**** This is an excerpt from Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him published in 2009. It was originally entitled “Ricky and the Rascals”.

The most interesting congregation I ever led lived in a nursing home. Every Tuesday night that I was not traveling on business, I ventured to their building to share Jesus. Part of my ministry involved retrieving them from their small rooms and wheeling them to the recreation room where our Bible study was held. Though I sincerely wanted to build them up with time in God’s Word, I often found myself having to focus more on crowd control than spiritual edification.

One evening, for instance, a near melee broke out as two octogenarians struggled over the same walker. Apparently the “thief” desired the Cadillac-of-walkers model possessed by another woman. For the thief, the 1960s bicycle bell it sported proved too much temptation; ringing it would warn other residents of the owner’s slow approach. As the tussle ensued the women struggled back and forth like two three-year-olds battling over a toy. Both possessed a death grip on their claim. And when Mary, the owner, released her hands from the walker; the perpetrator flew backwards and crashed into the wall without ever releasing her prize. Chaos broke out before order was restored.

On another occasion, Martha, who interrupted every meeting with the same question -“Will I go to hell because I can’t stop saying god d***?” – became particularly unruly. Her sacrilegious and inopportune profanity paralyzed me. She even asked the question in the midst of Scripture reading. I never found a good retort for her outbursts even though I knew the question was inevitable. I often found myself wondering, What in the world am I doing here?

Another challenge to my nursing home ministry was named Ricky. He was our most faithful attendee, providing Bibles for those who met in the tiny space where we convened. All Ricky’s Bibles were the same translation: The Old King James. (Ricky claimed it was the same version used by the Old Testament prophets. All others were “perversions.”) Many evenings, Ricky managed to derail the progress of our meetings with his incessant questions about eschatology. He delivered them in what I like to call machine-gun interrogation style. After several run-ins with his questioning, I found myself fighting the temptation to leave Ricky out of our meetings all together.

Deserting our group was the easy thing for me to do. Unfortunately, “deserted” defined the situation of many who lived in that home. They had nowhere to go: their families had abandoned them. I rarely saw a family visitor as I rambled down the halls and peered into the rooms of that facility. Instead, I found the sad faces of many whose families found them disposable. The busyness and self-centeredness of many of their families and friends had left many of the nursing home’s residents almost completely without family ties, interest, or love. As much as they craved attention, they rarely saw genuine caring and compassion.

Today the room where I used to share Christ is locked. It now serves as the occupational therapy room; Bible study there has ceased. I have not, however, forgotten the importance of my elderly friends. There are more people like Mary, Martha, and Ricky in our institutions than we care to imagine. They may be rascals, but they have souls. Despite their contrary and difficult personalities, they need dignity, love, and—most importantly— Jesus.

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus explained that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And in Luke 10:30-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ encouraged His followers to show mercy to the hurting and the downtrodden. Our nursing homes are full of people who desperately need to hear about the love and hope that can be found in Christ. Their spiritual condition matters.

I want to encourage us as Christ’s followers to stroll the halls of our nursing homes and see the despair and despondency of lonely people forsaken by those they called family. In the name of Jesus, it’s the least we could do for least of these. In stopping in to say hello or to pass out small gifts and smiles, we can know that our efforts are unto Him. So many sit in a closet-like room silently pleading for someone to knock on the door and say a simple, “Hey, how are you?”  That someone could be you.

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