Ministering to the unmarried at home and abroad
by Christina Darnell
Posted 3/08/16, 12:10 pm
For Kim Jackson, staying single into her 50s wasn’t a “big holy decision.” She dated through her 20s, but never met the right person.
“I had some pressure from friends and family for quite a while—now I’m so old, I guess they gave up,” said Jackson, now 58.
The percentage of unmarried adults in America has been growing since the 1970s. Today, almost half of U.S. adults are either divorced, widowed, or never married. But much church activity revolves around couples and families.
Jackson doesn’t begrudge the church its focus on families, but more could be done to make singles feel comfortable, she said. Sunday school class names like “Pairs and Spares” or “Fish Out of Water” make singles feel like they don’t have a place in the church.
“And maybe they’re trying to be cute, but I don’t know that people who are unmarried need to be in a separate category,” Jackson said. “I think we’re the body of Christ, and I have amazing married friends. I have amazing unmarried friends. I have friends [from] all walks of life. I don’t really want to be put into category of ‘unmarried.’”
Jackson has worked in ministry for almost four decades.
“I think one day I woke up and knew that God was going to use me more effectively for the specific marching orders he had for me as an unmarried person rather than a married person,” she said.
Those personalized marching orders have changed in different seasons of her life. Now, they include being executive director for Elder Orphan Care, a ministry that works with at-risk and homeless elderly in Romania.
“There are a gazillion ministries for children, and there should be a gazillion more. However, if you Google ‘missions to the elderly,’ you can actually get to the bottom of the list,” Jackson noted.
She calls the homeless elderly “orphans” because they don’t have a protective covering. And in a way, she can relate.
“I don’t have parents. I don’t have a husband. I don’t have children. I’m a missionary, so if people don’t send in their support every month—I’m totally dependent upon the Lord. And that’s not a bad thing. Actually, it’s quite an adventure,” Jackson said.
She speaks at churches, raising awareness for the plight of the homeless elderly in post-Communist Romania and travels there a few times a year, taking supplies and encouragement to the 200 elderly people living in nine buildings in remote Romanian villages.
Elder Orphan Care started with one pastor who saw a TV news story about a homeless man who died from the cold. Viorel Pascal and his wife jumped in their car and gathered a few homeless people from the street and started taking care of them in a spare room. The ministry grew from there. The buildings aren’t fancy, but basic needs are met, and the residents have community.
One widow, Maria, lived on the streets for seven years after her son ran off with the money she’d earned from selling her house. Then she had a stroke. That’s when she came to one of the homes at Elder Orphan Care, where she still lives.
“These people who have been rescued from the streets, restored to health, receive the Lord, and now they’re still living in this care home, but now they’re the ones feeding the ones who can’t feed themselves or changing those who need to be changed,” Jackson said.
Back in Concord, N.C., Jackson has seen churches struggle to relate to single people over the years. But she’s also seen the beauty of the local church. In a way, the body of Christ has become her protective covering. Earlier this year, she had a knee replacement.
“Look at me, I’m 24 steps up in a second floor apartment. The laundry room is an additional flight down, so I’m 39 stairs down to laundry, but I have clean clothes because Robin came and picked up my clothing. Yesterday, Nancy took me to physical therapy. … Tomorrow, somebody’s taking me for a haircut.”
Now, living in her own apartment, forging friendships with others in her church, and serving elder orphans in Romania, Jackson is happy with her life.
“There is something to be said for having more time, being able to use my resources, my energy, my finances, single-heartedly for the Lord,” she said. “It’s not for everybody but it’s what I’m doing.”
Listen to Christina Darnell’s report on ministry to singles on The World and Everything in It.