by Suzuki Mikio, member Nishi-chiba Church, Chiba Subdistrict, Tokyo District
Mutual Care Ministry is a program of Nishi-chiba Church that provides care for the elderly. Preparation for this program was carefully done through workshops and questionnaires before it was launched in 1997. It marked its 20th year in 2017. At the beginning, the services were limited to 1) visiting people in their places of residence,2) helping with household chores, and 3) helping with travel to and from hospitals and clinics.
These services were provided to those who applied for them, with the church being reimbursed for the actual expenses for items 2) and 3) above. We were a volunteer organization of 45 people, including 12 committee members, and we continued to think about the meaning of these activities. Our booklet Mutual Care was written around that time with Galatians 6:10 printed on the cover: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." This idea is the basis of our ministry.
I can recall receiving these words of encouragement from Rev. Gudrun Scheer, the missionary who served as the pastor of this church and who directed its ministry from the beginning. "Some people distance themselves from the rest of the group because they are afraid of becoming an inconvenience. However, love, service, and sharing in fellowship are at the heart of what the church is all about. By putting these into practice, both those who receive care and those who give care come together as the family of God and become the driving force of evangelism. The best volunteers are those who request care. Those who request care give something to live for, and give joy to those who give care. Those who feel that they are just useless are actually God's gift to the rest of us."
There is a coordinator who chooses and sends volunteers to those who apply for care. The present coordinator is the fourth person to hold that position. Our organizational structure has been improved by doing such things as appointing a committee chairperson whose main roles are leading committee meetings, preparing workshops, and negotiating with other organizations.
A committee meeting is held once every three months. First, we hear reports about the care given and discuss any problems there might be. Second, we discuss the content of workshops. Third, we make sure we really understand the circumstances of elderly people. From the beginning, these words were inscribed upon the hearts of the committee members: "There is a limit to the goodness of people. If we rely on people alone, we will all fail together. No matter what, we must have Jesus standing among us."
Missionary Scheer presented lectures at least ten times. We also have workshops once or twice a year, led by a specialist either from inside or outside the church. This learning experience is open not only to the approximately 60 volunteers but also to all church members. We study such topics as:
1. Specific directives on how to visit people in their places of residence, help with housekeeping and travel to and from hospitals, and read to people over the telephone;
2. How the public eldercare system works, and the situation of public eldercare in general;
3. The reality of the emotions, bodies, and lifestyles of elderly people;
4. The spirit of mutual care; and
5. Various activities that can delay aging.
We have implemented these various activities, making adjustments along the way. Recently the volunteers themselves are progressively getting older, so we are diligently researching the fifth topic above.
For the church worship service and other meetings, "protective assistance" has also been added. Recently, public nursing has become a complete system. Taking into account the fact that the volunteers are also getting older, help with housekeeping and help with going to and from the hospital is our response only when there is an emergency. Basically, the help we provide is in the form of introducing people to places like the regional comprehensive support center.
Currently, the main activity is visiting people in their places of residence. Most of the people who receive care are residents in a facility. Volunteers always ask them how they are doing, listen to what they say, sing their favorite hymns with them (the popular hymns being "Jesus Loves Me" and "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"), and pray with them. The cognitive functions of some people have declined, but we remember that they are companions who at one time participated in church activities together with us. Volunteers visit them and listen, even if it is something they have heard many times. Volunteers all experience the joy that comes from putting your face close to someone, holding hands, and praying together.
Sometimes volunteers also talk with family members of the elderly people and with the other people in the facility. We keep in mind that visitation by church members plays an important role in connecting our church with the families and with the facility.
This ministry has continued for 20 years, and the effect of its fruit has spread throughout our church. Awareness has formed among church members to inquire about each other's health. In every home meeting as well as in groups of elderly men and groups of elderly women, friends check up on each other. This has become the most important part of the reports during the regular monthly meetings.
There will be more and more people who, even though they want to come to church, cannot attend because of their advancing age. We must never forget even one such companion. At all times, every step of the way, we want to put love into practice so that each one will be inside the church's circle of fellowship until the end. To do that, we continually receive encouragement from the Great Shepherd Jesus Christ, who leads us. We pray that our ministry can go forward humbly. (Tr. KT)
From Shinto no Tomo (Believers' Friend), November 2017 issue
Summarized by KNL Editor Kawakami Yoshiko
鈴木幹雄 すずき みきお／西千葉教会員