Chaplain Bill Goodrich: We have seen- based on the principles that we teach for nursing home ministry, we’ve seen about 85% of the residents take Jesus’ hand for salvation and for strength, to get them through their days.
John Fuller: There’s a mission field near you with lonely, often forgotten people, and they’re living out their final days in a nursing home, or a senior center. They’re longing to be loved. This is Focus on the Family, with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. And today, we’re talking about sharing the love of Christ with the elderly. And Jim, this is something every one of us can pray about and actually do something about.
Jim Daly: Oh, we can, John. And it’s so important that we remember the value of every human life. We talk about that a lot here at Focus on the Family. It’s been part of our core principle for 45 years. And we concentrate heavily on the pre-born, and we have great programs like Option Ultrasound. We’ve saved, together with the donors that have helped us, uh, half a million babies almost-
Jim: And we’re gonna hit that number, uh, I think soon. And uh, yet, there is the other end of the continuum. Those that are aging, those that are in special care, uh, homes around the country.
Jim: And I’m so grateful. Patty Watkins was my assistant and she, every year, started to organize people to take, uh, little, um, gifts to these nursing homes around Colorado Springs. And she was instrumental in getting Jean and I to get the boys involved, and we would take these gifts to these- uh, these folks who were, for the most part, just in their rooms.
Jim: And some of their own children were not visiting them very often, so it kind of broke our heart when we had our first-time experience. So today, we want to talk about that.
Jim: And there’s something like 1.3 million seniors in nursing homes around the country. Uh, that right there, if you could reach 1.3 million people, would you do it? As a believer, talking to others about Jesus and what he’s done for you?
Jim: I think it’s a great harvest field, if we think of it that way.
John: Indeed it is. And in the studio with us, to share some passion about this topic, is Chaplain Bill Goodrich, the Founder and President of God Cares Ministry, which is based in Ohio. Uh, Bill has been involved in nursing home ministry for several decades now and has written a book called Nursing Home Ministry: Where Hidden Treasures Are Found. And we have copies of that book here at Focus on the Family. Uh, stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Bill, welcome to Focus.
Bill: Thank you. It’s an honor- honor to be here.
Jim: Yeah, it’s good to have you. And what a great area of ministry, you know? So often, we think of the elderly as, maybe you know, they’ve lived their lives and we think of them of having family that cares for them until the very end. And that’s true of many, and that’s a good thing. But so often, like I said, 1.3 million uh, reside in nursing homes. I think there’s another million people who are in assisted living facilities. So, that’s a lot. 2.3 million people. And there’s something like 35% of the elderly who will be in, um, one form or the other of that kind of living environment. And I guess the right place to start is, so often, those older folks are neglected. So, what got you into this ministry?
Bill: Well Jim, that’s kind of funny because I had no idea how I got into this.
Jim: That’s usually the lord then, right? (laughs)
Bill: Yes. Um, I have a mechanical, carpentry kind of a background, and so I knew that that’s what I would be doing for the church. Maybe building buildings and stuff like that. But, uh-
Bill: … somehow I ended up- I- I actually heard a interview on a radio program, they were looking for volunteers at a nursing home. And so, I- I went and interviewed and they said, “Would you bring people out for the church service on Sunday afternoon? We have five pastors that rotate through, um, the months and uh, bring them out, h- let them sit through the service and then when they’re done, take them back to their rooms.” And so, that’s what I did. But after about a month or two of this, watching the hunger inside their hearts for- for-
Bill: … what Jesus offers, I began to pray and ask God, “What can be done? What can I do to help these people grow closer to Jesus?” And, that’s how it began.
Jim: You know, it’s int- interesting because, even in our experience, you know, we kind of fell in that direction because my assistant, Patty Watkins had said, “Hey, do you wanna sign up to do this?” And I, you know, “Oh, that’d be great to expose the kids to that.” Now the reality is, it’s- uh, your experience will be all over the map. I remember one woman that we encountered. She was dressed to the hilt and she was sitting on the edge of her bed, mentally sound as could be. We walked in and she said, “It’s so good to see you. Thank you for coming and visiting me.” It was sweet. She was lucid, she had all her faculties.
