For Such a Time as This


Author: Ruth Preston

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with another one of our wonderful Church Champions, Debbie. She had so many wonderful stories to share and we have done our best to capture the beauty of what she shared in this blog post. 



Debbie attends St Christopher’s Church in Springfield, Birmingham. Of course, currently, the church is closed due to COVID and the area is currently struggling with some of the highest infection rates in Birmingham. So, these have been challenging times for Debbie. 



Debbie is part of the Anna Chaplaincy. As a chaplain, it is her job to serve the spiritual needs of the older people in her church congregation, as well as the spiritual needs of those in four other parishes. So, she has her hands full. 



If you don’t know what the Anna Chaplaincy is, it is a wonderful organisation that was started as a way to support older people’s spiritual needs whether they have a faith or not. The name comes from Anna in the Bible. Anna met Jesus as a baby and because of that first meeting, she was one of the first evangelists who went and hope with other people. In Debbie’s words, “the Anna Chaplaincy tries to join the dots between people and God, between people and the church, between people and the community, and between people and their families/carers. As chaplains, we try to provide that connection.” 



During this time, it goes without saying that people are lonelier than ever before. Nobody has access to church in the same way they used to, and access to community is also sadly restricted. For some, this means they can go weeks without seeing or speaking to another person. Part of Debbie’s role involves helping older people regain that connection with the church and its community. As Debbie told us, “I used to focus on lonely people and those who were isolated before COVID but now that feels like it is everybody. Our harvest field is quite big right now.” 



Debbie shared with us how she sends out personalised prayer cards to people with bits of scripture. She told us how, “it is a personalised thing I send to everybody. I also pressed some forget me nots from my garden because I wanted people to know ‘I won’t forget you because God hasn’t forgotten you either’. It was important for me to do these personalised things. I won’t have anybody on my watch who is desperate for company or communication. I do my best to phone people up regularly and have tried every which way to create connection where I can.” 



Over the years, Debbie has gained significant experience in the field of caring for older people. As a child, she was born to older parents and so she grew up around many older people. This upbringing naturally wove itself into her life as she began serving older people. We were astonished to hear just how much experience Debbie has had over the years caring for and helping older people. She listed her extensive experience to us: 



“I was a social worker. I then managed a day centre for older adults. I also worked with a Dementia charity. I worked with carers looking after older people and the older people they cared for. I have been a home carer, assisting with personal care. I have managed sheltered accommodation. More recently, I have worked for a voluntary service to help people do chair-based exercises.” 



After her time managing a day centre, Debbie became seriously ill to the point she nearly died. She had a stoma and after coming through and eight-hour surgery, she felt grateful to be alive. While she was recovering in the hospital, a chaplain visited her and Debbie asked her, “why would God put me through all that?” The woman looked her in the eyes and replied with a smile, “I look forward to seeing what God does with you next.”



A couple of years later, Debbie came to a crossroads in her life. Her contract at work was coming to an end due to funding and she didn’t know what to do or where to go next. So, she prayed to the Lord. Seemingly by chance, she came across an advertisement for the Anna Chaplaincy. She remembered the kindness of the chaplain who had visited her in the hospital and considered how her experience could help older people struggling through similar situations. However, she couldn’t do the job because she needed to be paid. 



In June last year when Debbie was commissioned by her church to start working as a chaplain, she gave as much time as she could to volunteering in the position alongside her job. A member of the church saw her hard work and efforts and paid a generous sum to the church so that she could quit her job and continue her chaplaincy work. Debbie’s minister also applied for funders and just four months after her commission, the church received two to three years of funding for Debbie to do her work. When God calls you to do something and you are obedient to that call, He always makes a way.



“God is just so amazing!” she told us, “that funding gave me permission to do what I’ve always wanted; to serve the Lord using my faith to bless and encourage older people.” 



God gives each of us a burden for something and as we spoke with Debbie, it was clear the Lord had broken her heart for the older people in her community. He had given her a deep passion and love to serve others. Her passion and heart for this ministry, through the strengthening and equipping of the Holy Spirit, has helped her reflect the love of God to other people. 



Debbie shared with us how, “for me, chaplaincy has got to be a heart thing. Because I knew God had bought me through so much, I can relate to older people because I know what it’s like to be laying in hospital feeling powerless and having lots of things taken away from you.” 



‘For such a time as this’ has always been the phrase that has followed Debbie throughout her life, and she is reminded of it often. She shared with us how she hopes that communities and churches will catch onto the vision of helping and serve older people for such a time as this. Because there is no better time. Our nation is struggling under the pressure of loneliness and declining mental health in older people. It is a huge problem and one that the church need to address. 



To encourage us all, Debbie shared with us some stories of God working in the lives of the older people she is connected with. Before lockdown had commenced, Debbie was keeping up her monthly visits to a local care home for those with Dementia. She went with a few other people every month and shared with us how, “it was hard work because we didn’t get much feedback. But we did it anyway. I went by faith. It’s about what God is doing through us. We can’t always see what the Holy Spirit is doing in terms of connecting with people.” 



During one visit, Debbie and her team held a service and at the end they handed out paper crosses to the residents. On one side of the cross was written the individual’s name and on the other side was the Lord’s prayer. One man took hold of the cross, stared at it intensely, and held it for a very long time. Debbie said how, “it was as if he knew that he could hold onto the cross. The cross was for him. It blessed me. His speech had been taken away, but he knew the truth of God. The spirit remains the same. It’s almost like he knew that. The way he was holding onto it and looking at it, I can’t express the joy I felt in seeing that.” 



Another lady Debbie paid visits to before COVID lives on her own and has carers come in four times a day to help her with daily life. Whenever Debbie saw her, she would talk and talk, often repeating the same stories over and over again. When she could, Debbie would interrupt and start to sing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’. Despite her Dementia, this lady will know the song word for word and sing along. Debbie will then start to recite the Lord’s prayer and the lady would say it along with her, word for word, as well as the psalms. And whenever Debbie asks if she can pray, the lady immediately responds by putting her head down, sitting in silence, and listening. 



“You know that God is there and that He is working,” Debbie shared. “We are probably in one of the darkest times of our history, but that hymn, that line is a testimony to every older person I speak to. They all testify to the assurance of Jesus in their life during this time.” 



Debbie also shared a story with us about a friend she has known for ten years who has COVID. They spoke on the phone just the other day and she was telling Debbie just how poorly she is. And yet, despite her suffering, she told Debbie “I know that this too shall pass.” Even during a time of great sickness and suffering, she knows her God is with her. She knows this too shall pass. 



“That’s why I do what I do,” Debbie told us, “because older people show me Jesus. Just by being them. It doesn’t matter whether they have Dementia or not. They show me Jesus.” 




What a wonderful encouragement! So often, we consider how our service helps others and we don’t take a moment to consider how God might use other people to help and bless us. God works through all people – even older people with Dementia or Alzheimer’s – nothing is impossible for Him. Whether a person can speak, hear, stand up straight or not, is no obstacle to the Lord. 



As it says in Philippians, ‘For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ – Philippians 2.13 



How is God working in you today? Perhaps take a moment to ask Him what He wants to speak to you about. Just like the lady in the story with Dementia, bow your head in prayer and just listen – you never know what God might say! 


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