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Christine Guenther, left, executive director of Nebraskans Embracing Life (formerly Nebraskans United for Life), consults Nov. 28 with executive assistant Mary Briganti about arrangements for the organization’s Celebration of Life Dinner in Omaha on Jan. 25. MIKE MAY/STAFF

New name, new emphasis for Nebraska-based pro-life group

“Nebraskans Embracing Life.”

The organization’s new name honors the “greatest example of a pro-life Mother” in the history of humanity, wrote executive director Christine Guenther in a September letter to members and supporters of Nebraskans United for Life.

The Blessed Mother “was a young teen who said Yes to Life while living in a time when an unwed mother could have been stoned to death,” she explained.

Based in Omaha, Nebraskans United for Life is one of the state’s largest and most influential pro-life organizations. Its name change to Nebraskans Embracing Life (NEL) – inspired by an image of Mary embracing the Christ child – signals a new emphasis, but not a new mission, said Guenther.

“We’re really focusing on three main areas – political, spiritual and educational,” she told the Catholic Voice. “We want to educate the masses, embrace the community and really partner with God, in that we feel that we educate people and the Holy Spirit awakens them.”

As Guenther explained in her letter, the group will focus on four “pillars” of activity: engage, enlighten, empower and embrace.

“We want to be an embracing community,” she said. “Even those people opposed to us, we’re going to pray for them and hope our embrace leads them to some fruitful waters.

“Enlightenment will take place after engagement, because when we engage, we will educate – we will partner with God to make a life-changing difference in people’s lives.

“Once enlightened, people will see choices in front of them they didn’t believe existed before,” she continued. “Many women who have abortions regret them terribly and can never take that back. We know that it’s the most unnatural thing in the world for a mom to find and agree with a so-called doctor to kill her baby. We feel many women who make those decisions make them at a time they’re in crisis, and we want to partner with God to enlighten women in these circumstances so they are empowered to make the choice for life.

“We want to be their friends, to show them that ‘We are the community that will embrace you,’” she said. “‘You will always have friends and a place to go, because we are really interested in you and your child.’”

NEL’s new focus reflects the influence of Guenther, who became the organization’s new executive director last April. Her strong pro-life commitment is grounded in life experience. She had a baby at a young age, and through the grace of God, chose life. “I feel very grateful for that,” she said. 

She was a member of Metro Right to Life, then did rescues with Rescue the Heartland in the 1990s. Professionally, Guenther has a degree in business administration and information systems management from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and worked in clinical software engineering for many years. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Creighton University in her early 40s.

NEW ENDEAVORS

NEL’s new efforts will include large-scale educational events and community activities, and the group hopes to create a physical space that will serve as a spiritual and educational center for women choosing life. By contrast, they will no longer offer pregnancy or STD testing, since they feel other organizations cover those areas well.

“To effect real change in one’s life, the safety net that needs to happen will come from spiritual community,” Guenther said. “When people are lonely and not connected with one another, they are not making decisions that are necessarily in their best interests.”

“Change comes about when you help build self-esteem, when women are connected to other people in the community, when they aren’t lonely anymore because they are now connected to people who can help them walk the walk in this life.”

The group also will become more active politically. 

“We want to do more than just endorse our candidates,” Guenther said. “We want to embrace them and do all we can to help them get elected. We want to be an unstoppable force – partners with the Holy Spirit to awaken and embrace our candidates.”

POLITICAL ACTION

New board member Mark Bonkiewicz, a member of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, will serve as political action team leader for the organization as it sets these new goals.

Bonkiewicz sees his role as an opportunity to coach and mentor members across the state to understand both the two-year legislative cycle and the series of steps needed to take a citizen’s idea and push it through to a signed law.

“That’s a long, arduous process,” he said. “And the vast majority of Nebraskans has no idea of the intricacy of that process, to either stop or support a piece of legislation.”

A sales professional, Bonkiewicz has driven the length of the state many times, and he has talked to pro-life advocates in many cities and towns.

“I know a ton of people in a lot of places who we need to collect together, and help them to become vigilant in their hometown and legislative district,” he said.

Once members have gone through the education NEL will provide, “giving them the tools they need,” he said, they will become trusted, local leaders with relationships with their own senators. 

“You have to build these relationships during interim session, so when they are in the legislative session, these people know us, so when they’re in the heat of battle, they will listen to us.

Education also will give the organization the ability to rally coached and mentored members “so that hundreds of them will come to Lincoln and pray during public hearings, or will testify for or against bills,” Bonkiewicz said. “Body count matters – rooms full of people praying changes the environment. Nebraskans Embracing Life coming out with a list of candidates is wonderful, but it is only one step of a multistep process. We have to be in the public square.”

REGAINING GROUND

Christians and especially Catholic Christians have been taught not to get involved in politics, Bonkiewicz said. 

“So we’ve lost a ton of ground we have to regain.” But, he added, he can see NEL helping the state become the leader in pro-life legislation being passed.

The group also will be asking for 100 percent participation from the pro-life community. 

“This community is the greatest resource to combat this evil, and we can all do something,” Guenther said. “I don’t care what it is – if nothing else, you can join our prayer program and pray.”

Part of the effort to engage includes a new website for the group and a revitalized Facebook page (facebook.com/NEembracinglife) and Twitter account.

“We welcome questions and feedback and we want to be out in the community,” Guenther said.

The Catholic Voice

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