A few months ago we met G as we were passing out flowers for Easter. We got to talking with her and found out she was both blind and paralyzed. She then asked if we were the same group that made her the necklace she was wearing. It turned out that Kenny Choi had visited her during Element’s Valentine’s Day visit and she has fond memories of that time. Jane and Jenny regularly visit her during the week and got to know her better. And as I stopped by on Sundays after our services, she would ask about what we did that day which gave me an opportunity to give her short summaries of the messages. She seemed interested in coming to our services but hesitant to come because it was very difficult to move out of her room given her condition. So I thought: if she can’t come to our services, why not bring the services to her? As a result, we ended up using cellphones to set up a low-tech wireless audio overflow system. Unfortunately her room didn’t have a phone line nor is there any wireless network for us to leverage, but our cellphones have worked well enough to bring the service to her in her room. But last Sunday, with the help of a special physical therapy nurse, she was able to come out to our service, and hopefully she’ll continue to join us in the future!
Today is Mrs. D’s 96th birthday! Her family couldn’t celebrate with her til the following day, so we – me, Audrey, Makiko and her two adorable kids – totally surprised Mrs. D when we walked into her room! She smiled widely when we gave her a birthday card and a bouquet of roses. She said, “Thank you so much!” and, because she can’t see well, asked us to read what we wrote to her in the card. We read our encouraging words to her, like “Thank you for being our prayer warrior, your cheerfulness, and being an encouraging presence in our lives.” She is a prayer warrior because every Sunday she reminds us how she prays for us daily . She asks about Barbara and how her babies are doing. She also follows up on my prayer requests regarding my family’s salvation and health. Whenever someone is absent, she would ask if that person is sick and how he/she is doing. She says she is praying for her roommates and the rest of the residents here. Although she can’t remember names very well, she can describe in detail many of the residents. We often find her sitting in the dining room instead of staying in her room, where she is talking and interacting with the nurses and other residents. She also unreservedly asks us to pray for her health so she would be able to live with her family again soon. We encouraged her to be a good witness to the residents while she is here. I’m so grateful how God used us to bring joy and encouragement to Mrs. D on her special day! She is a caring and warmhearted grandmother to all of us.
I talked to Grandma J today after our worship service. She said she was able to enjoy the singing time but she didn’t understand the message because she didn’t understand English. So I offered to summarize the message for her in Mandarin. After I read the passages on the bulletin and summarized for her Ulia’s message, she responded by asking, “How can one be called a sinner if one hasn’t committed any crime?” (The word for “crime” in Chinese is the same word for “sin”.) At that moment, I was really surprised by the fact that I had her attention long enough that she was thinking along with me.
To appreciate this, you would have to understand that she is very easily distracted. Even as she is talking to you, she would be constantly looking around for random distractions. In several occasions, she started offering us water or juice to drink just because she saw one of the caretakers brought in cups for the residents, and then she kept insisting that we get something to drink. Another time, as I was pushing her around the building, I saw a phone on the wall and I told her that I recognized the model of the phone. We kept going but she thought that I was looking for a phone to make a phone call. And so as we passed by room after room, she kept asking people whether there were any phones in the rooms, even as I had explained to her that I didn’t need to make a phone call. Once she was fixated on something, it became very hard to draw her attention away from it.
Going back to that moment, I was really excited to explain to her that what we meant by sin was not the same as doing bad things, but calling our own shots, resulting in separation from God. That got her thinking and she seemed to have more questions. She saw that I was kneeling on the floor and wanted me to sit on a chair so we went to the lobby. Unfortunately, as soon as we got to the lobby, she was distracted by other things again. Nevertheless, I was still thankful that God has given this opportunity for her to think about spiritual questions, and I pray that there will be more opportunities for her to hear and understand the gospel and make her decision to accept Christ.
On Easter Sunday, our nursing home ministry group held special Easter services, after which one resident made a decision to become a Christian! We also brought potted plants – a variety of tulips, lilies, hydrangeas, etc. – as gifts for the residents at the nursing homes we visit. Here are some stories of our members’ experiences:
Jenny: I ran into Grandpa H, who attends our services regularly, in the hallway. I greeted him and showed him the potted plant that I was about to take to his room for him. He responded saying that instead of keeping the plant for himself, he wanted to give his plant to someone else at the nursing home who didn’t receive any visitors, and he led me to that person’s room.
