By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
Nowhere in His Word does the Lord grant believers retirement from service. At least 53 60-somethings at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, keep on ministering, even into their earthly retirement years.
Members of First Baptist's senior adult choir, Friendship Singers, recently ministered in shelters, hospitals and nursing homes in Boston. Mission trip coordinator Don Evans noted the planning team chose Boston because "even though it is one of our oldest cities, it still has great needs."
The Boston trip marked the sixth fall mission experience for the Friendship Singers. Each year the group chooses a large city in which to minister, usually at shelter houses and rescue missions in downtown areas. "This was one of our finest trips," Evans said. "It broadened our horizons for missions and how people are crying out in need."
In addition to singing, the group normally helps prepare food and assists with clean up at the shelters. Those opportunities were limited on the Boston trip. Instead, team members concentrated on ministering one-on-one.
They helped individuals at nursing homes and hospitals move from their rooms to the dining area for meals and assisted them to seats before concerts. God opened doors to conversation and encouragement.
"As we were singing at the Sherill House mental hospital, I noticed an older man in a wheelchair who was very caught up in the worship music," Ken Ledbetter said. "After we sang, [team member] Larry Laucks told me [the man] was a retired police officer. I slipped over to visit with him. I said, 'I hear you're a retired police officer. Well, we speak the same language.'
"He grabbed my hand and started crying. At that moment, I could feel the presence of the Lord blessing both of us."
In a Boston nursing home, the group ministered to a woman originally from Jefferson City. "She shared what a blessing it was to see people from Missouri come all that way and share the gospel," Evans said.
A hospital chaplain in Jefferson City, Evans said experiences in the shelters particularly touched the First Baptist group. "We were amazed at the number of people without jobs and with the number of young people who needed help," he said.
Street people's response to the Friendship Singers' ministry was "overwhelming," Evans added. "We saw them moved to tears...which, of course, touched our group."
One young woman told Evans how the group reminded her of her grandmother, who had taken her to church when she was a youngster. First Baptist's performance reminded her of the importance of the church and how she had strayed from it.
Changes in facial expressions signaled touched hearts. At some of the shelters, people were required to attend the program before receiving a meal. Many came in angry, Evans explained. But before the group finished its performance, many faces softened - some into smiles, others into tears.
"I was most impressed the afternoon we sang at the Boston Rescue Mission," Ruby Shively said. "Our pastor's message and our music seemed to change the expressions on the people's faces. They seemed to soften and open up to us. Some were so young; I pray that we have made a difference in their lives."
Doris Blankenship watched one young woman transform. Coming into the room with a "definite scowl," the woman began to brighten after the first two or three songs. "After Doyle's devotion [First Baptist pastor Doyle Sager], she brightened some more," Blankenship said.
"She sort of mouthed 'I Stand Amazed,' and after 'Happy Land' and 'I'll Fly Away,' she had a glow and a beautiful smile."
First Baptist's Sunshine Singers don't limit their ministry to one mission trip each year.
They minister in each Jefferson City nursing home from February until summer and from September until just before Thanksgiving.
The nursing home ministry and the annual mission trip "give us the opportunity to continue exercising our faith," Evans said.
And as long as First Baptist's 60-somethings want to keep going, "retirement" isn't in their vocabulary. (12-01-04)