During my husband’s ministry as a pastor to the Hispanic community, we became friends with an elderly woman named Magda. Magda was an outwardly tough, no nonsense lady who had a tender heart and an inspiring faithfulness to her Lord. So when we learned that Magda was in the hospital dying, we immediately went to see her. Recognizing the need to comfort Magda in her final hours, my husband asked our daughter Sarah to sing to Magda.
Sarah was only a teenager at the time, and also knew very little Spanish, so she felt reluctant to sing, but my husband continued to urge her. Finally, with some help from her dad with the words, Sarah began to sing a few phrases of Spanish worship songs. Within moments, tears began to seep from beneath Magda’s closed eyes and in a barely audible whisper we heard her mutter, “Gloria Dios.” Magda died the next morning.
In our modern culture, people with beautiful voices often seek fame in the music industry. They long to be the next Adele or Michael Buble’, striking recording deals that will make them rich and famous. In the Christian sphere, the musically gifted also seek notoriety, or at the very least, seek a place on their worship team at a local Christian church. But rarely do you find talented individuals using their giftings to minister to the sick and dying, tucked away in remote hospital rooms where there is no applause, or recognition, or monetary remuneration. And yet the value of such ministry is inestimable. This became apparent to me when my own mother became ill.
In her mid seventies, my mother was diagnosed with an illness called Progressive Supra Nuclear Palsy. PSP is an illness that resembles ALS, affecting movement, walking, balance, speech, and swallowing, slowly paralyzing and killing its victims. As my mother’s illness progressed, it became increasingly difficult for my sister and me to care for our mom, as well as for our dad, who was suffering from dementia, since I had four little ones in tow and my sister lived almost two hours away.
But then God sent us Gail.
Gail was a former co-worker of my sister who we hadn’t seen in years. When my sister “accidentally” ran into Gail at a supermarket near my parent’s home, their friendship was quickly renewed, and as Gail became aware of my mother’s condition, she (and her family) stepped in to help. Each and everyday Gail was at my parents’ house spending many hours attending to their needs. When my mother developed a sudden case of pneumonia, Gail continued her selfless service. Arriving at the hospital, armed with a dog-earred hymnbook, Gail began to sing my mother’s favorite hymns in her sweet and gentle voice. Since my mother was in a coma, we couldn’t know exactly how Gail’s efforts affected her, but I believe that my mom heard them and was comforted. I know I was, and the memory of Gail’s voice in those last hours brings peace and consolation to me fifteen years later.
Recognizing what a blessing Gail was to my mother and our family, when we met another victim of PSP, we desired to give back a little of what we had been given.
Loretta was the mother of a friend of ours and the progression of her illness had already robbed her of the ability to walk and most of her speech by the time we met her. During our first visit to Loretta, my husband once again asked our daughter to sing. Sarah has the kind of voice that moves people emotionally and spiritually, and my husband believed it could be used to minister to Loretta. He suggested a well known worship song and Sarah began to sing. As with Magda, Sarah’s voice touched the afflicted woman and tears began to course down her paralyzed cheeks.
On our next visit, we immediately realized that Loretta recognized Sarah. As soon as Sarah entered the room it was as if a light turned on in Loretta and with a great struggle we heard her whisper, “Girl, sing.” So Sarah again sang and we were amazed to see Loretta mouthing the lyrics to the song.
Over the next few months, we continued visiting Loretta until she went into a coma and was admitted to a hospital, where again, Sarah sang to her. A few days later, Loretta died, but there was joy in knowing that Loretta had heard words reassuring her of God’s love and faithfulness, sung sweetly and lovingly during her last hours on earth.
Singing for the sick and dying is not glamorous. There are no fans clapping their hands, no admirers shouting their praise. The audience is small, and the environment often unpleasant, but the rewards of ministering to those who are in the throes of death far exceed the fleeting moments of worldly fame. At a time when suffering is at its worst and hearts are aching, the gift of God’s word in music is a balm to the suffering soul.
My prayer is that more people with true musical abilities will begin to recognize their calling to minister to audiences that can’t repay them in any way other than with the knowledge that their ministrations have ushered the sufferer into the throne room of God through sweetly sung words of worship and praise.