faith retirement community

by Rev. Dr. H. Lawton and Dawn Neely; co-chaplains at The Martha Franks Retirement Community, Laurens, SC 

My husband and I were recently privileged to travel to Nicaragua, South America to spend a week in the barrios, ministering to the people with both physical bread and the bread of life. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the world. The water is, for the most part, polluted and undrinkable. The workers are fortunate to make a dollar a day and houses are made of tin, paper, trash bags and cardboard.

One of the places we visited was “The Dump.” It was literally a place where people brought their trash and then people would take items found in the heap and make a place to live. One “home” we visited was for a family of five, the youngest being an 8-month old baby. In the course of our conversation with the father, the question was asked if they had enough food. The father replied, “The Lord provided an onion today. We will have onion soup to-night.” I could only think how many times I had looked in my pantry at home and proclaimed I had nothing to eat. All around us was abject poverty and want. The dump smelled of smoke and ashes and the landscape was barren.

Yet, we found a remarkable spirit of worship and thanksgiving among the people. We attended and partic-ipated in the church service where we sang for an hour before the pastor began his message. The songs focused on rejoicing, worship, gratitude and love of our Savior. Hands were raised as children and adults sang praises to our King.

On our trip back to the states, we reflected on our ex-perience. Why did their worship seem so authentic? The people sat on wooden benches placed on dirt floors. There was no air conditioning in the 90 degree heat; only an oc-casional breeze that drifted through the open windows. The church was full to the point that late comers had to stand against the walls. The prayers were filled with adoration to El Senor and the pastor spoke of his congregations’ re-sponsibility to share the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. He spoke of the blessings of the week; a new sink in which to wash their Styrofoam plates and cups; and a new mattress for the pastor’s one room home so that his wife would no longer have to sleep on the floor.

At the conclusion of the service, bread, cheese and juice were given to each person. People stood in line with their empty jugs, buckets or pitchers to pump precious, clean water from the well just outside the church door. Many of these people did not know if they would have anything to eat tomorrow. Each day held a new challenge to make enough money to buy food. They absolutely knew what it meant to depend upon the Lord. They were grateful for the smallest blessing because it was life to them!

Our mantra since that trip has been, Be Thankful. In America, there is so much bounty. We have multiple blessings of food, clothing, shelter, water, health care, beautiful houses of worship and freedom of religion. Unless we are careful, we will catch ourselves as senior adults finding fault and complaining about the most mundane of reasons. Shall we be named among those nine ungrateful lepers who forgot to thank Jesus for their healing or will we be the one who returns to give thanks? Even according to the scripture, it appears easier to take our blessings for granted than it is to be thankful.

In Nicaragua there was a man who had purchased a copy of God’s word for less than one American dollar. He had his precious copy of God’s word for 40 years. He was, however, unable to read it due to poor eyesight. One of the mission team members had purchased a number of pairs of dollar store reading glasses. Upon hearing the man’s plight, she handed him a pair of glasses. He immediately began to read, lifting his hands in praise and weeping. When was the last time we wept as we read God’s word?

Growing old has its challenges. Physically, we can no longer do what we once did. Mentally, we find ourselves unable to remember things in the past, or for that case, things in the present! But there should be no difficulty in being thankful. How terribly wrong it is to spend our last years camped on the hill of regret and complaints. Rather, let us realize that God has allowed us to live another day. Change your focus from one of depression to a joyful expression. Remember to thank God! As in Jesus’ day, you may be named among a few, but you will delight the heart of God.