NRL News

Houston pregnancy help center steps into the breach for migrant girls

by | Apr 26, 2021

By Lisa Bourne

Houston Pregnancy Help Center provided ultrasounds to migrant girls housed at a facility there

A Houston pregnancy medical clinic was tapped to provide emergency pregnancy help to hundreds of minor migrant girls brought to a local facility, and amidst the desperate situation, the staff took the time to be Christ through compassion and life-affirming support.

Sylvia Johnson, executive director for Houston Pregnancy Help Centers, and her Senior Director of Operations Sandra Ontiveros, are confident the part they and their center played in assisting hundreds of minor girls housed temporarily in Houston due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border was brought about by God. 

Houston Pregnancy Help Centers (HPHC) serves women facing unplanned pregnancy as part of a Christian mission and answering the call for help to serve the unaccompanied young women was a mere continuation of that.

Johnson and her staff were able to hear the girls’ stories, look directly into their eyes and connect, and offer them hope.

“Many of these women would (otherwise) choose abortion due to the sexual exploitation they experienced crossing the border,” said Johnson. “Planned Parenthood would love this opportunity. God favored us!”

Over the course of two weeks recently, Johnson and Ontiveros, along with two other staff members, served some 500 girls ages 12 to 17 at the facility located at an undisclosed location. Johnson said they were under confidentiality regulations while the girls were there and could only talk with Pregnancy Help News after the facility was abruptly closed last weekend and the girls moved elsewhere.

The floods of Central Americans and others attempting to enter the U.S. in recent months have included myriad unaccompanied minors, many of whom are trafficked and/or sexually exploited or assaulted.

The scenario is leaving young women pregnant or otherwise in great need of pregnancy help services, and with PHOs already serving anyone in need who comes through their doors, no matter the situation, these organizations are well-poised to bring love and support to these girls. 

The situation that led to Houston Pregnancy Help Centers (HPHC) being called in to help was unique. 

The girls were being brought in from another location and arriving with an urgent need for services. A local pastor who is aware and supportive of the pregnancy help center’s ministry was part of the discussion among local civic leaders over how to leverage local resources to assist with managing care for the hundreds of young women. He was instrumental in HPHC being called to address the need for pregnancy help.

“And he says, ‘Sylvia, we need you to come and provide 500 or more pregnancy tests for teenagers who are in this country without their parents at a facility here in Houston,’” Johnson recalled.

It was a tall order.

But nevertheless, Johnson acted to give it her best shot, immediately calling Ontiveros.

Answered prayer

Johnson related how Ontiveros had said a prayer the Lord prior to that day, saying, “Lord, the crisis at the border. I wish I can go to the border and help those women.” 

“She had whispered that prayer,” Johnson said. “And I didn’t know that. So here we had her prayers and the Lord arranged it so we didn’t have to go to the border. The women came here to Houston.”

In another example of Divine Intervention, two days before the call to come serve the girls, Ontiveros was speaking with HPHC volunteers about the border crisis.  

The question arose of what would happen with all these kids coming across the border alone. 

“And I just said to them, I said, honestly, the ones that are in my heart are the teen girls,” Ontiveros said, “because I’ve worked with them in the past.”

The pregnancy help center has responded to calls before from the hospitals whenever they have immigrant girls, many who have been trafficked on their way here and become pregnant. 

By the time they finally get here, they’re too far along to have an abortion, Ontiveros said, and so HPHC gets the call to help these girls place the babies for adoption. 

“And so, I just said to the volunteers, you know the ones that are heavy on my heart? The young girls. And I just wished that you could drive up to the border with the van and do pregnancy tests and do counseling and options and just encouragement, and give adoption as an option,” she said. “So, I just thought it was an amazing opportunity that God had already placed in our hearts before it was an option to be able to be there, to serve them.”

Another example of God’s hand was when they had a donor come by the pregnancy center earlier the same day as the phone call regarding the girls.

“And he said, Sylvia, I have a gift from my wife and I to give to you. And it was a substantial gift that was unexpected,” Johnson said. “So, I said to him, wait a minute, let’s hold your check for a minute, let’s pray over it, because I’m sure this money has a purpose and a mission. Let’s pray that God will show that to us and make it very clear.”

