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Nursing homes embraced by multi-campus fellowship

BERKELEY, Calif. (BP) — What started as a nursing home outreach on Valentine’s Day has become a weekly elderly care initiative for Gracepoint Fellowship’s seven campuses.

“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 ministry’s leaders at Gracepoint Berkeley, an English-speaking predominantly Asian-American congregation in Berkeley, Calif., and the fellowship’s initial campus. “We wanted to redirect our minds toward compassion.”

The first outreach to area nursing homes in 2006 entailed a group of young women getting permission from the facilities, giving out small gifts, singing songs, delivering a brief devotional and several minutes of Gracepoint volunteers chatting with residents.

This year, nearly 900 Gracepoint Berkeley participants fanned out across 41 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area on Feb. 14 — and, overall, more than 2,070 participants from the fellowship’s seven campuses joined in the ministry to nursing home residents at 116 locations.

In 2008, Gracepoint Berkeley established its Elderly Care Ministry to “provide an opportunity to bring God’s love directly into nursing homes,” according to its website, ElderlyCareMinistry.com. Today, the weekly initiative extends across seven metropolitan areas in four states, serving some 2,000 residents in 30-plus nursing homes in addition to the annual Valentine’s Day emphasis.

The fellowship’s campuses, all of which carry the Gracepoint name, are located in five California cities — Berkeley, Riverside, Davis, San Diego and Los Angeles — as well as Austin, Texas, and Minneapolis.

“Some [nursing] 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, Kim said children, youth and college students routinely join in the ministry.

“We’re a total of one hour, in and out the door,” she said. The volunteers don’t stay very long because each nursing home has its own strict schedule.

“It’s a ministry very precious and needed, and anyone can do it,” Kim said.

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 each time, and more than 150 residents have made decisions to put their faith and trust in Jesus for their lives, Kim said. Many of them died soon after making their decision, “which highlights the urgency to share the Gospel,” she emphasized.

“Elderly Care Ministry salvations remind me of the 11th-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,” Kim said.

One common reason nursing home residents give for never having made a decision for Christ 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 said. “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.”

The majority 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,” Kang said. “I think it’s a rich harvest field of ripe souls right in our own backyards.”

An easy way to check the need for nursing home outreach is to call a nearby facility and ask how many residents get no visitors, Gracepoint ministry leaders suggest.

“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.”