Hope in Heaven

We recently heard the very sad news that two of the residents we had gotten to know at a local nursing home had passed away during the Christmas holidays.  Though we are grieved by their deaths, we are thankful to God that both residents became Christian this past year.  I wrote the below as I reflected on their deaths and our ministry at the nursing home.  My reflection is followed by a reflection from Ulia who also knew the residents who passed away: 

Yesterday when I visited the nursing home at which we regularly hold Sunday services, I learned that J and V had passed away. I supposed it was expected given that J had been looking progressively worse over the last couple of months, but still it came as a shock, and especially about V. I knew she was in the hospital because of a stroke, but she hadn’t seemed weak and I fully expected her to come back.  I was really saddened to hear this, as I had just gone to visit Joe two days before Christmas, and had taken the stereo with the Brooklyn Tabernacle CD and played it for him. Every time I visited I prayed with him, and most recently I had encouraged him to hope in heaven, that God was waiting to take him home to be with Him.
I am grateful that both of them knew God, and I was struck with the simple truth that at the end of the day, all that matters is that we have a relationship with God.  Literally, this is true. Not a single thing in the world matters but that, and I was renewed in my mission to give everyone at the nursing home a chance to hear and respond to the gospel. Our key verse this year is about encouraging one another, and I want to really encourage all the residents to come to know Jesus this year.
I was so grateful to God for His heart—his heart that gives the 11th hour workers the same wages, his heart that has a house with many rooms, his heart that sent Jesus to be the way, the truth, and the life to prepare for us a place in his house and take us there. I’m so grateful that God gave J and V the opportunity to start a relationship with him, and so grateful that God wanted to use us. Both of them became Christian through our ministry there, and what would have happened if we had not come there every week and had not ministered to them? They may not have come to know God at all…
Ulia: Both made salvation decisions this past year – J through George and some a2f brothers who had visited him in his room, and V through our church services.  In my conversations with her, V was clear on who Jesus was to her, that he was the Savior of the world and of her own sin, and I’m thankful to God for her clarity.  But she was in good condition prior to the stroke.  It was jarring to see an empty nameplate where her name usually was, next to her room door.  A few of her belongings were there – a vase, some articles and pictures on her bulletin board – but she was gone.  At a place like a nursing home, you’re just one of a 100+ residents.  I’m sure the staff members see their residents dying all the time; a couple less people – like V and J – perhaps aren’t such a big deal to them.  Life goes on – there are still other residents complaining, demanding, wanting this or that, refusing help, and eventually themselves headed towards the same fate, and then another patient comes and fills that empty bed.  But it makes a difference to God, and for those of us who got to know her, for her kids that she often spoke of, that she isn’t there anymore.  Because of God, she isn’t forgotten.  Because of God, she isn’t just another resident whose name will be deleted from the residence roster, who’ll be filed away as a former resident.  Because of God, she is a valuable and precious person just because she is a daughter of God.  I’m reminded of the contrast of our fate in Revelation and the book of life – those who’ve washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, their names are written in the book of life.  As jarring as it was to see her name disappear from the nameplate next to what used to be her room, it gives me comfort to think that her name, our names, are permanently kept in the book of life, not because of anything we have done, but simply because we’ve washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb.