Growing old

Longevity is one of the greatest achievements of our modern era. The United Nations calls it one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century. Advances in health care are a major factor in lengthening our lives. Over the past 20 years the number of people in Britain aged 100, or over, has quadrupled. There are now 2.7 million people in Britain aged over 80 and life expectancy continues to increase. But increasing length of life does not guarantee quality of life or make us more ready to face death and eternity.

The increase in life expectancy is bringing major challenges to our society, especially in caring for older people. A recent report highlighted a shortage of care home beds. In 5 years there will be 42,000 fewer care home beds than are needed. This raises big questions for those who are elderly, for their families and for our society. Our modern “progressive” society is changing. The influence of churches has significantly decreased and secular thinking is more common. An increasing number of families are reluctant to take on the care of their elderly parents.

The Bible encourages us all to consider how we live and how we prepare for our old age. We all need to lay down the essential foundations for our later years. In Psalm 71 the psalmist says to God, “My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long. And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing.” Older people can be a great example to the younger generation. In Psalm 92 we read, “The godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.”

The early Christians lovingly cared for widows but also encouraged their families to care for them. “Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.” When we reach the end of our lives, as all of us must, it is a great blessing to be surrounded by our loved ones as we leave this world and pass into the presence of God.

Love overcomes evil!

The terrorists who attacked the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, killed 28 people from 18 countries. During the 15-hour siege, special forces from Burkina Faso and France killed the 4 terrorists and freed 156 hostages. The hotel was specifically targeted because it is a place where foreigners are known to meet.

One of the people killed in the attack was an American missionary, Mike Riddering, who served with the domestic violence organisation Sheltering Wings. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Mike, and his wife, Amy, have 4 children and have been involved in running orphanages and schools in Burkina Faso. There are more than 500,000 orphans in the country and 1 in 5 children die before they are 5 years old. They also ran programmes providing food and clean water.

After hearing of Mike’s death, Amy wrote a tribute to him, “Heaven has gained a warrior! I know God has a purpose in all things, but sometimes it is a complete mystery to me. My best friend, partner in crime and love of my life. The best husband ever. An amazing father to his children and a papa to everyone. My heart is so heavy and I am having trouble believing he is gone. Mike was an example in the way he lived and loved. God be glorified!

On the same day as the terrorist attack, an Australian missionary doctor, Dr Ken Elliot, and his wife, Jocelyn, were kidnapped by terrorists in northern Burkina Faso and taken to Mali. Ken, who is 80, and Jocelyn have lived in Burkina Faso since 1972 and opened a hospital in Djibo. Ken helped to build the hospital with his own hands. It is the only hospital serving that region and Ken is the only surgeon, performing 150 operations each month. Ken and Jocelyn have dedicated their lives to serving the people of Burkina Faso and have saved many lives and brought hope to many people.

Jesus is the inspiration for everything that Mike and Amy and Ken and Jocelyn have done. Because they have experienced his love for them they have gladly dedicated their lives to loving and serving the people of Burkina Faso. They know for certain that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and whoever believes in him will live, even though they die. Their greatest desire is that the people amongst whom they have lived, and even their enemies, might also experience the amazing love of Jesus.

Honour your father and mother

The number of older people in our society is increasing. 10 million people in the UK are over 65 years old. In 20 years time there will be more than 15 million, growing to 19 million by 2050. Within this total, the number of very old people is growing even faster. Now there are 3 million people aged over 80. This is projected to double by 2030 and reach 8 million by 2050. Today one-in-six of the UK population is over 65; by 2050 it will be one-in-four.

The average length of life is increasing significantly. A man born in 1981 might expect to live to 84 years, but for a boy born today it is 91. Women can expect to live, on average, 4 years longer than men. However, those who live to greater ages do not necessarily enjoy good health in their later years. This presents a massive challenge of caring for the elderly, both in terms of cost and quality of care. Recent cases have revealed serious mistreatment of elderly people in care homes and these problems are likely to increase.

God’s plan for our care throughout our lives is the family. The love between marriage partners is the foundation. In his Bible commentary Matthew Henry reflects on the account of the creation of men and women, and the institution of marriage, in Genesis Chapter 2. He writes, “The woman came out of a man’s ribs. Not from his feet to be walked on, not from his head to be superior, but from his side to be equal, under his arm to be protected, and next to his heart to be loved.” The mutual love of their parents provides a secure environment in which children can grow up and be cared for.

In later life the family can also provide care. The early Christian churches cared for widows, especially those who had no-one to care for them. But they also emphasised the importance of the family caring for their older members. Paul wrote, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God very much.” It is a privilege to be able to care for our parents, who have given us so much. It is an even greater privilege to be cared for in our latter years by our children and grandchildren and to be surrounded by their love.