Conducting Christmas Outreach Services at Aged Care Facilities as a visiting GP – Dr Richard Wong

Christian medicos access many areas of society others can’t

3 MINUTE READ

from Luke’s Journal 2020 | Ageing Gracefully | Vol.25 No.3

A residential carer holding the hand of an aged woman. A Christmas tree is in the background. woman

In the months before Christmas 2019, I started thinking about hosting a series of Christmas outreach services at the aged care facilities I regularly visit.

Their admission often adds one or more unintended disabilities. Their new residence is usually foreign, with unfamiliar nurses and doctors providing care now. They are often transferred via an unfamiliar hospital because of a recent acute event, such as a stroke, fracture or worsening of chronic illness like dementia.

I considered that this would be the one time of the year an evangelistic message would be acceptable. I had previously conducted such services in Sydney when I was working there so had a good idea of how to conduct them though here in Brisbane, when approaching the facility management for permission, it seemed novel and intriguing rather than something they were used to, so I realised I was on fertile soil if I ran them with discernment and sensitivity. 

“I considered that this would be the one time of the year an evangelistic message would be acceptable.”

Thankfully all three facilities I approached enthusiastically granted permission and I would like to think it was because of the rapport and integrity I had developed with them as a Christian doctor honed by lessons learnt from years in CMDFA. The next step was to find a team that I could work together with to run these three consecutive Thursday afternoon half hour services. 

I asked a young couple at the church I attend, Rayk and Christin Platzek, who are studying at Queensland Theological College and they were a delight to work with in implementing these services. Rayk and I alternated in delivering the messages, with him presenting two of them based on Mark 1:14-15, and Christin presented her well-received testimonies of her faith in Christ and what Christmas means to her. Altogether, these shaped essentially a full church service, consisting of me chairing the services with an opening prayer, singing a few well-known Christmas carols interspersed the testimony, a Bible reading followed by the main message, closing in prayer, and thanking the staff for their permission. The invitation to join in the singing of the carols was extended not only to my patients at each facility, but also to anyone else interested. 

I was blessed to have other church friends come and participate in the singing of the carols as well as talk to the elderly residents in the background, which freed me up to run it from the front. 

Some logistical challenges I faced included an unexpected difficulty finding a pianist (ministers tell me it’s a common issue in their congregations with not many younger ones playing the piano), but after a few attempts, we were blessed with the service of the daughter of a BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) leader as well as a member from another Presbyterian church who agreed literally the night before in answer to my prayer request for one. 

Other difficulties included the “inaccurate” reporting from some staff who had advertised it as a carol service or sing-a-long rather than as including a Christmas message, so I had to gently rectify that. Also, given the high care needs of the residents, there needed to be dedicated staff who worked beyond their usual role duties to bring and supervise the residents in the halls we were using (which I scoped weeks beforehand for suitability), so I was conscious to thank them during this and after the service. For many of you reading this as medical professionals, treating the elderly either at facilities or in hospital is likely part of your everyday practice, but I think for some of my non-medical church friends who are young and fit, it was an eye-opener to the despair and morbidities that this section of the community live with. This is highlighted even more so now during the current climate in which I write this article, and for this I was very grateful they offered to serve. 

As one of the team commented, “We were indeed out of our comfort zone because we hadn’t expected to see that level of physical decline and mental impairment. It made us realise how cut-off we younger people generally are from the sick and dying in our community. So, seeing the pain and misery of these men and women was hard and yet, it spurred us on to share the gospel with them as clearly as possible. Perhaps it was the last time they heard about the love and peace of Christ, about God’s offer of pardon and eternal life in His kingdom… So, we thank Richard for this ministry opportunity because it opened our eyes to the gospel urgency in such places and how vital Christian workers are to bringing light and hope to those in despair.” 

Feedback that I and my church friends received included that the residents found it a different way of serving, and refreshing for some to see parts of the body of Christ with our differing ages and personalities working together. For others, it was a break in their daily “boring” routine, as one put it. Others were appreciative of having an outside group visit. As for any feedback about the deeper aspect of the Gospel message convicting hearers, this will be knowledge in which the Holy Spirit will have to lead and for us to find out in eternity.

“As for any feedback about the deeper aspect of the Gospel message convicting hearers, this will be knowledge in which the Holy Spirit will have to lead and for us to find out in eternity.”

Across the three aged care facilities, I was excited that we could share the Christmas message to approximately one hundred people in north Brisbane, and that God could give me/us the opportunity to proclaim His Name! Looking back, it is a reminder to me that as Christian medicos, we are in a unique position to access areas of society and people’s lives that many others are not (and I mean this respectfully and lovingly). Hopefully, this endeavour and reflection may be of encouragement for us to take the initiative in sharing the Gospel.


 
Dr Richard Wong
Dr Richard Wong is a GP with city and rural experience, and does part-time hospital work. He serves as the CMDFA QLD (and formerly NSW) secretary, on the board of Healthserve, as a Saline trainer, and is interested in medical missions, both short and long term.   


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