Our former Board President and Pastor of True Life Church in Brick, Chris Francis, took some time to interview Missy Stephens, President of the Open Door Pregnancy Center in 2021. Here is the interview where Missy describes her vision and the mission of the Open Door.
It is with both sadness and joy that we share the recent passing of one of our founders, Dr. Joseph Raimondi. Dr. Joe, as he was commonly known, founded a ministry to pregnant girls facing an unplanned pregnancy. It started at his OB/GYN practice in Toms River in the early 70s and evolved into what we know today as The Open Door Pregnancy Center of New Jersey.
Dr. Joe went to NYU for his undergraduate degree, and served in the US Navy. After the Navy he went to Belgium and studied Obstetrics & Genecology and graduated from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in 1963. He interned at Monmouth Medical Center and completed his residency at Newark City Hospital in 1967. After finishing his internship he opened a practice in Toms River, NJ, in 1968.
Following is the transcript of an interview with Dr. Joe from June of 2021:
Q: How did you get started at the open door?
A: After I completed my OBGYN residency in 1967, my wife and I with our three kids came to Toms River and I set up my OB/GYN practice. After we were here a couple of years, I was approached by some friends of ours (Pete Mazzi, Georgianna Surbrug, and Vicki Carlton) and met in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church to discuss a center for girls to come and get some information about pregnancy and avoid choosing abortions. So, it started in my OB/GYN office in the evenings to accommodate clients and that went on for several years. Obviously, I didn’t mind them using my office to support the pro-life movement, I’ve been pro-life my whole life. Then we rented a space in downtown Toms River and now we own this space here which is a blessing because it’s the only place where you can get information on pro-life and the importance of choosing life. It’s a blessing to see all the volunteers, staff, director and everyone that God has blessed us with. For me it is such a great achievement that God has blessed us with to serve our clients.
Q: How many volunteers did you have when you first opened up?
A: It was very minimal, I don’t know the exact numbers, but I know we had a small staff. But you know, God is good and He watched over us, He planned it, we just followed in his footsteps basically, not knowing what was going to happen. But we were faithful and the directors and volunteers were faithful. And it’s such a beautiful thing to see Christians coming together with one purpose: to promote life. First of all, I’m in OB/GYN and I love to deliver kids, it’s such a miracle.
When you consider it starts off with two chromosomes, so small you can’t even see, and then develops in the uterus, like the Bible says, “the hidden place”, and those two little cells develop into a bouncing baby. It’s a marvelous and beautiful thing. And I never minded getting up at 3:00 in the morning to deliver a baby. I had a lot of fun in the delivery room seeing the amazing grace from God in each delivery.
Q: How have you been able to witness to the moms-to-be in your practice?
A: Well, with every opportunity I have to witness, actually it depends on the Lord, I proclaim the good news of the gospel and of life. And what a beautiful thing life is. I mean, why would you want to trash it and terminate a life? It just doesn’t make sense. I mean, God gave us life and He promotes life. Why would you want to put to death something that God promotes? It’s not logical and it’s not good. But here at the Open Door is a place where the clients can be comfortable, talk without being coerced, and they can make their own decision. We want to present life, because the clients don’t receive proper information. Here is an example of that: when the clients, and that’s including the fathers, see an ultrasound of the baby at 6-8 weeks, you can see that the baby is moving and kicking its legs. The first thing that they say is, “that’s not a blob of tissue”! They don’t know, because that’s what they’re told. They think it’s a blob of tissue in the beginning but that’s a lie! So when the clients see the ultrasound they are so amazed that it is a living organism, not just a blob of tissue as they have been told. It is a baby! So, that’s been amazing!
I think it’s around 86 percent of our clients who see the ultrasound, change their minds on abortion. Just with one view of the ultrasound. That’s significant! It’s because they get the truth, and people don’t get the truth out there, it’s “just a blob of tissue” they think they’re aborting.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit more about how Open Door has reached Ocean County from the beginning to today? How have you seen the Open Door reaching the community?
A: I see a lot more clients coming into the Open Door because of the awareness of the churches of the area, but I also think that people are more aware of life and just that the clients want to know what’s happening to their bodies and what’s going on inside of them. I think that’s why the Open Door is getting more notoriety, because more people don’t want to submit to that abortion issue. If they want another alternative the Open Door is perfect for that and that’s the truth.
If kids don’t have a place to go (and they don’t except for Open Door in all of Ocean County) then we ought to promote it more so that the public can be aware that there are alternatives to abortion so they can make their own decision.
The Open Door (Pregnancy Center) is the answer, not going the “easy route” of abortion.
Q: Going back to what you said before, isn’t it such a blessing that we’ve been able to use the ultrasound to show so many clients that you can really see development of the baby at 6 weeks?
A: It’s amazing to see the ultrasound at 6 weeks showing that the baby is alive and moving it’s arms and legs, at only 6 weeks! The clients are just amazed by that because that’s when most of them go to get an abortion. We’ve had ultrasounds here for a couple of years now, and what a difference that has made in the decisions the clients have to make.
Q: What got you started in the medical field? What made you choose OBGYN?
A: Let me back up a little, I was born and raised in Long Branch, NJ. My parents came over from Italy around 1920, and I was born in 1933. And I can remember when I was in 8th grade I knew I wanted to be a doctor, I knew it. Not only that, but I knew I wanted to deliver babies. I don’t know where that idea came from. But every time I walked into Monmouth Medical Center at Long Branch, and got that first smell in my nose, I thought, “I want to be a doctor, and specifically deliver babies.” Anyway, I went to NYU for my undergrad and then I was drafted into the United States Navy and I served as a Navy Corpsman in the Fleet Marine Force, and they had a dispensary there. They didn’t want their corpsman getting sick, of course, and they kept us well fed with cheese and whatever we wanted. It was a great service. So, from there I applied to schools in the US and I didn’t get accepted, but that didn’t deter me. So, I went to a university in Belgium for five years and I met my wife Colette there, God bless her, and in our junior year we got married. Then we came back to the US after my medical school and I went to Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch for a one year internship and then from there to Newark City Hospital, where I completed my OBGYN residency.
After we had three kids, we moved to Toms River in 1968. I set up my practice and shortly thereafter we got together and formed the Open Door in my office three nights a week. I gladly opened my doors for them. It’s an important ministry. And then we moved, well rented, many different places in Toms River, eventually purchasing this building here which is beautiful and I thought was necessary. Thank God for this blessing!
I’ve always been pro-life, always supporting Open Door. I served on the board for a while, but that wasn’t my niche. Now I review the sonograms here every week and to me it’s been gratifying to promote life. I mean, why would I do OBGYN if I didn’t support life? Yeah, to me, I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s just been very gratifying.
Dr. Joe's commitment to Life and to Jesus Christ had an impact both directly and indirectly on many women and families. He is one of the few Christians we are assured will enter into His heaven and hear Jesus say,
"Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord." Matthew 25:23