BERKELEY — What started as a Valentine’s Day “love-in” has become a weekly elderly care ministry at the many sites of Gracepoint Fellowship Church.
The ministry, now in its tenth year, started at the “mother church,” Gracepoint Berkeley, an English-speaking, predominantly Asian-American congregation.
“We wanted to do something very different for Valentine’s Day, and direct our hearts toward the love of God, because the emphasis oftentimes is on romantic love,” said Ahmi Kim, one of the leaders of the ministry. “We wanted to redirect our minds toward compassion.”
The first foray to area nursing homes that Valentine’s Day in 2006 involved getting permission from the facilities, giving out small gifts, singing songs, preaching a short message, and several minutes of Gracepoint volunteers chatting with residents.
The following Valentine’s Day, the rest of the Berkeley congregation got involved. This year, nearly 900 participants fanned out across 41 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area on Feb. 14, and a total of more than 2,070 participants across 116 locations in seven Gracepoint churches throughout the United States joined in the ministry to nursing home residents in much the same way as the first group of young women.
But that’s not all.
In 2008, Elderly Care Ministry was established to “provide an opportunity to bring God’s love directly into nursing homes,” according to the ministry’s website, ElderlyCareMinistry.com. Today, the effort extends across seven metropolitan areas in four states on a weekly basis, and serves more than 2,000 residents living in some 32 nursing homes, in addition to the annual Valentine’s Day emphasis.
Elderly Care Ministry takes place at each of the Gracepoint church plants, all of which carry the Gracepoint name: Berkeley, Riverside, Davis, San Diego and Los Angeles in California, as well as Minneapolis, MN and Austin, TX.
“Some homes are small and some big,” Kim said. “We range from three to 10 volunteers at a site, depending on the size.”
While many of the volunteers are in mid-life, children, youth and college students routinely join in the ministry.
“We’re a total of one hour, in and out the door,” Kim said. “We can’t stay very long because each nursing home has its own very strict schedule.
“It’s a ministry very precious and needed, and anyone can do it,” Kim encouraged.
While gift-giving usually is reserved for holidays, and often is in the form of a scripture verse, the singing, preaching and visiting take place every week.
The gospel is presented every time, and more than 150 residents have made decisions to put their faith and trust in Jesus as the guide for their lives, Kim said. Many of them died soon after they made their decision, “which highlights the urgency to share the gospel,” she emphasized.
“Elderly Care Ministry salvations remind me of the eleventh-hour worker in the parable of the vineyard workers found in the New Testament’s Matthew 20:1-16, and how they can receive eternal life even up to the last minute.”
One common reason those nursing home residents making professions of faith give for never having made their decision before is that “nobody ever asked me,” Kim lamented.
“That overwhelmed us,” she said. “Sometimes we are there at the right place and right time. Other times, they’re just more ready.
“Some people are in a place right now where they are feeling a lot of pain, sorrow, emptiness, helplessness, feeling alone,” Kim explained. “It’s a difficult time in their lives, so they’re more open to the possibility of the gospel message being relevant for them. The gospel message is that we are weak, we are helpless, we are needy before the cross; that we need Jesus our Savior.”
More than 60 percent of nursing home residents “never have a single visitor,” noted Ed Kang, Gracepoint Berkeley’s senior pastor. “The wonderful thing about this ministry is that anyone can participate. Moms can take their children, small groups can go anytime.
“There is no shortage of elderly care homes and people to visit,” he continued. “I think it’s a rich harvest field of ripe souls right in our own backyards.”
While there seems to be no authoritative source for the “60 percent receive no visitors” statistic pervasive on the Internet, an easy way for a person to check is to call a nearby facility and ask how many residents get no visitors.
“The residents appreciate visits, but all of us would agree that we are the ones blessed and strengthened through the visits,” Kim noted. “We get a reality check about life that we don’t often get in our daily grind.
“And, most importantly, we get to share the gospel repeatedly,” she emphasized. “The gospel comes alive to us as we share, and we get to witness how real it is.
“I would encourage every church to go and try. It’s not difficult. ... I think anyone can do it, and every resident needs to know about the love of Jesus.”