I was really touched by his generous gesture, knowing how much the residents treasured the potted plants to the point that there were some grandmas following our group around ensuring they received one. His gesture of love reminded me of God’s love because Grandpa H thought of other people’s needs above his own.
Jane: The grandmas and grandpas we visited were definitely touched. Some of them brightened up and cheerfully responded, “Happy Easter to you too!” or “God bless you.” One grandpa, Mr. J, was especially thoughtful when he insisted that I leave the plant out in the lobby for other people to enjoy as well. He showed a selflessness that is hard to find in the nursing homes, where people often keep to themselves and know only their own worlds.
Jenny and I also got to meet G, who is blind and confined to her bed due to paralysis of her lower body. Kenny and our Element students had actually first met her when they visited on our Valentine’s Day of Compassion in 2010. Amazingly, she was still wearing the cross bead necklace from that day and still remembered “Kenneth.” She really appreciates our church, and quickly opened up to me and Jenny, sharing about her life and the history of her medical condition as a paralytic. I’m thankful that we visited the residents in their rooms with potted plants, as that gave us a chance to meet this precious woman G.
Eileen: After our Easter Sunday service, I spoke with Ms. L who had raised her hand in response to George’s invitation for people to make a decision to become Christian. She told me that if I looked at her legs, that I would notice that they are damaged and that they don’t work, and additionally she has been suffering for a long time because she has not been able to control her mind. There are thoughts that she cannot control and no matter how hard she tries, her concentration and thoughts go awry. She has tried to end her life on several occasions, and the last attempt was when she lost the use of her legs because she decided to step in front of a moving car. Then she looked at me and said, “Well, I guess now I know there’s a reason why I didn’t die that day.” She said that knowing that Jesus died for her and rose from the grave gives her hope because she can know God. We talked about what it means to have a relationship with God and how sin is what broke our relationship with Him in the first place. I asked her if she knew what sin was and what it meant to be a sinner, and Ms. L knew what sin was but stated she had never murdered anyone before. I explained to her while things like murder, greed, envy, hatred, etc. might be ways in which sin is lived out, sin is at the core of who we are because we are separated from God, we turned away from Him, and before I could go further she said, “Oh, so I’m still a sinner then.” We talked some more about sin, our need for God and what happened on the cross and at the resurrection. She told me that she prays often to God because she hopes that He would hear her even though sometimes she feels so lonely and miserable. I told her that God hears her and that while she may not ever regain total control of her mind, that God knows her suffering and does not want her to suffer. She said that she understood now that God is good, that she is a sinner and that there is reason to live.
I told her that I was really happy that she was there with us and that she is deciding to start a relationship with God. I asked if I could pray for her and said, “Oh, yes. That would be nice. Please pray for my mind.” I prayed for her and thanked God that she was able to understand the gospel message. I prayed for her mind, first of all, thanking God that she sat through our service and understood everything. I prayed that in her times of frustration, misery and loneliness, that she would turn to God in prayer and know that He loves her as His daughter and sees and knows her pain.
After we prayed, we talked about our families and soon I noticed that what she was saying was no longer making sense and going off topic. I eventually ended my conversation with her as we had to pack up to go, and walked away with a sense of amazement that for that 10 minutes or so, she was able to fully understand the message and make this decision to start a relationship with God. I’m thankful that Ms. L came to our service and that we were able to share the gospel with her in that perfect window of opportunity where her mind was clear and her heart was open.
