Everyday Disciple Maker: Debbra Stephens
Whether you work in sales or in a school, whether a preacher or a plumber, there is one calling that is the most important you could ever aspire to. And that is to be an everyday disciple maker. An everyday disciple maker isn’t just a Sunday Christian, but is someone who strives to be a disciple and make disciples of Jesus throughout the week.
I recently got to catch up with an everyday disciple maker named Debbra Stephens. Debbra is part of the Renew Network, and she has written numerous articles for Renew.org. What you might not have known is that Debbra also works as an administrator at an assisted living facility.
Did you know working in assisted living facilities can be a high-stress environment? Many may not know the level of patience and emotional energy it can take. Assisted living facility workers experience stress everyday in the form of bone-breaking falls and people with mind-muddling dementia. There are everyday tragedies like lonely people who have outlived every relative, and anxious people on hospice knowing death may be only days away.
I decided to ask Debbra some questions about what it’s like to be an everyday disciple maker in an assisted living facility. For example, how does Debbra show the love of God to elderly people who take a ton of patience?
For one thing, she walks down the hall slowly. Rather than blow past the residents, she makes eye contact. She smiles and asks how they’re doing. If somebody’s coughing, she offers a glass of water. If somebody’s looking sad, she gives a gentle touch. Some have dementia and need reassured that their kids are fine. Others have macular degeneration and need help opening packages. “It’s the everyday moments, the ordinary,” Debbra says, explaining that you don’t have to do anything incredibly heroic. It’s often just a matter of showing respect. It’s recognizing them when they might feel forgotten.
The needs of the elderly are unpredictable. In some cases, the mind is clear, but the body is falling apart. For others, the body is fine, but the mind is confused and anxious. Whatever she needs in order to serve in the moment—whether patience, compassion, or peace—she says, “It’s a gift from the Lord, something we receive from Him.”
In an assisted living facility, it’s not uncommon for people to feel hopeless. Their quality of life is not going to get better. They are often unprepared to die. “I have seen where death can be beautiful and where it can be ugly,” Debbra explains. “For those who trust God and feel like they can rest in Him, there is a peace at the end of their life. For those that are fearful and fight death and cling to this life, you see the struggle at the end, and you want them to have that peace.”
Debbra recounts a time recently when a male resident was in rapid decline and he knew it. Aware that death was just over the horizon, he was fearful and anxious. He was at lunch when he had a panic attack and asked one of the workers to get Debbra. So Debbra came to him and prayed with him. He calmed, and she was able to walk him back to his room. Back at her office, she began jotting down Bible verses about the peace of God, which she took back to his room and shared with him. She was able to talk with him about where he was with God. A matter of days later, he went to the hospital and died. A couple weeks later, the man’s daughter came into Debbra’s office and explained that when he passed, he was at such peace and calm. “It was beautiful,” the daughter told Debbra.
Do you too have a heart for the lonely, a burden to recognize the forgotten? Well, chances are, you’ve got a nursing home or assisted living facility close by. You could always call the main office and ask for whoever coordinates volunteers. No need to prepare an elaborate variety show. It’s the simple acts of kindness which make all the difference. As an activity coordinator, Debbra has teens who come in and do ladies’ fingernails. She has people who bring well-trained pets by. She has families with small children come, and they sit and do crafts with the elderly. For those residents who can’t see well, there are people who come and read for them. Often, what matters is just being there, sitting with them.
The elderly need respect, and they need fellowship. If you feel those are things you could provide, you might call your local nursing home or assisted living facility. This may be a way that you can help the lonely, as well as blessing those like Debbra who work there too.
We sometimes miss that obeying God’s Word can be simple. Sometimes it just means taking time to notice a lonely person and sit with him or her for a while. The elderly need fellowship, and through just being there with them, you can give the respect and peace a person needs. And who knows? Maybe even in the twilight of someone’s life, Jesus can use you to make the person a disciple.
Daniel McCoy, PHD