Kirk Cameron engaged listeners early during his keynote speech for the Vitae Foundation's annual pro-life event Monday in Jefferson City.
The foundation, he said, has hosted keynote speakers ranging from Ben Carson to Sean Hannity to Laura Ingraham to Lila Rose.
"Now you go with Mike Seaver from California?" he asked. "That's a step of faith, right there."
Cameron spoke during the organization's 26th annual fundraiser at the Capitol Plaza Hotel and again that evening. The nonprofit Vitae Foundation works to use research-based messages and media to inform women facing unplanned pregnancies about local Pregnancy Help Centers. It also aims to restore the "value of life as a core belief in American culture," according to its website.
Best known for his roles on the the television series "Growing Pains" and the "Left Behind" movies, Cameron has become a regular speaker on faith, family and nation.
He said he became connected with Vitae several years ago and was impressed with the organization's videos and presentation of statistics.
"Even where I live in California," Cameron said, "there are so many good-hearted people doing the best that they can, but without the resources to make them effective — without the research that really empowers them to reach the women where they are when they need it — much of the effort can go without producing the kind of fruit that they're looking for."
Vitae is shifting the messaging from the issue of the unborn baby to the woman carrying the baby and being "pro-women, pro-mom, pro-health, pro-future, pro-family, pro-baby," Cameron said.
The effort overcomes negativity, yelling and picketing, and empowers women, Cameron said.
He said Vitae's efforts have caused him to look more deeply at the pro-life issue.
Everyone has been touched by the issue to one degree or another, he said.
Vitae's work excites him.
He said a reason he's so passionate about the issue came from the story of a young woman years ago. The woman found herself pregnant when she was not ready to be. She could have gotten an abortion, but someone came alongside her and encouraged her "to be a hero," Cameron said.
She gave life to that little girl. That girl grew and got married. She and her husband adopted Jack, a boy with curly blond hair and blue eyes. Then they adopted Bella, a little girl with big brown eyes who loves to sing. Then they adopted Anna, who wants to grow up to be a nurse. Then they adopted Luke, who "can't figure out if he wants to be a rapper or an NBA player." Then the woman gave birth to two other children, Olivia and James.
"I know this story so well because that girl is my wife," Cameron said. "My wife was one appointment away from not existing."
His whole family exists because messages like those offered by Vitae reached young women, he said.
Robert Rysavy II officially stepped down as president of the Jefferson City area chapter of the organization during Monday afternoon's event. From 2015-16, he served as interim president. About 300 people were on hand as he discussed his wife's breast cancer diagnosis, which prevented him from attending in 2017. He was at her side in Colorado as doctors treated her.
"Thanks to those doctors and your prayers, she is cancer-free," Rysavy said. "That was a long and difficult road."
A former U.S. Air Force member, Rysavy said he felt compelled to explain his beard.
Shortly after his wife's cancer diagnosis, their then 5-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The parents spent the week before her cancer surgery in a pediatric intensive care unit with the child. While they were there, he promised the girl he would grow a beard for her.
"Now I'm being held emotionally hostage by the delightful little tyrant who won't let me shave," Rysavy said. "When you're 50 like me, and you have a 5-year-old, the 5-year-old gets pretty much everything she wants."
As the couple began to consider moving to Jefferson City, cancer and juvenile diabetes entered their lives, Rysavy said. The couple last month learned their 16-year-old son "is on the road" to juvenile diabetes. So he resigned, effective June 30. He will accept the presidency of his children's Colorado Springs, Colorado, high school.
He announced Debbie Stokes is the new president of the organization.
"I love the work that Vitae does," Stokes said, "and even more, the people that God has put in my path as I travel this Vitae journey."
Terry Zumwalt, a Russellville grandmother and great-grandmother, said she is moved by the progress Vitae has made in preventing abortions through the years.
"The dedication is amazing to me," she said, "and the promise that one day we will end abortion."
The organization's efforts will save thousands of babies, Zumwalt said.
"God brought all of us together at this place at this time for a reason," Stokes said. "He's placed some awesome tasks before us, to be sure. To reach record numbers of women considering abortion with messages of hope and compassion."