The following two stories from the lives of believers at the PhraBaht church (with whom we work) have reminded me of the special care that we need to take to value the elderly among us. “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. Honor widows who are truly widows.” 1 Timothy 5:1-3
Pim’s mother was discouraged. Weak and bedridden because of diabetes, she often had thoughts of death and recently she had been having dreams about her late older sister who was calling her to come join her. ‘What’s the point of living?’ she thought to herself. ‘It would be better if I were to die.’ She would often vent her frustrations to her daughter and teenage grandson. One Sunday morning before church her grandson got tired of listening to her complain. Rather coldly, he said to her ‘If you want to die, then die already’ Those words cut her deeply and she refused to be taken to church that day.
While Pim’s mother lay at home with thoughts of death and worthlessness, the believers at church had different thoughts. They missed her. After church, Sun and Muay visited her to talk, pray, and read the Bible. A few days later, Arui came to encourage her. By the time Sunday came around again, her spirits had perked up a bit and she was glad to see us when we came to pick her up and bring her to church. I don’t think that the preacher that day knew what had
happened in the life of Pim’s mother during the past week. Tam, a young man doing student ministry, preached on suicide. Taking us to the Old Testament, he told us about the lives of Moses, Elijah, Job, and Jonah - men who entertained thoughts of death at one time but went on to be blessed by God and used by Him. As Pim’s mother lay on a cot near the front of the room, Tam emphatically urged the elderly to never think that they don’t have value or that God can’t use them. At the very least they can pray, and can teach their children and grandchildren from their long experience in life and with God. After the service was over, and everyone had finished lunch, I was called over to pick up Pim’s mother and bring her out to the car of another church member who was taking her home to rest. Other church members were practicing music for Christmas and later on several of us would head out to hand out tracts and do visitation. I sat down beside the cot and told Pim’s mother that I was glad that she could come today. Thinking of Tam’s sermon, I also reminded her that she was very valuable. With a big smile on her face, she sat up slightly and croaked out, “I want to go help hand out tracts today, but I can’t walk.” What a change from the previous week! Praise God for his work in the life of Pim’s mother, renewing her spirit through the love of the believers and the preaching of the Word.
Later that afternoon, I took a carload of Phra Baht church people out to Nong Doan for prayer, evangelism training, to hand out tracts, and to do visitation. On our way back home to Phra Baht that evening, I dropped off at his home an elderly man who had been a believer for about twenty years. He couldn’t get around too well because of a bone fracture in his leg that never healed properly but he still had a lot of life left in him. As we turned out of his long dirt driveway onto the main road, a voice piped up from the back of the car. ‘My Dad was really glad to come today’, his adult daughter informed me. ‘He likes doing this kind of thing.’ ‘I am glad to hear that,’ I replied, ‘it was good to have him along. I think it was really beneficial.’ In Nong Doan, we had split up into two groups to hand out tracts and visit people. I had been in a group of four together with this older gentleman and his daughter. Although he was usually very quiet at church, I was pleasantly surprised when he offered some valuable insights and contributions as we talked about the Gospel with some folks who were probably my parents age if not older. Although God can uses the most unlikely of persons to share the Gospel, humanly speaking it carries much more weight for Thai villagers to hear the Gospel from the mouth of an aged Thai believer than from this young white foreigner. This was my mindset, at least.
On the car ride home, his daughter went on to tell me, ‘The last missionary who was here (several years previous) didn’t want to take the old people out to do evangelism and my Dad was disappointed and discouraged by that. He (the missionary) thought that they were a burden.’ What a shame that some of the believers with the most experience in life, and with God, were left behind by a short-sighted missionary who didn’t want to be slowed down. Talking about the importance of every person in the body of Christ (i.e. the church), the apostle Paul said, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow greater honor.” 1 Corinthians 12:21-23. Certainly, it will take more time and energy to care for, and to bring along, our elderly saints but when we do, won’t that be a wonderful picture of the love and care that the body of Christ has for one another? (1 Corinth 12:25) Won’t that be an important part of the witness for Christ that we can offer to an unbelieving world where selfishness reigns and families are tearing apart at the seams? What do Christians communicate about God when small children and the elderly are looked at as a burden instead of a blessing? Is our value tied up in what we can do and accomplish, and how fast we can move? Or rather, is our value derived from the One who made us and the proof of the truth of our message displayed in how we love one another?
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:20-23