Golden Years or Lonely Years?

When considering what we typically think of as injustices—oppression, racism, violence, human trafficking, abuse and more—it is easy to overlook some of the more subtle but equally real injustices that exist in our world today. One of these is the injustice of loneliness. While there may be no physical pain associated with being forgotten, cast-off and ignored, the mental and emotional effects of loneliness can be insufferable. While loneliness is something that every human on the planet undoubtedly experiences from time to time, there is one segment of the population that virtually personifies it.

“Golden Years”
In the Sunshine State?
It should come as no surprise that Florida has a large elderly population. According to data compiled in the 2010 Census, Florida has the highest per-capita percentage (17.6 %) of elderly adults aged 65 years of age and older, and Florida (at 2.8 million) ranked second only to California (at 3.6 million) in sheer numbers of elderly residents. While some either have families heavily involved in caring for them, or the financial resources to pay for high-level care and luxury accommodations, a majority of elderly adults in Florida are left to live out their final years in long-term care centers or nursing homes often alone and despondent.

One needs simply to pay a visit to their nearest elderly care facility to catch a glimpse of the devastating effect of loneliness. With their glory years long gone, many elderly adults languish in nursing homes and long-term care centers, spending day after day without any meaningful human interaction to brighten their spirits or to bring them encouragement. With family members either too far away or “too busy” to visit regularly, or with no surviving relatives at all, the elderly population by and large can become a forgotten and unreached people group that exists right here in our own back yard.

A Forgotten Commandment
In Exodus 20:12, the fifth of the Ten Commandments reads, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Sadly, many other cultures around the globe do a better job adhering to the spirit of this commandment than “Judeo-Christian” America does.  After all, caring for an elderly parent or relative can be a massive undertaking, and a responsibility that is often simply more convenient to pass along to someone else. When it comes to showing respect to any elderly person, family or not, Leviticus 19:32 states, “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.” While Christians are no longer bound to the Old Testament law, these verses are reflective of God’s heart to honor the elderly and to tangibly show them His love through respect.

Heart2Heart:  
Meeting the Need
Thankfully South Florida has a ministry that is up to the challenge of reaching and caring for the elderly in the community. Heart2Heart, based in Fort Lauderdale, has a vision “to provide residents in South Florida long-term care centers with regular and consistent visitation with the opportunity to experience the love of Jesus Christ through caring relationships.” Founded in 2010, after an intensive study performed to assess the greatest unmet needs in the South Florida community, Heart2Heart recruits, trains and mobilizes volunteers to share the love of Christ with residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. With 36 skilled nursing facilities and 296 assisted living facilities in Broward County alone, the need for Heart2Heart’s ministry is great.

Marti Engel, Heart2Heart’s Executive Director, shares, “We minister on a daily basis to elderly adults who are forgotten and forlorn. Simply having someone visit them, interact with them and love on them makes a tremendous difference in their quality of life.” As a Christian ministry with a heart to share the gospel, Heart2Heart volunteers show up consistently in order to build relational bridges that bear spiritual fruit in the lives of the elderly adults they minister to.

Joining the Cause
Heart2Heart’s ministry offers a ready-made outreach opportunity for any individual or church with a heart to get involved. Engel says, “We provide the training, insurance and background screening, all at no cost to the volunteer. For a smaller church that may not have their own elderly ministry established, or who may not have the administrative staff or resources to mobilize their own volunteers, Heart2Heart is a perfect match!” For any church who is seriously interested, Heart2Heart may be able to match a church with a long-term care center to “adopt” as their very own.

Of course, as with any ministry, there is a cost involved. For those interested in helping support the needed and valuable work that Heart2Heart is doing, donations are always welcome. As Heart2Heart is currently seeking accreditation from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), you can rest assured that your donation dollars will be well-spent. Additionally, the ministry is in need of donations of items such as large-print Bibles, blankets, and more.

Acts 20:35 says, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Remember that the elderly are often weak, lonely and in need of ministry. If you are looking for an opportunity to heed the words of Jesus and to be blessed through the giving of yourself, Heart2Heart provides a great outlet to do just that.

For more information on how to volunteer or how to donate, as well to learn more about the ministry and view a compelling video showing first-person testimonies of those Heart2Heart has ministered to, visit them on the web at www.heart2heartsenior.org.

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