Royalty isn’t necessarily defined by birth family or wealth. In fact, in many cultures it is still determined by age.
I love the stories of veteran Tennessee missions volunteers Don and Ann Davis walking into small Ugandan villages a few years ago with a group of younger missions volunteers. Younger is relative because the Davises were in their 70s and both topped by flowing silver hair. They easily stood out from their group as the senior members. Repeatedly, villagers honored the Davises and gave them an esteemed seat and listened intently as they shared the gospel, accepting it as wisdom passed down through the ages.
I feel our culture has lost a measure of that respect for our elders, and we’re worse off for it. The Bible calls us to honor our fathers and mothers, to drink in the wisdom of those much more experienced than we are. It also calls us to care for aging adults as they cared for us in infancy and childhood.
As a boy, respecting my elders was drilled into my character. As a teenager, one of my first jobs was working as an orderly at a nursing facility in Eight Mile, Ala. I mopped the floors, changed bedpans, and helped provide baths for the male residents, among other things. I learned to deeply love and serve those very special people in that adult care facility.
The experience shaped the kind of pastor I became.
Fortunately, Tennessee Baptists have an opportunity to participate in caring for hundreds of seniors and adults with developmental disabilities through the 2014 Father’s Day Offering for Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes (TBAH). The annual Father’s Day Offering underwrites a significant amount of the difference between what residents and their families can pay and the actual cost of operating the homes. It is a chance for us to provide care for individuals in a way that honors them.
The Father’s Day Offering was inaugurated in 2001 and offering receipts that first year were $42,000. To date, Tennessee Baptists, Tennessee Baptist churches, and others have given more than $2.25 million to the work of TBAH through the Father’s Day Offering. The goal this year is $350,000.
So where does that money go? The TBAH has four senior adult care facilities and five developmentally disabled group homes geographically located across the state. Currently, TBAH extends care to more than 300 senior and 55 developmentally disabled adults. Many of its residents do require partial or full assistance, yet the only state money the TBAH receives is Medicaid reimbursements.
The value of the ministry to these special folks goes way beyond simply providing them with dignified care. Kenny Cooper, TBAH president and treasurer, can recount one story after another from where staffers were able to minister to extended families and often share the gospel with those who don’t know Christ.
Why is Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes an important and timely ministry? The answer is found in the 2012 statistics compiled by the Administration on Aging. Tennessee is seeing a steady upward trend in the number of aging adults, and especially in the category of elderly poor. Unfortunately there is also an upward trend in suicides and alcohol abuse among those in the over-60 demographic. Many of those screened in the survey reported they “rarely” or “never” receive the social or emotional support they feel they need, and a smaller percentage reported they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with life.
Couple those alarming trends with the reality that governmental social services are inadequate and quite simply can’t handle the demand — and will be less able to in the future. As Kenny puts it, there is a tidal wave heading our direction.
Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man.”
We, as Tennessee Baptists, have the opportunity through the Father’s Day Offering to collectively honor our senior and developmentally disabled adults by rising with the tide and proactively addressing a growing social challenge.
Let’s grab hold of biblical wisdom and care for our seniors as if they are the royalty among us.
Truth is … they are.