COURT HOUSE – In the wake of COVID-19, loneliness and separation from family and friends became the “new normal” for too many.
Nursing homes and care facilities walk a tightrope of protecting patients, while ensuring residents have a means of communicating with the outside world.
Herb and Lynn Mitchell, a retired couple, are doing what they can to minister and comfort older people.
Laying the Foundation
“I grew up in Wildwood,” said Lynn Mitchell, during a Nov. 19 phone interview. Mitchell, 71, came to Five Mile Island as a child, when her family relocated from Chester County, Pennsylvania. According to Mitchell, the move was prompted by her mother’s love of the sea and the island’s “good schools.”
As a young girl, Mitchell attended the First Baptist Church of Anglesea and Grace Gospel Chapel, now Grace Baptist Church, in Rio Grande. Her love for older people was fostered by a group of ladies who traveled from Ocean City to minister at the Courthouse Convalescence Center, now Genesis HealthCare.
“You can do it,” Mitchell said, quoting her mentor, who encouraged her to reach out. Although shy by nature, Mitchell said a love of music and teaching spurred her. Twenty-five years later, Mitchell and her husband continue reaching out to the county’s venerable population.
The Mitchells raised a family, in Court House, while operating their carpet cleaning business. Herb Mitchell, 77, also worked as a janitor, at Lower Cape May Regional High School, before retiring, in 2015. Lynn Mitchell taught at Cape Christian Academy for many years.
Christian faith guided the Mitchells through life’s ups and downs.
“We do what we can,” said Lynn Mitchell.
She added that their ministry is a result of God’s work and goodness in their lives.
“Sometimes, God allows these trials to teach us,” Mitchell added, referring to the coronavirus and social unrest.
Ministering to ‘Old’ People
Mitchell said a common misconception of nursing home ministries is thinking that everyone is “old.” The age span is wide, said Mitchell, and includes middle-aged and younger people who require a high level of care. Some are in the facility for physical therapy after surgery, or an illness.
Mitchell said age is “relative.” Taking an interest in other people is key. Saying hello and learning a resident’s name creates a connection.
“You may be the only voice they hear,” Mitchell said. “They come to depend on you.”
The Mitchells visit various facilities throughout the county. During the week, they make phone calls and visit whenever possible.
A typical “service” includes singing hymns, personal testimonies, and a Gospel message. Herb Mitchell brings a message focused on Jesus Christ and his atonement for sin. By using visuals and old-fashioned flannelgraph (a storytelling system that uses a board covered with flannel fabric, usually resting on an easel), residents receive mental stimulation from the colors and figures.
According to Lynn Mitchell, the top hymns are “The Old Rugged Cross,” “In the Garden,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” She noted that music sparks remembrances and engages the mind. Occasionally, Mitchell’s grandchildren come and play musical instruments for the residents.
“They love to see children,” she said.
Post COVID-19 Ministry
Since the coronavirus, Mitchell said they are unable to minister in person.
“We’ll get the vaccine as soon as we can,” she said, adding, “We can comfort one another.”
She encourages those who are lonely to read the Bible, especially the Psalms. By cultivating patience and hope, Mitchell believes that difficult times can be overcome.
She is also grateful for the medical professionals and staff in nursing homes across the county.
“We could not do it without them,” she concluded.
For those who wish to help encourage nursing home residents, Mitchell suggests sending cards or letters, along with calling family members and/or friends who live in a care facility. Everyday people can make a difference, she added.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at email@example.com.