SKIATOOK, Okla.(BP)–“I’ve been adopted!”
This joyful statement is not from a child, but from a woman who had lost her husband of 60 years. Her excitement came from the fact she had just been “adopted” by someone in her church who will be a friend to her and see to her needs.
The Bible is very specific on how churches should care for widows. Yet in most Southern Baptist churches, people who have lost their spouses through death are, perhaps at most, assigned a deacon to call if needed.
Those who are shut-in seldom get a visit from church members, and those who are still able to attend church many times sit alone and feel isolated from the rest of the congregation.
But that has all changed in a church in Skiatook, Okla., and if Vicki Hendryx has anything to say about it, it will soon change across the nation.
Hendryx, a member of First Baptist Church, Skiatook, has written a yet-unpublished book, “The Joy of Serving Widows,” which is a one-on-one adoption program involving ministry to those who are now alone after many years of marriage.
Hendryx said God has given her a special love for older people, and in May 1998, he laid on her heart the desire to start a widows’ ministry.
“Senior saints have so much wisdom and love to share, and time to share it, but no one to share it with,” Hendryx said. “In John 10:10, Jesus said, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ He did not say, until you are old and no one cares anymore.”
She said she started by getting a list of widows in her church, then going to their houses and filling out a profile sheet which contains facts about each widow, such as directions to their homes, birthday, whether they have family in Skiatook or nearby, number of children they raised, if they are diabetic, the kind of work they have done outside the home, their hobbies, needs and whether they need rides to church.
The next step, she said, was enlisting volunteers to match up with the widows.
“I went to each Sunday School class with the profiles in hand and asked for volunteers to adopt a widow,” Hendryx explained. “I encourage at least two families to adopt each widow. Then if one family is on vacation or misses contacting her, someone will still be checking on her.”
Hendryx said people are so busy, but they want to help, so if you give them a piece of paper with information on it and one thing to do, they can handle it.
“The idea is to minister one-on-one,” Hendryx said. “That’s how Jesus did it.
“He reached out and touched them one by one and called them by name. That’s the way he works in our lives. We have to accept him one-on-one. Through this adoption process, people are connected one-on-one, and the widow is no longer a small, old person lost in the crowd. She is someone special who is sought out, spoken to, touched, hugged, loved on, ministered to and sat with at church.”
Hendryx said there are 32 widows at First Baptist, Skiatook, age 60 and above.
“Periodically I call the church office and ask if they know of any new members who fit this category,” Hendryx said. “Also the widows keep me informed of any new members or friends who are widowed.”
She said some of the widows have family living in town, and some have no family in the state.
“But even family members who love their widowed mother, father or grandparent sometimes need a break,” Hendryx noted. “Sometimes from the viewpoint of widows, everyone they are in contact with loves them because they ‘have to’ because they are family. They need to be loved by someone who loves them just for who they are and because of God’s love.”
Hendryx said she has been questioned by some who are divorced and alone and have not been put on the church’s widow list.
“First of all, that covers a whole other ministry,” Hendryx explained. “A divorced person has some very complex emotional, spiritual, physical and sociological needs that differ from a 70-year-old widow. And second, I always rely on the Bible for guidelines. I simply and lovingly ask them if they meet the criteria set out in 1 Timothy 5:8-10. For me and our church, I had to draw the line somewhere, and what better standard than the Bible for rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Hendryx said one of the fun parts of starting the ministry was taking the profile forms and visiting with the widows.
“One lady told me it was the first time in six years anyone from the church had come to her house,” Hendryx said.
She added that she always tries to talk to the widows about their families and how they met their husbands.
“Their eyes light up when they remember the love they shared with their spouse,” she said. “And widows have a real need to talk about the death of their spouse. Healing takes time, and they may feel guilty about being happy, but I remind them that their husband or wife wouldn’t want them to spend the rest of their lives sad and grieving.”
Hendryx said on the second visit to the widow’s home, she takes a “joy box,” which is a shoe box wrapped in bright paper with a Scripture about joy taped to the top.
“I tell her from that day forward, she is to start collecting little things in life that make her smile like she did when she was a little girl,” Hendryx said. “As her box fills up, her grief disappears. She starts to have an attitude of gratitude and realizes there are many things that can bring her happiness.”