“I felt like I wanted the Lord to show me what this money could be used for,” she said. “And it wasn’t two hours later that I received the call.” 

The pregnancy help center used its mobile unit to bring services to the migrant girls.

The first day in the facility with the girls there was a lot of chaos, as the girls had just arrived and the authorities were trying to figure things out, such as arranging for getting a health department clinic to come and do a battery of medical tests for the girls. Because of the complex process with contracts and legalities, it was taking a while to get a medical provider in there, but HPHC didn’t need a contract for their services because the services are free.

“When our team went into that facility, which is about four football fields long, none of the girls had been tested for COVID or anything like that,” said Johnson. “There were women, little girls, and these were really little girls.” 

Jonson said the girls were quiet, which kind of shocked her. In American culture, she said, if you put teenagers together there is going to be chaos everywhere, but the girls at the facility were very subdued and very quiet.

“They were very introverted. They were afraid to talk,” she said. “They didn’t know who to trust, who to tell what, who to say the story to. They were so afraid of that.”

Different government agencies were involved. Girls who were already identified a pregnant were brought to Johnson and her staff for an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy. 

“And we got to spend time with each one of them, getting to hear their stories, their journeys,” said Ontiveros, “and just how hard that journey was for them. And now they’re finding themselves pregnant.”

Many were abortion-minded, she said, and depending on who they’re talking to in this scenario, they could be led to think that’s their only option, especially since they are here alone.

Some of the girls have sponsors or families that they will go to, and they were not sure how their families or sponsors will react to the news that they’re pregnant.

Once HPHC got in the swing of things, they were able to do 50 pregnancy tests in just under two hours that first day. 

“Our first day at the facility was overwhelming!” said Johnson. “Over 550 teenage girls living in a huge facility here in Houston. We were not allowed to give the address and we could not take photos of the patients. Thursday, we tested 50 teens and five tested positive for pregnancy.”

Amazed to se the babies on ultrasound

The next day a health department-affiliated clinic was there to do pregnancy tests along with other assessments and would send the young women with a positive pregnancy test to the HPHC staff for ultrasounds.

“And we would do an ultrasound, which for us worked out great,” said Ontiveros. “Because we were able then to spend a lot more one-on-one quality time each with each one that we would scan.”

“We’d take our time talking to them and, many of them had a very rough journey,” she said. “Some were raped, abused, tortured. It’s pretty horrific, what some of them had to go through.” 

“It’s a miracle some of them are even alive,” she added. “And a lot of them had burns on their feet from days of walking without shoes.” 

And a lot of them, you would just see them sitting on a cot, airing out their feet, because their feet are just so burned. 

Dehydration was also evident among the girls, and many hadn’t eaten for days.

“And then you see the babies on the screen and the heartbeats are so strong, so fast, you know,” Ontiveros said, “those babies were alive and well, and it was just crazy to hear the journey that that mother had had, and that child’s still alive.”

“We were amazed when we saw the babies on ultrasound, how the babies and the moms survive days without food and how those babies were so beautiful,” Johnson said. “And just, just a mom had a chance to bond with that baby, regardless of how that baby was conceived, that mother saw a child with fingers and toes and heartbeat inside of her womb. And that the baby was okay.”

They made sure to take time with the ultrasound too, so that the girls could form a visual memory of their child, since they could not print off a picture from the ultrasound. The girls weren’t allowed to have any possessions.

“This was their baby,” said Ontiveros.

Providing emotional, spiritual support 

Johnson and Ontiveros went through all of the facility’s sections each day that they were there and spoke to the young women. 

“We made eye contact with them,” Johnson said. “We did that every day.”

HPHC would eventually perform 80 pregnancy tests and 27 ultrasounds on pregnant girls.

While there was some awkwardness or even mistrust from some of the government agency personnel initially in response to the pregnancy help staff being on site, ultimately many of the government medical authorities were very happy they were there, so someone could talk to the girls about their situation, instead of just performing a pregnancy test.

“The clinic, all they could do is to do the tests,” said Ontiveros. “That’s all they’re there for. But we were there for the emotional, the spiritual support for them. Just to help them on that journey of healing from that trauma.” 