And what was so sad about her situation, she said her two sons had put her in this nursing home and that they rarely come to visit her anymore. That broke my heart because she was capable of so much. I mean, she was older but she was all there. And I thought, man, my heart just broke for her, that they’re not even stopping by to visit her. And, I just remember that experience because I- I felt like, “Wow, she needs people to stop in and say hi.” It’s all she needed.
Bill: Yes. About 80% of the residents receive less than one visit a month from family or friends.
Jim: Think of that.
Bill: Yeah, that’s really a tragedy.
Jim: It’s really heartbreaking. So, kind of like, adopt a grandparent, adopt a parent, right?
Jim: That’s part of it. Now, I wanna be honest because we had some, you know, kind of humorous but scary encounters too. I remember Troy had the bag, we had a blanket in these gift bags and some other uh, things that uh, uh, the person would receive. And so, Tr- (laughs) Troy was probably like five, and it wasn’t smart, we were going through the halls and popping into different rooms. And he went in by himself to this one room and all of a sudden I heard this woman screaming, “He took my wallet. He took my wallet.”
Jim: And she didn’t have all her faculties, and of course Troy came running out of the room like, “Daddy, I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
Jim: “I’m innocent. I’m innocent.” (laughing)
Jim: But we had to walk through that with him. I thought it was a good experience, I mean-
Jim: … just to say, you know, “When you get older, sometimes you don’t see things clearly-”
Jim: “… your mind isn’t working quite right,” etc.
Jim: But that’s part of what you encounter in doing that ministry as well.
Bill: Even though a person’s cognitive abilities are- are diminished, they still have a spirit-
Bill: … and they are still open to the things of God. Jesus said, “My words- the words I speak are spirit.” And- and so, when we speak the word of God in a spirit of love, he reaches in and touches them in a way that is amazing.
Bill: I’ll tell you story. I had a friend, her name was Ursula. And she, uh, used to come to our little Bible study. She was very quiet but she enjoyed the service. Because of HIPAA, they take away uh, the ability for us to know what’s going on with people when they move-
Bill: So, she was- uh, one day she was just gone.
Bill: And we- we couldn’t find her, didn’t know-
Jim: Oh, you mean physically?
Bill: Yeah. Yeah, physically.
Bill: She was just- uh, she was not present in the home anymore, and so we didn’t know where she was. Anyway, uh, it was about a month or two late- later when I happened to be going down a hall and I saw her in a bed. It was like, so exciting, you know, “Here’s my friend, Ursula.” So I went in there, I knelt next to her bed and, uh, started just talking to her, “Ursula, how are you?” And she lost her ability to speak and all c- she can do was gibber.
Bill: She could not put one whole word together.
Bill: And she would gibber, gibber. But I could tell she was happy to see me-
Bill: … she knew who I was, at least in- in presence. And uh, I said, “Ursula, I have something so important to tell you. Jesus loves you and so do I.” And it was really interesting ’cause her continence changed-
Bill: … and her gibberish talk became solemn, like something was wrong.
Bill: I was telling her that Jesus loved her, but I think she was telling me, “Something doesn’t align with that in my life.”
Bill: And so I let her talk a little bit. And I said, “You know, Ursula, in this life there are so many things that don’t make sense, so many things that are broken, we can’t understand them. But when you get to heaven, Jesus is gonna make it all clear to you and it’s gonna be all right. It’s gonna all turn out for your good.” And she looked at me and paused for a moment, and she said, “Thank you. That was…” And then she gibber, gibber, gibbered.
Jim: Right. But just clearly said, “Thank you.”
Jim: I mean, that is so beautiful. Like, her clarity was there. It was a God moment.
Bill: God allowed her to have that window.
Bill: Yes, it was beautiful.