Hendryx said when she first visited the widows, she heard comments like “I’m afraid I’ll die and no one will know and I won’t be found for three or four days.” “I used to be so independent, but now I can’t drive, and I just want to get out for 15 minutes to see the flowers.” “I can’t drive anymore, and a woman in town charges me $20 a trip to take me to the doctor.” “No one ever comes to see me anymore.” “I can’t clean very well because of my knee.” “I can’t vacuum my car, so I pay $30 to have someone clean it for me.” “I can’t plant flowers anymore. My husband used to do that, and I sure miss seeing the pretty flowers.” “I just need a hug now and then.”
Hendryx said the needs are great, and most of the widows are proud and won’t ask for anything, but if you see a need and fill it, they are most appreciative.
“They need someone to change a light bulb, get quilts down from the closet, cook them a nourishing meal occasionally or be an advocate for them when they get a bill they don’t understand,” Hendryx noted.
She added that older people need to feel important, and it makes them feel useful if you ask for their advice.
She said a widow usually goes through two transitions, one when her husband dies and one when she can no longer drive and loses her independence.
Hendryx noted that when a widow loses her lifelong companionship, she no longer experiences that little pat on the hand from someone she spent the last 50 or 60 years with, and has no one to calm her fears during a thunderstorm or tell her everything will be all right when she is feeling sad.
And because many are no longer able to drive, they have to spend money to get someone to drive them to appointments.
Hendryx emphasized that volunteers need to realize that just because a person is old doesn’t necessarily mean they are saved.
“It is possible they have gone to church all their lives, but never asked Jesus to come into their hearts and save them,” Hendryx said. “I encourage volunteers at some point to ask them to tell about their salvation experience.”
She said some things volunteers do for widows are delivering groceries, taking them for drives to see the flowers or Christmas lights, inviting them to spend holidays with their families; dropping by an occasional meal, hanging a basket of flowers on their porch, removing ice from their porches and sidewalks, sending birthday cards and cards of encouragement, reading the Bible to them and just being available and letting them know they can call you for help.
She added that there are things the widow can be encouraged to do such as pray, send cards of encouragement, mentor younger women and put together a book of wisdom from all their years of learning.
Hendryx said she tries to get the whole church involved in ministering to widows.
“Preschoolers can adopt widows and send them pictures they have colored and birthday cards they have signed,” Hendryx said. “And older people love children, so taking a child to visit a widow is another option.”
She said youth at her church have cleaned and tilled the ground and planted flowers at widows’ houses every year.
The women, Hendryx said, take pots of flowers and homemade cookies to the widows, and spend time reading the Bible to them. Also Sunday school classes have built a porch, delivered Christmas presents and done repairs around the widows’ homes. And the deacons go to shut-ins’ homes once a month, observe the Lord’s Supper with them and have Bible reading and prayer.
Hendryx said at Christmas the church has an “angel tree” with the widows’ names and a “wish list” from the widows with two or three $5 items. She said they ask for things like lotion, gloves, slippers, postage stamps or a book.
She added that the church had a fancy luncheon/tea at Christmas for the widows, where they played games and gave them each a little gift.
A word of caution, Hendryx said, is to never pair a widow with anyone who is not an established member of your church.
“We need to protect these older saints from con artists and from devious deceivers who might steal from them or worse,” Hendryx said.
Hendryx said she keeps a list of birthdays and a list of ladies in the church who do not work outside the home and have volunteered to take the widows to doctors’ appointments. Also, three or four times a year, she sends new ideas of seasonal reminders of widows’ needs.
“If you have the time and equipment, a monthly newsletter would be a great idea,” she said.
Hendryx said she was interviewed on radio recently, and from that program got several calls from around the state and even some from out of state, wanting to know how to start a widows’ program. She said she has heard from several denominations including Assemblies of God and Catholics.
Hendryx’s yet unpublished book is available free of charge by writing to her at 1107 Southview Lane, Skiatook, OK 74070, or calling (918) 396-3886 (home), (918) 699-4132 (work), or e-mail [email protected]
“God adopted us into his family, so we want to adopt widows, and let them know they are chosen,” Hendryx said. “I haven’t figured out who gets the biggest blessing — the widow or the volunteer.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: NEVER TOO OLD.