China currently faces a rapidly aging population with little infrastructure and policy in place to handle it. According to statistics released by the State Council last year, approximately a quarter of China’s population will be over the age of 60 by 2030. The former one-child policy (now two-child policy) helped to shrink the overall population, but in effect laid financial and social burdens on younger generations.
Last summer’s ChinaSource Quarterly (CSQ) covered how this and other social issues are affecting Chinese families. Our own Brent Fulton also highlights in his book, China’s Urban Christians how the aging population is a challenge and an opportunity for the contemporary church in China. An excerpt appears in the 2017 spring issue of CSQ.
In this article from the journal ChurchChina, the author gives just such an example of how Chinese Christians can care for and minister to the senior population. She describes her own ministry to the elderly in senior centers, as well as makes useful recommendations for how to minister to seniors. Due to the length of this article, we will publish it in three parts. This is part one.
Gospel Ministry in Senior Centers
Author: Bei Lei
A brief introduction to the ministry
I am a middle-aged Christian sister. I came to faith when I was 25, but I did not join a church and I was not willing to share the gospel. After 15 years, I saw that fame and wealth had become greater than God; I had always conducted myself based on my identity as a reporter and businessperson. There was no change to my values and life. But in 2008 when I was 40 years old, the Spirit of the Lord moved me to return to the church; he caused me to be reborn and to have a desire in my heart to dedicate myself to service. God opened my eyes and let me see that the value of heavenly treasures far exceeds the value of earthly treasures.
For a long time I was alienated from my father because when I was 18 he divorced my mom and then married another woman. In 2010, I experienced the miraculous and difficult restoration of that father-daughter relationship. This expelled my spiritual sickness, while at the same time it was the Lord’s preparation for bringing me into ministry to seniors. At the beginning of 2012, my father accepted the Lord, and three months later he peacefully left the world and went to be with the Lord. This made me extremely thankful for the Savior’s timely salvation, and I said a prayer to the Lord: I was willing to take the time I used to spend visiting my father once a week and use it for other elderly people—to share the joyous news of eternal life through belief in the Lord with these seniors whose very lives fluttered like a candle in the wind.
The Lord answered my prayer very quickly. I learned from a friend that in the city where I lived a certain retirement home had introduced a foreign model [of operations] and had established a social work department; they were recruiting volunteers. I went and had an interview and later shared the news with my small group. Everybody prayed together that this great door to elderly ministry would open wide.
Not long after, the facility let me know through a friend that I should go talk to the head of the institution. When I went to see the head of the compound, I could feel it: she clearly knew I was a Christian, and that I wanted to share the gospel among the elderly. But she was willing to convince herself that I was just a loving person and I was not a volunteer whose purpose was evangelism. She also ignored evangelism and said we’d talk about it later. And so I entered the senior retirement home as a “corporate culture trainer.”
For nearly a year, there I was, coming and going regularly in that elderly complex, looking for opportunities to talk with seniors and to chat with workers, but I was just making initial acquaintances with people. Just when I did not see any progress in ministry, and I was disheartened and didn’t want to go to that organization again, the head of the facility invited the brothers and sisters from my church to come to the facility and to fellowship with the seniors. She said, “Please launch, here in the retirement home, the same kind of activities you do in your church. I want the seniors to have the comfort of faith, so please organize people to come to our retirement home to hold spiritual gatherings with our seniors.”
Thank the Lord! I knew he had already opened a door for us. In September of 2013, our group established a team of volunteers and started a weekly gathering in the senior center. The institution completely opened up the space and their policies to let Christians go to seniors’ rooms to fellowship with them, to visit, or to pray. Every Wednesday at 12:30pm, the workers would start connecting and praying. From 3:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon, they would fellowship with seniors, sharing the gospel of God’s kingdom with them, reading the Bible and singing songs. For those elderly who were unable to come to the gathering, workers would enter their rooms and visit with, pray for, and support them.
We realized that because seniors do not have much energy: they easily fall asleep while listening to preaching. So we also started teaching worship songs—choosing songs and arranging simple exercises to go with them so that the seniors could get some [physical] activity. We prioritized songs based on short length, many repeated sections, and relaxed tempos.
Normally each sermon is limited to 15-20 minutes, to guarantee that the seniors had the focus to concentrate and listen all the way through. For the preaching, we also planned more content on the hope of eternal life, resurrection from the dead, getting rid of resentment, praying for one’s children, etc. And when there is a “spiritual senior” who lives in the senior home, we give him the stage and let him preach, and all of the content he preaches matches the needs of the people his age.
Once a month we also provide freshly roasted coffee and serve refreshments. We also welcome nonbelievers by inviting them to watch gospel movies and having the seniors sit around, chat and such. The results have been very good.
Now our ministry has entered its fifth year and there is a core of seven workers. Nowadays, meeting every Wednesday at 3:00pm has become a regular routine for many seniors in the institution. The seniors who come every week have stabilized to around fifty people, and there are about twenty to thirty people who are ministered to in their rooms.
Since starting in 2013, each year we have brought twenty or thirty seniors to the Lord. Out of the three hundred and fifty seniors now in the facility, about one hundred have made a decision for the Lord, about one third of the total number of people. And three years in a row we have baptized elderly believers—nineteen people total.
In 2015, we also set up a fellowship for the staff. Because the seniors’ gathering had become regular, the institution asked that the service team add a fellowship gathering for the staff. Thus, every two weeks, on Wednesday night, three workers will stay and serve the staff. Right now there are four to six staff people who regularly participate in the gathering, two of whom became believers in the senior center.
About the author: Sister Bei Lei, a worker in an urban church in southern China, started serving elderly people in senior centers in 2013 and continues to the present day.
Original article: 养老院里的福音事工 (ChurchChina)
Edited, adapted, and reposted with permission.
Image credits: Old Couple by Adam Cohn, via Flickr
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