With arguments on Capitol Hill drawing out the debate on senior care, churches like Bethany Baptist Church in Lindenwold, N.J., have stopped waiting for the government to act and are working to solve the problem on their own. In October, the congregation broke ground for the new Harvest Senior Housing, a facility designed to address the senior community's need for better, safer and more affordable care.
"It won't be the classic gray box. It is a sleek, modern complex with indoor and outdoor activities," senior pastor David Evans says. "If you were trying to find a place for your parent or grandparent to move, you would feel very comfortable moving them there."
The 92-unit housing project is being built on part of the church's 33-acre campus. Under the last 16 years of Evans' leadership, Bethany Baptist Church has seen growth from 75 members to almost 25,000. Now one of the largest churches in the region, Bethany is spearheading a movement that will help alleviate the area of one of its most profound problems, as is evidenced by the 170 interested applicantsâ€”more than double the capacity of the residency.
The housing development will be available for candidates with low to moderate income and will include a physician's center, where residents can receive visits from a doctor three days a week. In addition, there are plans to provide more advanced healthcare for seniors.
"In August, we broke ground on a 60,000-square-foot multi-discipline medical center about six minutes from here," Evans explains.
The one-stop Next Generations Medical Center will operate as a "medical mall," and will have a variety of healthcare professionals in geriatric medicine, including orthopedists, nutritionists, oncologists, gynecologists, cardiologists, radiologists, infectious disease doctors and dentists.
Evans notes that the center will have a lab, pharmacy and the first cancer-research center devoted to understanding the spread of cancer in African-American communities. The center has been approved by the government to provide health services for uninsured individuals and families.
Evans and his congregation launched Generations Inc., a CDC (community development corporation) to work hand-in-hand with the state of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs in building Harvest Senior Housing. Because of the close relationship between public government and a faith-based organization, questions of a violation of a separation of church and state are sure to be raised. "I think the argument is misunderstood. The separation of church and state never had a thing to do with a church partnering to help people," Evans notes. "The community development corporations that most churches have now can become the social interaction agency partnering with the government to get things done. I think that wise government understands that."
"The government here in New Jersey is very supportive of ministryâ€”especially when we are doing things on the ground level that they may not do as well as they think," Evans notes. "They give us an opportunity to take up to another level what the church has always been responsible forâ€”feeding people, clothing people and helping people that are in trouble."
Harvest Senior Housing is just one of Generations Inc.'s recent community development projects. The Harvest Home Owner Initiative is a nationwide home ownership program that offers workshops focused on saving, credit and budgeting. Approximately 90 percent of those who have participated in the program purchased a home within a year.
"I think it's a shared responsibility. I happen to think that the church has historically been the agency that has interacted with people's needs on a ground level," Evans says. "I think the government in partnership with the church can be very effective."
With public opinion supporting their work, Evans says there has been no challenge too great for Bethany Baptist Church. "The hardest part for me was just pulling the funds together and going through the necessary bureaucratic hoops."
Evans is also presiding officer of the Abundant Harvest Fellowship of Churches, a network of churches from around the world connecting 150 different congregations. With his extended leadership over many churches, Evans says the fellowship "intends to build another similar facility in the regions where our churches are represented."
With plans for development underway and the church's vision to expand coming into view, Bethany Baptist Church is prepared to lead its ministry beyond the walls of its buildings and into the hearts of its community.
"When we look at what the Bible says regarding us being the 'salt of the earth,' in my view that is about the church's mandate for social interaction. That salt absolutely alters whatever it gets introduced to and as the church universal, we are to be 'salt,' " Evans explains. "We still have a long way to go. But programs such as these give us the chance to restore hope where it is lost."
Shawn Sprockett is a student at Florida International University in Miami and served as editorial intern for Ministry Today, Christian Retailing and New Man magazines.