A Home for At-Risk Seniors: "Speaking Less, Loving More" in Las Pozas, Mexico
By Rosalind Cavenagh
What makes us suitable for God’s purposes? Is it knowledge, experience, or resources? If those three measurements were the only criteria, then Bet Shalom, a home for at-risk seniors in Mexico, would not exist. When God burdened my heart for a senior care center, I knew that I was not a builder, architect, plumber, electrician, or any of the specialists that would be needed to launch this project. And, humanly speaking, the odds were against me in a country where, culturally, men lead projects of this magnitude. Counting the cost, I—an initially reluctant, stubborn, and at times, sad servant—moved forward in obedience. I was fully aware of who would build “the house” (Psalm 127:1).
Creating a safe space
Around 2005, during a hospital visitation, I identified two needs as unresolved crises: patients with AIDS who entered the general hospital were dying, and seniors brought there were abandoned. As a follower of Jesus, and as an RN with years of experience in a variety of settings, my heart ached for these marginalized people, who were separated from loved ones and, often, from Christ.
In 2007, five willing individuals united to form a Mexican charitable association called Hablando Menos, Amando Mas (“speaking less, loving more”). We began shaping a vision for a safe place where at-risk seniors could live with dignity and be ministered to physically and spiritually. (Our work with AIDS patients is another story for another time.) As we did so, the experts stepped forward.
Two architects gifted us with the facility’s design. A local geriatrician offered advice on what features to include. Builders and plumbers from afar contributed knowledge, ideas, and experience. Even the mayor showed his support. Through our visit to a children’s home, we learned how to avoid common pitfalls in construction and operation.
To begin the facility’s construction, we needed to have about 13 percent of the projected funds in hand. Truly, this would be a work of faith. We promised never to incur debt, so we eliminated all unnecessary lujos (“luxuries”). However, we ensured safety: the foundation would be solid, and the structure, earthquake-resistant. On June 13, 2010, we laid the first stone.
Daily work on future policy and procedures made a great excuse for my regular presence at the construction site, so I oversaw the work. Along the way, we swiftly dealt with scorpion stings and a near catastrophe in well-digging. But, by God’s grace, only a few safety incidents occurred during the entire construction process. We learned to be firm in financial accountability, and we gained the ability to confront and deal with issues of safety and ethics.
Serving our residents
Between late 2012 and early 2013, we received our first four residents. Two had no family. One had family, but he was regularly hungry, wet, and dirty. The fourth was an American living illegally in Mexico with only friends, no family, and suffering from rapidly progressing Parkinson’s disease. Only his mind functioned well.
Since then, the waiting list of potential patients has grown long. We’ve learned how to properly evaluate whom we can actually assist based on their disabilities and needs and on our staff’s ability and availability.
We have housed up to 14 residents, including some requiring only respite care. Today, we have nine residents. All are multi-handicapped, and several also live with dementia. Though Bet Shalom has the capacity for 20 residents, we can currently care for only a maximum of 14 until after the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic have passed and our ongoing staffing needs have been resolved.
Bet Shalom’s caregivers are multitaskers, caring for the home and residents and even watering the gardens. Cynthia Lopez, our missionary volunteer, oversees regular care, medical appointments, medications, and the eco-garden and chickens. She has improved the order of daily tasks.
The cost of caregiving is huge, even with Mexico’s low average rate of pay. More than 80 percent of our monthly income, based on donations, goes toward our caregivers. Still, the lack of available, willing Christian caregivers is significant. Few desire to care for disabled seniors. The COVID-19 pandemic has left us at an even greater deficit, unable to deal with the long waiting list.
Trusting God to provide
We need to reach seniors for Christ as well as the people in the village of Las Pozas, where Bet Shalom is located. In fact, one of our goals is seeing Las Pozas reached with the Gospel. Our actions and our words speak about the reality of Jesus Christ in our lives. Each resident has opportunities to hear about the One who came to forgive and who can give them peace.
With special donations, we built a roofed pavilion, and now, we regularly use it for Bible studies, a weekly Sunday service, socially distanced visitation (with masks), activities, and ongoing staff education. Mexicans tend to donate gifts in kind rather than cash, so we receive donations of products from local businesses, hotels, and people. We are grateful for all they contribute. God has been more than faithful.
Nevertheless, since the work began, our costs have quadrupled, and no increase in residents or staff can happen at this time. The government offers no assistance or subsidies at any level, which we prefer. Please pray that God will continue to provide for Bet Shalom’s and the patients’ needs.
Following God obediently
So who qualifies to fulfill God’s purposes on earth? The ones who are willing to follow Him, pick up the plow, and move in the long, sometimes treacherous, path of obedience (2 John 6). God instills passion and vision in whomever He chooses (1 Corinthians 1:26–29). The key is trusting in Him and following Him obediently.
God created me with a “don’t give up” spirit of service and character, and He guided my previous experiences. I’m no one special, but I’m His (Luke 12:7). ■
Rosalind and Ron Cavenagh are commended from Youngstown Gospel Chapel in Youngstown, Alberta, Canada.