Morning Center patients are persons, not statistics

Les Riley  ·  Oct 01, 2015

Every one of the patients we see at the Morning Center has their own story and needs individual attention.

A few weeks ago at our Frayser clinic on the north side of Memphis, an obviously pregnant young woman in her early 20s walked in bringing along a little boy. She was sobbing, so Vickie, one of our volunteer coordinators, asked her what was wrong. Vickie found out that she had gotten a ride to the Morning Center, and that the driver just dropped her off and left her.

Now you have to understand, Memphis sits along the Mississippi River, in a corner between the states of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. When I say “West Memphis,” it’s in Arkansas. Another community, called Whitehaven, sits right on the Mississippi state line. Another community called Frayser, is on the north side of Memphis. Transportation is a big issue in Memphis. The young woman and her little boy didn’t have any way to get home, so she was sobbing.

I spent the next hour doing what I do with about half my time—running around trying to figure out how to help this patient with her unique situation, talking to people, calling different ministries, and learning for sure that there wasn’t going to be a ride. Vickie said, “I’ll take her home.” So she took her and her little boy home, due to the unusually difficult circumstances of this woman’s plight. They had to use a borrowed car seat, because whoever dropped off and left them, took the car seat with them. Vickie got to quickly make a connection with her, and they built a relationship.

When her next appointment came up four weeks later, she called from a safe house in West Memphis, Arkansas, and she was in tears again.  We learned that she was 23 years old, very bright and articulate, but an absolute wreck. Abused by her father, a military man who abandoned them. Her mother joined a cult, and the cult leader took all of their money and told the mother that her kids were demon possessed, and she should get rid of them. So she was dropped off at a homeless center when she was 16 years old. In the seven years since, she has lived with abusive men and in homeless shelters. She had only a bag with a few clothes, and one pair of shoes.

She can’t get support from the first baby’s father, the 2-year-old, because he was abusive. She doesn’t want him to know where she is. The second baby’s daddy was abusive to her, and when she got pregnant, he started abusing the 2-year-old.

The homeless shelter where she was staying would only agree to let her stay if she would get food stamps and child support, all the government programs she could, and give it to them—kind of a for-profit enterprise.

So she called in tears, because she didn’t have a ride to our clinic. I told Vickie, “We’ll get her here, and then figure out somewhere she can live.”

Vickie went to her church, Leawood Baptist out in the suburbs, and gathered up some clothes for the little boy. Somebody else from another church dropped off some toys and books. I called a street preacher I know who also pastors a Baptist church in West Memphis, and he and a Presbyterian pastor went and picked her up, gave her a car seat, and brought her across the bridge from Arkansas to our clinic in Frayser.

Her only pair of shoes had holes in them. Another church in Frayser took her to their clothes closet, and gave her a bunch of shoes. We talked with her, we counseled with her, and she ended up going home with Camille, our practice administrator. She is now living with Camille and going to church with her.

Now, what have I not mentioned so far here at all? I haven’t mentioned maternity care. I haven’t mentioned abortion. I haven’t mentioned caring for the poor. I haven’t mentioned all of the things people usually think of the Morning Center doing, like free prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care, or free ultrasounds, labs, dietary, and nutritional counseling.

The Morning Center is not going to fix this country’s problems. The Morning Center is not going to fix the problems in Memphis. Samaritan Ministries is not going to fix this country’s problems. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is what He has on earth, and the Morning Center is a conduit for the Church to come together and get involved in people’s lives.

I’ve been involved in pro-life ministry for a long time and worked it from a lot of different angles. Jesus said the poor you will always have with you.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin said that one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. We’ve got to quit treating the poor like statistics. They’re not the thugs we see portrayed on TV. They’re not the people we’ve seen pouring across the border into some country. They’re not nameless, faceless, masses.

An abortion-minded mom is not a statistic. She has her own story. She’s has her need. What the Morning Center gives us is an opportunity—through Biblical charity, through all the things that we talk about—to build relationships with people created in the image of God, and live out the two greatest commandments. We need to share the Gospel in word and in deed with the people God brings into our lives every day, and let Jesus take care of the bigger picture—the statistics.

We should take care of the individual—this one girl, this one person. We stop treating “the poor” and we start treating an abortion-minded mom. We see all of those Planned Parenthood videos, and we tend to get caught up in big numbers. Each abortion is a person God created. A million and a half abortions a year are nothing our God can’t stop. But we need to be broken-hearted to our God that there is even one. One in our city. One in an area we can reach. That’s really all the Morning Center is, and that’s all we do.

On the other side of spectrum, we had another girl come in last week. I’ve been involved in pro-life ministry for 23 years, and I told my wife it was the hardest case I’ve ever seen. She was 18 weeks along, and we offered her everything, but she wanted none of it. She threw the ultra-sound picture away and said, “I’m going to abort this one.”

“What about adoption?”

“Nobody’s going to want him. He’s going to be retarded, just like that one.”

She was talking about her little 2-year-old boy who’s got problems from the alcohol and drugs she did throughout her last pregnancy.

She’s 18 weeks along. That’s a little baby. She saw the ultrasound picture. She said, “Yeah, I can’t get an abortion in Memphis, but its $2,000 in Little Rock, and I’ve got that much saved up.”

There are glowing success stories, and there are heart-breaking ones. But that’s the ministry that Jesus Christ gives us. He gives us the opportunity to get our hands dirty, where there are hurting people and have our hearts broken. That’s the ministry of incarnation, isn’t it? Jesus came down among a bunch of dirty, broken people who let Him down all the time. That’s what we must do for others.


Les Riley is the executive director of the Memphis Morning Center. He is the husband of Christy, a father of 10 children, farmer, and the former executive director of Personhood Mississippi where he, and his 2,000 staff members and volunteers advanced a statewide initiative to recognize life from conception. Les enjoys reading, writing, and speaking with anyone about pro-life issues.