At the age of twenty-four I had come to a place of failure, despair, and hopelessness. I wanted to die. I asked the Lord if He would forgive me if I committed suicide. In His great patience and kindness the Lord clearly impressed on my heart, “I have created you for a purpose and have work for you to do; if you are not here, who will do it?” My life has never been the same.
“This poor man cried out and the Lord heard him. . .” Psalm 34:6
It is so amazing to look back and see where I was when I gave my life to Jesus, and how far He has brought me. I was nothing until Jesus Christ reached down and lifted me out of the deep darkness of despair. I will thank and praise Him forever, not only with my lips but also with my life. To Him belongs eternal praise! In 1984, at the age of twenty-six, I felt the desire to visit with residents living in a nearby nursing home to bring happiness to those who were lonely. For several weeks I prayed that the Lord would bring an opportunity if that’s what He wanted me to do. One day while working on my car, I heard a radio interview with an Activities Director who was asking for volunteers. I believed that this was an opening door and called for an appointment. During my interview I asked if there was something I could do that would help their weekly church service. With a smile, the Activities Director told me, “I have just the job for you.” The job was to come in on Sundays and bring the residents from their rooms to the main dining area for a church service that five different churches held on a rotating basis. This seemed like a good task and the next Sunday I was given a list of names and instructions.
Within a few weeks I had established a friendship with Anna. She was a dear woman I visited for an hour or two after the service and sometimes during the week. Although I visited some of the other residents, Anna was the one the Lord prompted me to spend the most time with, always with the desire to help her draw closer to the Savior. After several months, Anna became less and less active; then one day I went to the nursing home to see her, and her bed was empty. When I inquired where she was, they told me she had died three or four days ago. My heart was broken and I thought that perhaps my time in the nursing home was over. For two weeks I did not go back. I asked the Lord to make it clear to me whether or not it was His will for me to continue in this ministry. I decided to go and see if the door was still open. I greeted some of the people in the halls and dining area, and then went into the room of a woman who was ninety-eight years old and bed-bound. When I entered, her face brightened and she asked, “Where have you been? I missed you and was wondering what happened to you.” Well, I took that as clear confirmation from the Lord and decided that, at least for that time, this nursing home was the place where God wanted me to minister.
PUSHED OFF THE DIVING BOARD
As time went on, I would sit through the messages the different Pastors would bring on their designated Sunday. I was concerned for the residents because week after week all they heard were salvation messages. Although I knew they needed to learn of repentance and receiving Jesus, I was burdened for the folks who already had a relationship with Jesus and needed practical application for following Him. Although I had never preached before, I would pray on the way from church to the home that the Lord would allow me an opportunity to share some of the things I was learning in my church.
One Sunday after gathering the residents for the Church service, the scheduled Pastor failed to arrive. As I observed the look of disappointment on the faces of the residents, I asked them to be patient and I would see what I could do. Going out to my pickup truck I prayed, “Not now, O Lord! I’m not ready. Help me!” After looking over the notes from the sermon my Pastor had shared earlier that day, I went in, stood before the residents, and explained that I was going to give the message. I am sure the clumsy summary of my Pastor’s sermon made them yearn for another basic salvation message! But they were polite and appreciated that I was at least willing to try. I certainly gained a lot of respect for Pastors that day. Little did I realize that this was the next step in the journey the Lord had prepared for me. The next time the aforementioned Pastor was scheduled to preach, I prepared a short message, just in case. Not only did he not show up that Sunday, he quit coming altogether. Another one of the other Pastors stopped coming, too. As time went on, I found other Christians who were willing to come with me to help, and we started a Bible study on Thursday evenings. One of the most faithful helpers impressed me so much that I married her. Her name was Mary Ann and she remained an integral part of the ministry until Jesus took her home in March 2010.
As I continued to minister in the nursing home, I became aware of how many other nursing homes there are in my area. The residents living in them also needed spiritual care, but it seemed that almost no other Christians were interested in this mission field. The believers that were willing had little experience and weren’t sure how to go about it. I began to see a great need for ministry resources and training for Christians that were willing to go to this mission field, but I knew of none. I searched Christian bookstores for “how to do nursing home ministry” books and large print tracts and found nothing that would meet the need. I thought, “How strange! God said that ‘pure and undefiled religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress’ () but the religious people do not seem to care.”
