NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“I’ve been sitting on the pew for 50 years — but never again!” senior adults told their minister, Doyle Cooper, after they experienced missions for the first time.
Until three years ago, Cooper did not sense the fulfillment and purpose he had longed for the senior adults to experience, even though they had been active in the church’s ongoing ministries of prayer chains, phone care, luncheons, day trips and a growing Sunday school.
Taking a week off his normal chemotherapy regimen for cancer, Cooper, 25-year youth pastor turned senior adult minister at First Baptist Church in DeRidder, La., led 55 senior adults through a fourth trip — this time through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s inaugural Senior Adult MissionLab, a custom-tailored program matching the needs and abilities of senior adult ministry groups with appropriate mission opportunities in the New Orleans area.
During April, in the first of five weeks set aside for senior adults to reach the city of New Orleans with the message of Jesus Christ, these 55- to 84-year olds prepared gift bags for new mothers, conducted after-school Vacation Bible School programs for two churches, cooked meals, led the chapel service in the downtown homeless shelter and refurbished a women’s and children’s shelter.
More than 30 people turned to Christ as a result of the elders’ ministry.
Friendship House director Kay Bennett noted that the senior adults accomplished what would have taken their organization months to complete.
In addition to being a witness to those who frequented the women’s and children’s shelter, the senior adult missionaries completed a myriad of projects, including the installation of new plumbing and new carpet, repainting of the shelter’s largest room, electrical work, renovation of the director’s office and construction of a wall of shelves to store clothing.
When detailing the activities, Toni Wimberly, NOBTS conference coordinator and director of Senior Adult MissionLab, said the group went above and beyond what was originally planned, “following God’s leadership in providing much more than expected.”
Retired contractor David Morrison agreed, “It would normally take a contracting crew a week to do what we did in two days.”
He added, “I think God was helping us.”
“It’s neat when the clients see that people do things, because they wonder why it is being done,” Bennett said. “When they see that people volunteer their time, and pay for everything themselves, it opens a door for them to communicate about God’s love.”
Whenever asked, she is able to offer the following explanation: “We tell them it is because they love Jesus and they care about you that they do these things.” She noted that though the senior adult volunteers had brought the supplies from DeRidder, when they saw other needs, they opened their wallets and bought other items to finish their projects.
This is particularly helpful for people who seem to have nothing but bad circumstances surrounding them, Bennett said. “When they see good things happening from good people, it gives them hope,” she said.
Summarizing the entire project, Bennett recalled what one senior volunteer said when she thanked him for his efforts. “We did this for God,” he replied.
“They did not come to do it for their own glory,” Bennett said. “They came to do it for God and his glory.
“When he said that, it made me light up and smile, because that is truly the reason for their work.”
Pointing to Friendship House’s newly renovated building, Bennett said, “You can look at my building and see that it was all for God’s glory.”
“Two thirds of the people in the history of the human race who ever reached the age of 65 are alive today,” said New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley in a chapel service introducing the senior adults. “I do not believe that is an accident of medical science. I believe it is a provision of God for his church.”
He continued, “For God has chosen to do for this generation of older adults what he has never done before since the days of Noah. He has chosen to give a generation extended life. And this group of senior adults from First Baptist Church, DeRidder, are here using those years of their lives to invest them on mission in the city of New Orleans.
“Senior Adult MissionLab brings in senior adult groups not to see all the sights or to enjoy all the food, but to invest their lives in telling our city about Jesus,” Kelley said.
Adult leader Mary Jane Wilbanks, who performed in a clown ministry, said, “I feel like someday when we’re in heaven one of these men, one of these children will say ‘I remember you. Your name is Bubbles.
“‘I knew you were behind that puppet stage, you cooked me a hot dog, you were the bag lady … you gave my mother these diapers to bring me home in or this blanket.'”
For more information on giving senior adults — and youth — opportunities to become involved in mission work in New Orleans, contact MissionLab New Orleans at 1-800-NOBTS-01, ext. 3241 for senior adults and ext. 3364 for youth, or visit online at www.missionlab.com.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SENIOR AT SHELTER and MEAL MINISTRY.