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Ministry to the Homebound - It Can Be a Game Changer

I just shipped an order for a personalized service appreciation plaque recognizing someone for the work she's doing as a member of her church's team which ministers to the elderly and those confined to home.

It brought back a lot of memories.

I know a little something about the impact this type of ministry can have from first-hand experience.

My mother was homebound for many years. Having suffered a massive stroke at a relatively young age, she only partially recovered and never regained her mobility. The last ten years of her life she wasn't just shut-in - she was bedridden.

An active church member, she'd done all sorts of things over the years at the congregations to which she belonged (from the time she was a teenager) including singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, teaching Vacation Bible School, and working with various womens' ministries. She and my dad had many friends at church. But then she got sick.

After nearly three months in two hospitals she finally returned home. Never, though, was she able to return to church. Not only had her world turned upside down in every way imaginable - but she'd also suddenly lost one of the things that was most important to her. Church.

This was in the days before the Internet. There were no Sunday services streamed online. No podcasts of sermons. There was no electronic means to maintain some sort of connection - a sense of belonging - with her brothers and sisters at church. She received regular pastoral visits - which was wonderful, deeply appreciated by all of us, and continued for the rest of her life - but as for fellowship with the congregation, that appeared now to be lost to her.

It's not that her church friends were cold or indifferent. Life goes on.

Immediately following the stroke, my mother was critically ill. The only hospital visitors were, understandably, immediate family and the pastor.

When her condition stabilized, she was transferred to another hospital with a rehabilitation facility for stroke survivors where she spent many weeks. An hour away from their home, it wasn't exactly handy for people who might want to drop by. And so, in a manner of speaking, she faded away. Nobody had seen her.

My dad, home taking care of her and afraid to leave her, was also absent from church - so there were no reminders of either of them. Even with the best of intentions, when someone becomes housebound - especially over many years - it can be challenging to maintain a relationship. Not only must you make a conscious effort (after all, that person cannot come to see you, and in my mom's case she could barely dial the telephone on her own), but the ball is always in your court.

There's also the initial awkwardness. What do you say if and when you do visit? My mom was now paralyzed on her left side. She looked different. She could lose her train of thought. She was no longer able to do many simple things. It can be uncomfortable getting over that hurdle. Many people simply avoid putting themselves in that situation.

But then, a few years following Mom's stroke, something happened. The Game Changer. Our church began to audio tape Sunday services. Two women from the congregation - whom my mom had not known previously - volunteered to take turns delivering the tapes once a week. I can't overstate how significant that was.

Not only was my mom deeply happy to be able to "attend" church via the tapes, but she and these two wonderful ladies became good friends. This wasn't a case of, "Hi, just popping in to drop off the tape. How are you? Gotta run!" Quite the contrary. They were there to visit! They'd pull up a chair and talk.

There were family updates. Mom asked about their kids; they asked about hers. If someone had heard or read a good joke, you can be sure it would be shared and laughed over. Through these visits, Mom could keep up with things that were happening at church. Until she died, these special women visited my mother and delivered those tapes.

I saw first-hand how ministering to the homebound can change a life - actually, in this case, lives. Those friendships were not only important for my mom, but also my dad. Over the years, he became close to these ladies and their families, also.

If you're participating in such a ministry at your church, God bless you. You're reminding the people in your care that they have not been forgotten.

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