Jim: See, that’s the beauty of engaging with those folks at that time. And you know, I- I- I guess the reason I mentioned all that is, it- it’s just a wide variety of experience that you’re gonna encounter there, right?
Jim: These are people in their 80’s and 90’s, for the most part, who again, their families have placed them there for all kinds of reasons. Some get visits, some get very few visits. And that’s what you end up encountering, and you get all kinds of different mental capability-
Jim: … and emotional capability in those visits as well. You also have a story, uh, I think it was a Jewish man that you encountered. Let’s- let’s cover that territory too ’cause that’s a great story.
Bill: We have a Bible study in the nursing home and, uh, one of the nurses came up to us and said, “There’s a gentleman down the hall that would like to talk to a minister.” So, I went down to talk to him and I said, “I heard you’d like to talk to a minister.” And he said, “Well actually, I just would like to talk to somebody who’s intelligent.”
Bill: And I laughed and I said, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you with that-”
Jim: (laughs) That’s good.
Bill: “… but I can- I can help you with a minister.”
Bill: And uh, as it turned out, he was a Jewish man. And uh, he had an interesting perspective of, even, the Jewish faith. But he started kind of drilling me with questions. And I said, “Look Ed, I don’t- I don’t wanna like, debate with you. I just wanna come and be your friend and help you and- uh, to understand the things about God.” And he said, “Oh, no, no, I want you to do that also.” Anyway, long of it short, uh, I- he began to ask questions that were kind of tough ones-
Bill: … you know, about God and, “Why is this?” And, “If- if Jesus came to give peace, why is there still war?” And things like that. And finally, I said, “You know Ed, you are asking calculus questions. You need to get the basics first.” And- uh, and he just couldn’t hear what I said.
Bill: And this was, uh, over a couple months of just visiting, and he was very antagonistic, very sarcastic. And- uh, but God, you know, our first and primary goal when we meet people in the nursing homes, is to build caring friendships. And as our friends are open, help them to take Jesus’ hand so that he can lead them where he wants to take them. And so, uh, you know, I just kind of endured his- his sarcasm and that. Long of it short, uh, I began to realize that Ed was not hearing me. And so, I said, “You know, Ed, there’s something that’s missing here. And Jesus told us that if we would open our heart to him and surrender, he would come in and then he would make sense of these things that I’m telling you.” And so, the next week I came in, I brought a little card with a- a prayer of surrender and salvation on it.
Bill: And on the back of it, there was a place that you can sign are name and, “On this date, I received Jesus as my lord and savior.”
Jim: Oh, okay. Yeah.
Bill: So I gave that card to him and he looked at me and he goes, “So, this is the magic prayer, huh? If I say this then I’m going to heaven.” And I said, “Ed, if you say this prayer and you mean it from your heart, God will receive you into his kingdom.”
John: Yeah, well said.
Bill: And he said- he said, “Okay.” And sat down and he started talking about something else. Now the interesting part, God moved Ed into a different room that was right next to our Bible study.
Bill: So even though he couldn’t get out of bed, he could hear everything that was going on. So, he would ask us for the scripture handouts that we had, that had the Bible verses and a prayer on the bottom, and he would follow along for the, uh, Bible study.
It was funny, one time I came into his room after the service and he looked at the paper and he says, “Well, I want you to know…” There were five verses on it, he says, “I want you to know I agree with everything on here except for the first four.”
Bill: And I said, “Well, that’s great.”
Jim: He does sound cantankerous.
Bill: Yes, he was rough.
Bill: And I says, “Well, that’s great. You agree with one of them. Let’s talk about that.”
Jim: Yeah, (laughs) g- good.
Bill: And so, uh, oh, about another month, it was several months here, but about ano- another month later, he- I came into his room and he says, “Here, look at that card.” And I picked it up and I’m just kind of like, looking at the prayer and he goes, “Well, turn it over.” And I turn it over, his name and- and date was on it.