On Valentine’s Day, as it has been our church’s tradition for the past several years, we went out and visited many nursing homes and shelters. Ulia shares a story from her visit:
Eileen and I were really encouraged by Mrs. J from Texas. She has no living relatives, and she doesn’t have any children because she was never married. She is unable to walk because of an injured leg. She grew up in the church. We told her we’re from a local church here to celebrate Valentine’s Day by sharing God’s love with her, and gave her the sugar-free cookies we had baked. She slowly read the card aloud – “God is love … Happy Valentine’s Day from your friends at Gracepoint.” She was grateful for the gift, and held onto it for a long time, throughout the time we were talking with her. She said that she is sure that throughout the 80 years of her life God has been watching over her, and repeated that often throughout our conversation. Because she lives at the nursing home, she hasn’t gone to church in a long time, she said. But it was pretty evident to me and Eileen that her confidence and peace in God were real in her heart. Eileen asked if she had a Bible; she did—but she hasn’t read it because her vision is getting worse. But since she was able to read our card, we offered to visit her again and bring a large print Bible—and she was really pleased to hear that. At the end of the conversation we could tell she was really looking forward to receiving that Bible. Before we left, she looked at the wrapped cookie gift in her hand again and said, “Well, it looks like I have my Valentine.” The short time we spent with her was sweet and encouraging.
I’ve visited Grandma B at the local nursing home a few times before. I am personally inspired by her great faith in God and am always blessed by our conversations. During this visit, I was expecting her typical encouraging remarks like “May the Lord bless you and keep you” and “I will pray for you,” but I was taken aback to see her so down and discouraged. She kept saying that her body was feeling terrible and repeated that no one visits her anymore. I wanted to read her a little excerpt from “Living with a Purpose in a Worn-Out Body” to encourage her, but she said her brain was spinning too much and that she “really can’t handle that right now.” She also apologized for not being able to hear me so well and commented that she should be able to hear everything I say. She was overall so discouraged by her physical condition. As I held her frail and small hands, I was completely at a loss for words. “How can I help her?” I felt so underqualified because I’m a young Christian and she has served as a missionary for many years…
Then I remembered that morning’s DT and last night’s prayer meeting, and was reminded that we need to encourage one another to strengthen God’s church. I told her that even though she hasn’t had any visitors lately, that I am someone who came to visit her that morning. She smiled. I then shared Psalm 42:5 with her: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” This was our ministry group’s memory verse from the previous week. As I was repeating this verse in loud audible voice, she closed her eyes and smiled, resting her head and lying still. I reminded her that even though we may feel weak and discouraged in this physical body, we are so blessed because we can put our hope in heaven and not on what is temporary. I told her that even though God knows that we are weak and sinful, God still loves us completely and died just to save us. I told her that there is nothing in this world that can separate us from His love, not age, not anything. I encouraged her to hold onto God’s promises and keep running this race, because God’s not done using her here yet. All these things that I shared with her are God’s promises that have personally helped me recently during my own discouraging times. She thanked me for these encouraging words. I was amazed at how God’s word really turned her spirit from one so downcast and disturbed to one so hopeful… how God’s word had such power. I’m reminded that I don’t need to be “spiritual enough” but that all I need to give to God is my willingness and obedience, being equipped with His living and active word, and He’ll lead me to bless and encourage others through my obedience and through His word.
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.
As a Christmas gift, we gave each of our nursing home residents a poinsettia plant and with it a verse that proclaims the good news of Christmas: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” Our gifts gave us an opportunity to meet residents who normally don’t join us for Sunday service. These visits really encouraged the residents, and encouraged us as well.
Here are some words from our members about their experiences:
Jen: I visited a Chinese resident who was very thankful of our poinsettia gift. As I explained the meaning of Christmas to him, he said he had just heard about the Christmas story through the Chinese radio on Saturday, and seemed more receptive to hearing about Jesus because of our gift.
Cheng: PC was so thankful that we gave him the plant. He shared with me that he really looks forward to our service every week, because it is really one of the only things during the week that cheers him up. Even though his memory is not very good, he would often bring up the time that we weren’t able to hold service because we were all away at our church-wide Thanksgiving Retreat, so that tells me he really cherishes our Sunday services.
For the first time I also met a woman named G, and she was very happy to receive the poinsettia. I am not sure if she is there temporarily, but she did have surgery for her heart conditions that are still giving her a lot of problems. Hank, Kevin and I all prayed for her to heal. Kevin visited her again recently, and because she remembered that he was one who had given her the poinsettia, that gave him an opportunity to pray with her again as she shared with him that she was very sad.
