastor Merritt’s ministry quickly expanded into adoption in 1984, and he has traveled extensively, training and equipping over 500 pregnancy help organizations. Under his leadership, Edgewood Baptist Church hosts a national pregnancy center conference every other year.
“Congratulations, Dad, on this special recognition,” Pastor Merritt’s son, Jonathan—also a pastor and one of 10 children in the Merritt family—said. “Your labor in the pro-life movement has born the marks of Christ: humility of mind, considering others more important, and servant-like obedience. On behalf of the family let me say what a blessing it is for us to affirm that the character Heartbeat recognizes publicly is exactly what your family has seen privately. We’re proud of you.”
Pastor Merritt’s keynote kicked off the closing day of the Conference, and he was followed by an address from Jim and Joy Pinto, hosts of Eternal Word Television Network’s (ETWN) “At Home with Jim and Joy” and themselves deeply entrenched in the pregnancy help community.
While Joy serves as executive director for Her Choice Birmingham (Ala.) Women’s Center, Jim, an ordained minister, is in charge of fundraising and development. Natives of New Jersey, the couple delivered a lively keynote, with Joy—a cancer survivor—speaking the first half, and Jim closing down the time.
Following their keynote, it was announced that Joy was a recipient of the 2016 Servant Leader award.
“A leader of grace and strength of affirmation and humility, she walks out daily what she so passionately believes in—the value and holiness of life and the human person,” Sherri Burnett, who serves alongside Joy, said. “I consider it a pleasure to serve by her side each and every day.”
Heartbeat’s international DNA came into focus with two other honorees, Phil Holsinger and Lena Batina.
Phil, a long-time director currently serving at Blue Ridge Women’s Center in Virginia, where he heads a state coalition of 37 pregnancy centers and life-affirming medical clinics with ultrasound, also spearheads pregnancy help efforts overseas.
Working to connect U.S.-based pregnancy help ministries to sister organizations in Europe, Phil’s “Mission PRO” has led to a strong pregnancy help presence in Macedonia, where Lydia: A Beating Heart serves women with life-affirming care in the capitol city of Stip.
“Thank you for all your hard work that goes unnoticed by many but will not go unrewarded in His Kingdom,” Billy Webb, board chairman for Blue Ridge Women’s Center said of Phil. “I cherish our friendship and your heart for this ministry. I support your heart that wants to change the hearts and minds of all those that are going through the life experiences and emotions of unplanned pregnancy and post abortion. My good wishes, my prayers and God’s blessings be upon you.”
Svetlana Poslavaskaja, the center director in Macedonia, called Phil a “remarkable man” with a “fatherly heart.”
“I'm grateful for this man,” Svetlana said. “For every word he has shared with me, for every advice he has giving me, for every prayer he has said about me, for everything he has done for me. I'm grateful God brought him to Macedonia.”
Serving in her native country of Ukraine—one of 17 nations outside the U.S. represented at the Conference—Lena has been instrumental in fanning to flame the work of pregnancy help organizations across Eastern Europe.
As he introduced Lena as a Servant-Leader recipient, Heartbeat International president Jor-El Godsey told of a taxi trip to Moscow, Russia, the two shared years ago. Taking back alleys and harrowing risks, the taxi dropped off Lena and Jor-El just 15 minutes before Lena trained a group of pregnancy help volunteers.
Demonstrating a resilience true to form as a Servant-Leader, Lena quickly recovered from the journey to train the group how to meet the needs of women in unexpected or difficult pregnancies.
The fourth recipient of Heartbeat International’s Heart of the Future, Nakita McBride is executive director at Eastland County (Texas) Open Door, which began serving clients in 2008.
Taking the reigns for the organization in 2009, Nakita has led the rural center to establish itself as an indispensable resource in the community, and oversaw the launch of Open Door’s satellite location in Breckenridge, Texas, in 2013.
“Throughout her time as a leader, Nakita has maintained a spirit of joy and kindness,” Sherry Wright, Open Door’s board chair and a member of Heartbeat International’s board of directors, said. “Amidst the darkest days of life and death, she is able to effectively inspire the troops and unify the community around the life issue. As a future leader of the future, Nakita walks in the wisdom of the past with skills and talents of the future.”