Bill: And I said, “Did you mean this from your heart, Ed?” He said, “Yeah.” And I shook his hand and I said, “Welcome to God’s kingdom.”
Bill: Shortly after that, he started wearing a cross.
Bill: Which is a pretty big thing for a Jewish person.
Bill: And uh, shortly after that… I- I mean, during the- the months that follow, he was a lot more open. Well, I- I just wanna conclude by saying, uh, several months later, I came to- uh, I- I really had a inkling to visit him on a Saturday. Our Bible studies are on a Tuesday but I just came out-
Bill: … really felt strong to go visit him. Uh, when I got to his room, he says, “Oh, it’s not Tuesday, what are you doing here?” I says, “Ed, I just felt strongly that God wanted us to visit with each other today.” He was so touched by that, and so we just began to talk and share. He had some scriptures that he wanted me to read for him, and we prayed. It was such a great time, just a real great bonding. About two weeks later, I came to visit again and he was gone. He was in heaven.
Jim: Yeah. Wow.
Jim: You think of that, th- that should convince many people to say, “Okay. I’m gonna try to get engaged.” Um, let me just get the capsulation before we take a little break and John tells people how to get a hold of us, and perhaps links to your ministry as well at the website. But it’s God Cares Ministry. What are your main goals? What are you trying to achieve with God Cares Ministry?
Bill: Well, what we do is we train, equip and support Christian volunteers who will go into senior care homes to share the love and the word of Jesus, helping residents take his hand to find hope and peace. That’s ultimately what our mission statement is.
Jim: And that story does encapsulate that.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Bill: And so, I would say this too, our- our work, we don’t go in to evangelize, per se. As I said earlier, our first and primary goal is to develop caring friendships.
Bill: And through that friendship, to help the resident take Jesus’ hand. We use a little bit different language in this environment because it’s not a Christian environment, necessarily, in a nursing home.
Bill: And so, we have to be wise on how we come in there. And uh, the caring friendships and helping people take Jesus’ hand is well received even among the administration.
John: Well, God Cares Ministry is, uh, the organization that um, our guest, Bill Goodrich, uh, leads. And we want you to learn more, we’ll link over uh, the details about what they do and, uh, the book that Bill has written called, Nursing Home Ministry: Where Hidden Treasures Are Found.
John: You’ll find details at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Bill, let me ask you about the pandemic, COVID and the impact. Nursing homes were in the news quite a bit um, you know, typically for not good reasons. Where, certain states were allowing in- infected people to go into the nursing homes, come out of the hospital. It’s still being debated, I think, now in terms of the wisdom of that. But describe, kind of, that bump for your ministry and a- h- how your hands got tied, right? I mean, you- you couldn’t go into the buildings, I’m sure.
Bill: Yeah. We had a couple thousand volunteers that were shut out of the care homes.
Bill: And it was very difficult. And we got before the Lord and we prayed, “How do we get the word of God to these residents anyway?” And now, there were a lot of window visits-
Bill: … a lot of Skype and Zoom visits-
Bill: … which was great. Uh, but it was extremely uh, minimized in that.
Jim: Yeah, not a lot of human interaction. I mean, the poor patients or the poor residents couldn’t even meet with their family members, right?
Bill: That’s correct.
Jim: Uh, Jean and I didn’t have a- a family member in that situation but we knew lots of friends-
Jim: … where their parents were in that. It was heart wrenching.
Bill: It was devastating, uh, for the residents, and even the staff too-
Bill: … who was caring for them. The loneliness was so thick and so difficult for the residents. Uh, you know, you can’t isolate human beings without causing major struggle.
Jim: Let me- let me insert something, an observation there. You know, the Lord uh, in Genesis, I mean, he creates us for relationship. And when we don’t get it, we suffer.
Bill: Yeah. The residents became anxious, fearful, hopeless-
Bill: … and their companion was a television. And that did not help at all, it accelerated those problems.
