An aspect of our ministry that has seemingly come from nowhere, but in fact, I have been prepared most of my adult life, is our visitation efforts at local health care facilities. It is true that I worked inside the four walls of three different hospitals. I have been involved for more than six years working for an organization that helps these health care interests prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.
Almost all of the work that I have been involved in has focused on the physical environment in which health care is delivered. As one who led facility services departments for these hospitals, I did not have a clinical role and did not have a direct responsibility with patient care.
As many readers know, I do not pastor a church. That is not an area of ministry where I am called to serve. Pastors bear a great responsibility to the people entrusted to their spiritual well-being. Given the experience my wife and I have in health care facilities, we see our ministry as a way to connect with those who are sick or injured.
A pastor friend of ours who lives in Luray recently began posting on social media whenever he was visiting a particular hospital. In his social media post, he would routinely include a photograph of the particular health care facility and a message indicating when he would be there. He invites those who see his message that he is open to visiting family and friends who are receiving care at the facility. We copied his approach resulting in some pretty incredible experiences.
In almost every situation, we receive three to four requests for visits when we are at a particular facility. In most instances, we are familiar with the person who is asking us to visit someone in particular — even if we do not know the patient or family at the facility. Sometimes we are asked to check on a loved one because the family lives a great distance from the health care facility. Other times, we are asked to visit out of concern for one’s faith (or lack thereof). In all instances, we are asked to visit someone because another person genuinely cares about the patient or resident.
There is a process of checking in with health care facility personnel to understand any visitation restrictions or concerns. We also seek permission from the patient and/or the family before entering any room. Occasionally, the patient will be alone and asleep. In such an instance, we remain in the corridor outside of the room quietly speaking a word of prayer over the patient or resident and their family. In every instance where the person is awake, we have always been welcomed into the room.
Our time with the patient or family might be a one-time visit lasting only a few minutes. In other situations, we might sit with a family in the waiting room while their loved one is having a surgical procedure. Our approach in all situations is purely from a ministry of presence perspective. We approach each situation with prayer and openness as to how God would use us in a moment. Maybe we are there just to hear someone’s fears about their health condition. Some invite us to read scripture that is of significance to them. Others just want someone to sit with them for awhile. In each situation we have encountered, the patient and family have invited us to speak prayer over their situation.
In Matthew 25, there is scripture where Jesus is speaking of “the least of these.” Bible scholars and offer their perspective over the meaning of who Jesus was referring in this passage. In each instance that we have encountered, we see this as an opportunity to bring comfort to those who already believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. And to speak words of life and love into those that might not have had such an encounter yet.
In all the time I spent working inside health care facilities, I did not know I was being prepared for this type of ministry. It is faith-affirming to be invited to return to visit someone who only a short time before was a total stranger.