Heartbeat brings life to Serbia

Screen Shot 2016 01 12 at 5.08.57 PM
Heartbeat's International Coordinator Molly Hoepfner
shares about her time in Serbia

Walking the Novi Sad streets, Molly Hoepfner and Betty McDowell pass row after row of square, grey buildings—standing monuments that remain 20 years after the breakup of Communist Yugoslavia.

Yet, even amid the seemingly unvaried landscape of drab, graffiti-covered structures that line the busy streets of Serbia’s second-largest city, an occasional flash of color bursts through a new, freshly painted edifice.

Little by little, life is returning to Serbia.

On behalf of Heartbeat International, Molly and Betty were there to see to it that even as life returns, the long-forgotten value of human dignity and life would truly take root.

Molly and Betty led a four-day volunteer training conference Oct. 4-7, hosted by Serbian pregnancy help organization executive director Vesna Radeka, who is one of more than 300 non-U.S. Heartbeat affiliates.

The conference included training on The LOVE Approach™ and Talking About Abortion™, two of Heartbeat’s signature programs, and welcomed a total of 50 attendees from five nations that were part of Yugoslavia as recent as the early 1990s—Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia and Croatia.

“They got The LOVE Approach, they really got it,” Betty, Heartbeat’s director of ministry services, said. “Vesna had written scenarios that fit the culture, and that was really exciting. It was exciting to see The LOVE Approach really translate, and to see that it works in any language, any setting. It’s truly ‘Love in every language.’”

The conference is believed to be the first of its kind in the region, which has undergone constant political upheaval and deadly clashes between ethnic groups throughout the last century.

The fledgling growth of unity in the Eastern European pro-life movement was one of the highlights for the Heartbeat mini-envoy, particularly considering the deep entrenchment of the culture of death in the post-Communist region.

“We kept promoting the message that, ‘We’re better together,’” Molly, Heartbeat’s international coordinator said. “They really embraced that, even though that’s not how they tend to think.”

With a population of just over 7 million, Serbia reports an average 23,000 abortions every year. However, unofficial data, reported by The Southeastern European Times, estimates the annual average at 150,000 abortions—twice the number of live births—giving Serbia the highest abortion rate in Europe.

As Molly related, one woman who attended the conference said her mother had undergone 10 abortions after giving birth to her older brother and before giving birth to her, which was a tragically common story among the conference’s attendees.

“I’ve read about survivor’s guilt, but to see it so blatant and prevalent in that room was just so painful,” Betty said.

“This is generational,” Molly said. “Woman after woman after woman at this conference—whose average age was 35-40, stood up and said that they were either an unwanted child or that they grew up with abortion as a way of life.”

Abortion on-demand was legalized in its current form in Yugoslavia in 1977, but has been prevalent in the culture since just after World War II, when abortion was legalized in cases citing socio-medical grounds.

The conference’s attendees, many of whom are actively involved in bringing the sanctity of life message to their local public school systems, welcomed further training on how to speak the message of life into culture that has systematically devalued human life for several decades.

In addition to training related to The LOVE Approach and Talking About Abortion, another Heartbeat resource, the Sexual Integrity™ Program, played a major role in the conference training.

“These women are really stepping out in faith because it’s still so opposite of what their culture is saying,” Molly said. “They’re really going into uncharted waters because they’re in the infancy of pregnancy help centers even though their culture is much more entrenched in death than ours was by the time these centers began.”