Bill: And even now, when we’re allowed to go back in, we’re finding that they’re ambivalent, they’re, uh… We had to kind of restart. A lot of the residents passed away ’cause it was over a two-year period-
Jim: Wow. Yeah.
Bill: … that, uh, we were not able to be in there. So, we’re starting over really. Reestablishing relationships and, you know, pointing them to the Lord.
Bill: And it just takes a little bit of time to get things started again.
Jim: But- but you can see the difference, right?
Bill: Yes, absolutely.
Jim: What a difference a relationship makes.
Bill: One of the things we were able to do, Jim, was to create these uh, scripture handouts. They’re giant print scriptures with a prayer on the bottom and a word puzzle on the back. And we put them on our website and the activity directors of home were able to download these and pass them out to the residents.
Bill: So the word of God was still able to reach many people. In fact, we reached more through that than we did in 25 years prior to the pandemic.
Jim: Ah, wow.
John: Because you had the directors of the activities actually distributing to all residents, right?
Bill: That’s correct.
Bill: And uh, so uh, we had about 5,000 activity directors distributing these to uh, residents and some of the staff in the home.
Bill: So we know that the word of God was being spread throughout this pandemic.
Jim: Yeah. Uh, you know, one of the great concerns we have at Focus is that our culture is devaluing life. We have a number of states that have uh, legalized assisted suicide. It’s kind of spreading around the world, really. What are you seeing, broadly, with the culture uh, beyond the church? And, how do we- how do we stand for life at this uh, end of the spectrum?
Bill: In our fast-paced society, we see people- we see the value of people by what they can give or do, or do for us.
Bill: And it appears that the residents can’t do anything for us. But as the book is called, Nursing Home Ministry: Where Hidden Treasures Are Found, once you get past the skin and the awkwardness of that environment, you find out that the treasures are still inside those bodies.
Bill: And whatever we give, if we give love, if we give kindness, if we give truth, Jesus has said, “Give and it will be given to you; uh, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing.” That’s what happens. We find this amazing return. So many r- uh, of our volunteers say, “I go to give but I get so much more than I can ever give to them.”
Bill: And it’s not like we go there to get something-
Bill: … we go to give, in the- in the principle that Jesus said, in Luke 6, comes back to us.
Jim: Yeah. It’s so- so true and so good. Uh, demographers are saying that basically baby boomers will outnumber, in a few short years, uh, the younger generation. And it- it- it’s unfortunate because you look at the, uh, abortion uh, deaths, 63, 64 million-
Jim: … um, it’s taken out, you know, that- that uh, younger generation. So, we have a top-heavy generation. H- how do we encourage people to get that right, to uh, move into these people, the elderly people’s lives and do what you’re doing, to talk to them about the Lord? I mean, if you’re in your 30’s and 40’s, maybe 50’s, I- I got a lot going on, Bill. I mean, really? You want me to go on a Saturday or on a Tuesday and- and talk to some elderly people?
Bill: Well, just as you said, Jim, you took your family there. And I think it’s a great family ministry.
Jim: It is.
Bill: It is a- a great way to help our young children recognize the value of people. It’s so important that we see them beyond the outside appearance, but that they’re still people. And they’re the people that built our churches and our highways and our structures that allow us to have the- uh, the benefits that we have today in this world.
Bill: You know? And here’s the thing that I see. That, when people are devalued, that’s when you can say th- it’s not important to keep them. The- the younger generation is gonna have such a strain to take care of the older generation because of the top-heavy point that you made. And when that happens, the- the consensus is going to be, “Let’s get rid of them.”
Bill: They have found that the last two years of a person’s life, they spend more money on healthcare in that last two years-
Bill: … than they do all their previous life.
Bill: And so, to- to save resource, they’re gonna be looking at that. It’s God’s will that we love them. And that’s why Jesus said that, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is to look after widows and orphans in their distress.” We don’t consider them orphans but they are like or- orphans because they do not have families, so many of them.
Bill: And they- we need to do what we can to take care of them.