Finally, after about three years of searching, someone told me of Tom McCormick’s book, Nursing Home Ministry, The Manual. I ordered it and was greatly blessed by its contents. But still, I thought, someone needs to produce giant print songbooks, tracts and other materials to nourish the nursing home residents. I began to pray that the Lord would enable me to bring an awareness of the need to the church, help people to get started in nursing home visitation and produce the needed materials. I also prayed that the Lord would allow me to leave my job to go into this ministry full-time. In 1988, the Lord impressed upon my heart that I was to prepare to train others to minister in nursing homes. Stepping out into the abyss in total faith, Mary Ann and I decided to leave three of the four nursing homes where we ministered and return to school to become ordained. Shortly after we started school, I was introduced to a nursing home ministry called The Sonshine Society; a wonderful Christ-centered ministry that had already produced many of the resources I had hoped to create. They already had the giant print books and tracts, sing-a-long tapes and recruiting materials. I was so excited! I praised God especially after learning they were serving over ten thousand nursing home ministry workers throughout North America. I knew that the Lord was behind this work, so I began to ask Him where I was to go from there. I was given the privilege of becoming a board member of the The SonShine Society.
While still working fulltime, I received a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Springs of Life College, and then spent two years as a part-time associate pastor in preparation for full-time ministry.
DIVING INTO THE DEEP
During those hectic years, in addition to ministry I enjoyed a great career and was able to pay off our home. In June of 1994, after seven years of praying and preparing, my wife and I took the leap of faith and I left my job, ending 13 1/2 years of service at that company.
In September of that year, we coordinated the first national Nursing Home Ministry Training Rally, which The Sonshine Society hosted. Almost two hundred nursing home ministry workers showed up from twenty different states and Canada for this two-day event. This was one of the greatest days of my life! It was also the completion of another step that has since led to training thousands of volunteers throughout North America.
In December of 1994, with the help of other Christians who shared my passion to bring Jesus to the residents of nursing homes, GOD CARES MINISTRY was incorporated and recognized as a 501(c)3 non-profit ministry. Our purpose has been to offer quality, Christ-centered, spiritual care in Northeast Ohio’s nursing homes. We didn’t know how we were going to accomplish our mission, but we prayed for the Lord to guide us. As we shared our ministry with area churches, we learned that many Pastors and church leaders were not focused on seniors and nursing home ministry. When I would share my heart, they would express appreciation for God Cares Ministry and what we do, but with the “servers” in their congregations already over-committed, they weren’t sure they would have enough volunteers to support a nursing home ministry. At first, this was very discouraging. Then the Lord began to show us that He had given many lay-people an interest in ministering to nursing home residents. Many of these folks were not yet involved in nursing home ministry because they lacked the understanding of where and how to get started and how to meet the spiritual needs of such a diverse and frail community of people. We also discovered many churches that already had a small group of people visiting nursing homes but they needed help in developing a more structured and effective care team. These very needs matched my specific desires and prayers to help make a difference in this great harvest field.
After five years of leading workshops, making continual adjustments as my discernment increased, interviewing residents, praying, and sharing with other nursing home ministry leaders, I came to understand some of the key elements in helping churches develop an effective care team. We then developed a five-phase process to help willing Christians start a nursing home outreach in their church. God Cares trains and works with these teams until they have built a firm foundation in the nursing home they visit. We then allow them to build their ministry, as the Holy Spirit would lead. We continue to offer support through our newsletters, additional training workshops, written resources and our new and improved website (GodCaresMinistry.com). We also have a team of prayer partners who intercede for us before the Lord. The Lord has allowed this approach to be very effective, and there are now over 8,000 volunteers serving in nursing homes throughout northeast Ohio, the US, and internationally.
STILL SWIMMING ALONG
I continue to lead teams in a few local nursing homes that we have been in for over 25 years. I also have the honor of helping to lead a fellowship for several other nursing home ministry leaders in North America, the Christian Fellowship of Care Center Ministries. (CFCCM.net). All of us who are serving and giving in this mission field are a part of God’s great, loving work on earth.
“Darkness has covered the earth. . .”(Isaiah 60:2) but the Lord’s light rises up and breaks through as we share His love and Word.
Our Father has taken many people like myself, who were consumed by darkness, and has transformed us into lamps that now shine His light in this world for His glory and honor. How could we ever fully thank and praise Him for this privilege?
The success of this ministry has not come without pain, struggle, and disappointment. I have learned that in my trials and weaknesses, if I will humble myself and cry out to the Lord, then He becomes my strength and gives me the courage and wisdom to go on. He also sends many caring people to partner with us; friends who have cheerfully invested untold hours and given generously to financially support this ministry. We are so grateful to God!!! Because of His grace we have been able to produce a comprehensive handbook, a video training series and other resources for this mission field. Much more is planned and we trust that God will bring it to completion in His time and for His glory. Our prayer is that our Father’s kingdom will come, and His will be done in every long term care center. We are your servants to that end. To His glory and honor through Christ Jesus our King.
Chaplain Bill Goodrich
Founder and President, God Cares Ministry