Audrey: M’s daughter joined us for Sunday service the next day with the intention to thank us for our poinsettia gift for her mom. Since M wasn’t in her room, we had left the gift on her table. M’s daughter later found it and asked the staff for the time of our service the next day, and she joined us for service, thanked us, and she has been trying to bring her mom to our Sunday service.
Barbara: Overall, coming into their rooms with a poinsettia seemed to just brighten their faces, and most were willing to just talk even though it was the first time I had met some of them. C was so happy to see us she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She had just finished a snack and wanted to talk. W was also happy to see us. When Chris came into the room, she said that she really enjoys hearing from the preacher on Sundays. I pointed to him, and asked, “Do you mean this preacher?” “Yes!” And she asked him to come closer and to pray for her.
On Saturday, we went to CB and OCC to deliver Christmas poinsettias to all the residents. I was so thankful for this time, because I got to meet so many residents that I have not had a chance to meet before. At CB, I met W and E. They are roommates, and W is an army veteran from World War II. He has 2 children that were born to him when he was stationed in Spain, but they remained in Spain after he came home, and he has very rarely seen them and does not talk with them anymore. He says he does not get any visitors as he has no family. I asked him if he believed in God, and he said “At this stage in life, of course”. I think he knows that he is near the end, and he is basically immobile, with tubes and a colostomy bag.
On Sunday, I went back to visit them after the service, and got to talk more with E. E said that he was not feeling good emotionally today as his best friend just died of liver cancer yesterday. He is an African American man and says he has no siblings or family, and so his best friend was like a brother to him. He said he called his friend on the phone yesterday, and his friend said that he would call him back since he was not feeling well, and he died right after he hung up the phone. E said that he had come out to church periodically through his life, but did not currently go now, so I invited him to our service. He opened up to me to readily about his friend, and I was struck by how lonely it must be for him, especially now as he has no one left. For W too, he is now near the end of his life, all alone in a nursing home with no way to contact his children. I took today’s Sunday worship message to heart—we may feel like foreigners in the world, aliens and strangers, but we are members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:11-22). He offers to draw us all near no matter what has happened or what we have done, and welcome us as members of his own family. I prayed that W and E would come to understand this, and feel more urgent to share the gospel.
We hosted a Thanksgiving luncheon for the GB residents who did not have other plan and would stay around on the Thanksgiving Day. A couple days before that, when answering our question about how many residents might stay around and join the luncheon, one of the managers at GB told us that there was this one resident who is severely alcoholic and very lonely, and that he might be around. She said she remembered this resident saying something like “Jesus is really important to me” and thus thought we as a Christian group could help him with his problems. I then recalled that this resident came to our service a couple of times when he first moved in, and he is a great singer who sings for a living by performing at different parties.
On Thanksgiving, as we started our luncheon, I remembered what the manager had said and called that resident from the phone downstairs. He picked up the phone and I introduced myself to him. He actually remembered me. I invited him to join our luncheon and he sounded surprised and delighted.
When he came, he was apparently under the influence of alcohol, and he shocked everybody by his loud greeting and strange behavior. We quickly seated him away from other residents and a couple of us tried to talk to him to occupy his attention. Thankfully he remained undisruptive from then on. As I was talking to him, I could see that he was not his normal self. However, he thanked me for inviting him. Though he was under the influence of alcohol, he was coherent. About 10 minutes into our conversation, he started telling me that he is “a sick person”, that he is “not physically sick but sick in his heart”, and that I “know what that means”, that he knows that he has alcoholism, that he needs God. As I listened, I noticed there were tears on his face, and my heart went out to him, and I invited him to come back to our Sunday services. He then said he would start coming to our service again.
I was praying that he would come to our service, but he did not show up. I called him after our service ended, and gently told him that I was expecting him at the service. He told me that he felt he was so messed up that he could not come, but he would try to come next time. I asked him whether we could talk sometime, and he agreed.
This resident reminded me that brokenness is so real in this world, that wherever we go, we have broken people who need love – not any love but God’s love. In fact, everyone has their own story, even though they may appear fine on the surface, and everyone needs God. There are so many people dying to know the gospel and we really cannot rest but to find these people and bring the gospel and God’s love to them.