HPHC is among the PHOs with experience serving trafficking victims. It’s not known how many of the 500 or so girls they served were being trafficked, but Johnson and Ontiveros saw signs.   

“It’s just a trauma that they are … it’s gonna take years for them to be able to heal,” said Ontiveros.

“But, you know, they’re facing an unwanted pregnancy (and were thinking) what do I do with that?” she said. “So, we did get to spend a lot of time with them, pray over them, encourage them.”

“Every single one of them crying,” she continued. “If they could hug you, each one of them would have hugged us.” 

“I pray that you may prosper in all things and be healthy, even as your soul prospers”

What also stands out as the Lord’s influence in the situation was the fact that Ontiveros’s 10-year-old son, after he woke up the morning that day his mom had to go to the facility, asked his mom to do a prayer devotion with her. 

Ontiveros’s son found 3 John 1:2 that says, I wish above all things that your soul prospers. 

“And so, Sandra took that devotion,” said Johnson, “and every young lady that she encountered in that facility that day, she explained to them that, you came here looking to prosper. But what God’s word says, is that no matter where you are, your soul needs to prosper with Him.”

Each one of them would say they came here to seek a better life and to prosper here, said Johnson. They told the girls to not neglect the prosperity of their soul, that God has a journey for them.

“It was such a beautiful experience to be able to be there with them,” Ontiveros said.

They told the girls, some of them as young as 12 or 13 years-old, that they are not alone. Looking into each girl’s eyes, they told them their father in heaven loves them.

The girls were herded through the public health clinic testing like cattle, Johnson said. 

“It wasn’t that personal touch that our ministry has, that pregnancy centers across this nation have, of relating to the client and utilizing The with women in instances like this,” she said.

The difference in approach did get positive notice among the government staff.

“It’s never just about a pregnancy”

Some of the scrutiny Johnson and her staff experienced, though, was government agency personnel questioning what they would do for women who were identified as having experienced trauma.

Ontiveros told them, “You know, well, that’s what we do. That’s what we do every day, all day – we deal with the trauma.” 

“We deal with the crises, and it’s never just about a pregnancy,” she said. “There’s more to that story behind that pregnancy. How did she get pregnant? Who was she pregnant from? Um, where is he? What’s going on?” 

Some girls were pregnant by boyfriends that they left back in their home country, some were not. Regardless, HPHC served them in their respective situations.

“We were being people to them,” Ontiveros said. “We were being humans to a human. We were giving warmth to another human being.”

“We were not treating them as a number,” she said. “We were treating them like the human being, the special girl that God has created to them be. And we were loving on them, caring on them. And that’s what set us apart.”

“I really had to pray about the situation”

Before Johnson and her staff could try to make ongoing arrangements for any of the girls who were pregnant and needed continued care, the facility was abruptly closed and the girls moved, to where, they didn’t know.

So just as with their regular pregnancy help clients, Johnson and Ontiveros had to do what they could in the moment, and trust that God would be with the girls after they left their care.

“I really had to pray about the situation, but somehow they moved them away and we could not reach them anymore,” she said. “But the beauty of this is, they could not have bags or pamphlets or materials.” 

Instead, they spent quality time giving the girls verbally what they could not give them in written materials or handouts.

“We couldn’t give them anything,” she said. “What we had to give them was when they were in front of our faces, and we spoke to them eye-to-eye about what they could do, and let them that they’re not alone, we said, ‘Never forget this, your baby’s inside of you, you are valuable.” 

The girls to whom they gave ultrasounds did indicate that they wanted to choose life.

Johnson and her staff made themselves available for the girls to call later if they had a need and so chose. 

“I would say to them, ‘Listen, if you are out there and you need to call me, I don’t care where you are in America, call me up,” said Ontiveros. “And we’ll mobilize. You know, there are centers all over the U.S. that will come, rally, support, love on you, help you, support you during this time of life.’ So that was something that we had to do a whole lot of.”

And Johnson said they would do it all over again in a heartbeat. 

“We pray that God would give us another opportunity to do that,” she said. “This mission was bigger than us, however, it’s not too big for our God!”

Editor’s note. This appeared at Pregnancy Help News and is reposted with permission.