Jim: Yeah, that’s so true. And you know, at Focus on the Family, again, we’ve stood for life right from cradle to grave, as we say-
Jim: … and- and God’s natural hand and all of that.
Jim: We don’t support euthanasia or, you know, some kind of economic overview as to how people should uh, spend the money at the end of their lives. I mean, it’s for them to decide. But we support life right to the end, and we would say natural death. You know, letting God play that role-
Bill: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Jim: … in that. And I wanna make sure everybody knows that. Um, you mention in the book, uh, that few- few churches really speak to this area of ministry, and- and that’s unfortunate actually. Because again, if our goal as the Christian church, is to bring people into the kingdom of God, if that’s job one, to go and har- you know, be part of the harvest of souls, then churches are missing it, uh, because this area is so white under the harvest, you might say.
Bill: You know, there’s a lot of statistics about, if you don’t accept the Lord by age 20 or 25 or something, you’re unlikely to do that. We have seen, based on the principles that we teach for nursing home ministry, we have seen about 85% of the residents take Jesus’ hand-
Bill: … for salvation and for strength to get them through their days.
Jim: Yeah. Wow.
Bill: It’s incredible. They are so open if you come to them. You know, if you bring a childlike evangelistic program to them, they’re gonna reject it. But if you respect them for who they are, somebody that’s older than you, that’s been there before you-
Bill: … and understands things that you never even thought of, if you come to them like that and then you share th- with them what Jesus promised-
Bill: … they are very open.
Jim: Bill, right at the end here for the viewer or the listener, um, how do you get involved? Okay. “So, that’s interesting. I’d like to think about that and talk to my husband and see if we could get k- our kids involved in that,” kind of like what Jean and I did with Trent and Troy-
Jim: … what do we do?
Bill: Well, of course, we’re here to do anything and everything we can to help an individual and/or a church develop a outreach to a nursing home. It doesn’t take a lot. Let me just say this, that there is a great need inside a nursing home. Anyone who’s a Christian and has a love for elderly people can do it, and we can help you get started.
Bill: We have books, we have videos, we have coaching. Whatever we can do, we will help you get started-
Bill: … and that’s what we’re here for.
Jim: And what we’ll do is we’ll uh, link to the website-
Jim: … and people can come to focusonthefamily.com and get that information and uh, we’ll m- make that link. But thank you for what you’re doing, Bill. Thank you for the heart. I can just see your gentle spirit all over the place here and how uh, that must be so encouraging for those people in these assisted or nursing home environments, to have you come in with your gentle and sweet spirit and talk with them about the Lord. Uh, you’re in the right spot.
Bill: Thank you, brother. I am so grateful for the life I get to live. It’s such an honor and privilege to do this work.
Jim: How about that? Giving yourself in that way so people can come to know the Lord at the very end of their lives. I think that’s time well spent and I so appreciate it. Thanks for being with us.
Bill: Thank you, Jim. Thank you, John.
Jim: Well listen, if you wanna know more, let’s start with the book, Nursing Home Ministry. And you can get a copy of that right from Focus on the Family. Just contact us, if you can help support us, we’ll send it as our way of saying thank you for that support. If you can’t afford it, we’ll get it to you, um, ’cause you can put that toward the nursing home ministry. So, uh, we just wanna get it into your hands. So get a hold of us here at Focus on the Family.
John: Yeah. Our phone number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. And you’ll find us at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: John, also, as we begin to wrap up another calendar year of ministry, I want to urge our friends to uh, give families hope by supporting Focus on the Family. If you would allow me to be so bold, hundreds of thousands of people reach out to us every year with needs in their families, their marriages, and for help in representing Christ and the culture. How do we go about doing this? Focus is just a super resource center for everybody. Uh, some generous friends have made it possible for you to double your gift to Focus through a matching opportunity. They’ll match whatever you give today, so please call us and donate and double your giving today.
John: Mm-hmm. And call today, our number is 800-A-FAMILY. And thanks in advance for your generosity. Well on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.