By Tom Strode
NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Southern Baptists celebrated the power of partnership with a veteran National Football League player and his family in dedicating a new ultrasound machine in a New Orleans health center.
Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, along with their five children, joined in the dedication of the new addition to the ministry of Baptist Community Health Services (BCHS). The Watsons donated the ultrasound machine in the fall through the Psalm 139 Project, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s ministry to help place such technology in pregnancy resource centers across the country.
Benjamin Watson starred at the University of Georgia in the early 2000s and was drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft by the New England Patriots.
The machine serves women in crisis pregnancies as well as others with medical needs at BCHS’ Andrew P. Sanchez Center in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The nonprofit ministry provides health care through four centers in underserved areas of the city. The churches of the New Orleans Baptist Association, with the help of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, launched BCHS in 2014.
Speakers at the Feb. 10 ceremony at the Sanchez Center pointed to the cooperation demonstrated by the ultrasound machine’s placement.
“It’s been great to see how the Lord has used the passions of the Watson family being stirred by the Spirit of the Lord to find a partner who shares that same Spirit, linking resources, building networks all for the glory of God,” said Shawn Powers, BCHS’ chief executive officer.
ERLC President Russell Moore told the audience that included BCHS staff and board members that he is thankful “to partner with all of you and with the Watson family today.”
Watson, a tight end who retired at the close of this season after a 15-year career, told the BCHS community that his family is “very, very thankful to be a part of what you all are doing. We’re thankful that God placed us here for this time and made these connections, made these relationships… We’re very humbled to play a role.”
Powers said BCHS’ partnership with the Psalm 139 Project “has been huge. It’s allowed us to feel somewhat like, ‘Yes, we’re a part of God’s Kingdom in a new way,’ being refreshed and encouraged.'”
Moore, in a written release before the dedication ceremony, said he is “excited to see how this machine will be used as a powerful instrument to help protect unborn children and mothers across the city of New Orleans. Ministries like BCHS play an indispensable role in advocating for human dignity, and I pray this placement would help them continue to flourish and serve” New Orleans.
The Watsons also collaborated with Psalm 139 earlier in 2018 when they largely funded an ultrasound machine for the Severna Park (Md.) Pregnancy Clinic outside Baltimore, where Benjamin played for the NFL’s Ravens the previous season. They made the donation — which resulted in the machine being installed in June — through the Evangelicals for Life (EFL) partnership of the ERLC and Focus on the Family.
Watson, who played the final season of his career with the New Orleans Saints, said the idea for donating ultrasound machines was birthed in his wife Kirsten a decade earlier when she was pregnant with their first child, Grace, now 10. Kirsten is now pregnant with twins.
The Watsons were visiting with the ERLC and Focus on the Family at the EFL conference in Washington, D.C., when they learned of the organizations’ collaboration in placing ultrasound machines. They realized, he said, “Why reinvent the wheel? This is our opportunity.
“[I]t’s amazing how God will birth something in someone, and somebody else has the ability [to fulfill it],” Watson told the dedication ceremony audience. “And through teamwork, He will put people together for His purposes.”
Viewing an ultrasound of their first child in utero “sparked something for us as a couple,” Kirsten Watson said. “[W]e are just honored and blessed that we are able to provide that for other mommies and daddies.”
Hannah Pounds, BCHS’ chief medical officer, said the ultrasound machine is a gift at a “time of great need, and it also gives us amazing opportunities.”
“And those opportunities are to show visually and to show auditory evidence of the life within the womb, to give parents the most information and data possible as early as possible,” Pounds said at the ceremony. “Without this technology, we wouldn’t be able to do that. It also gives us the opportunity, which is our routine, to screen for emotional distress and spiritual distress.”
The machine enables the BCHS staff “to proclaim the truth that Jesus Christ loves them and it’s not just us and you and the baby in the room,” Pounds said. “There’s also Jesus, who loves each of us regardless of our past choices.”
Michael Flores, chairman of the BCHS board, said the ministry has experienced peaks and valleys, “but I don’t think we could find any previous peak that surpasses today.”
BCHS, which sees 50 to 70 patients daily, is the only known federally qualified health center connected to a Southern Baptist association.
“What I love about this health care mission is we can help treat the physical needs, the emotional needs of people and the spiritual needs of people, but it’s all being done with the desire to move them further into the mission of the redemptive love of Christ,” Powers said.
The Psalm 139 Project not only helps place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers, but it funds the training of staff members to operate the machines. In the case of the Watsons’ gift to BCHS, Psalm 139 identified the center, coordinated the placement and arranged training on the machine.
Since 2004, the Psalm 139 Project has helped provide ultrasound equipment for centers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. The ERLC has collaborated with Focus on the Family’s Option Ultrasound Program on some of the machine placements.
All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward machines and training, since the ERLC’s administrative costs are covered by the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified giving plan. Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to donate is available here.
The Psalm 139 Project is named after the psalm in which David testified to God’s sovereign care for him when he was an unborn child. He wrote in verse 13, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
Watson received EFL’s Pro-life Public Service Award and spoke at the conference in 2018.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.