Care for elders crosses national, faith boundaries

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MB retirement community partners with first assisted-living center in Lebanon

By Kelli Yoder

Palm Village, a Mennonite Brethren retirement community in Reedley, Calif., is mentoring Lebanon’s first assisted-living center.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, says David Reimer, director of Palm Village.

His relationship with the center has given him a glimpse of rare Christian peacemaking seen through indiscriminate caretaking in the aftermath of historically violent faith disagreements.

A mutual friend at Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) connected Reimer to Moadieh Evangelical Center in Beirut, a ministry of the National Evangelical Church of Beirut. She asked if Reimer would allow Moadieh’s director, Joyce Eid, to come study Palm Village during May 2012 before the center opened in October.

This was the kind of opportunity Reimer believes in responding to with enthusiasm.

“When someone from a different culture wants to come learn about your ministry, mission and work, you will learn more from them than they will from you,” he says.

Stories from the center that most influence him concern Christian and Muslim friendships.

“Here is this assisted-living center that’s caring for both regardless of their faith background when less than 20 years ago they were dealing violently with one another,” he says.

Eid says the question she most often gets about the center is whether they accept both Christian and Muslim residents. The answer is yes.

In fact, Walid Joumblatt, the current leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, visited a resident recently. Joumblatt is also the most prominent leader and politician for the Druze, an Islamic religious sect that, until the 1990s, committed significant violence against Christians in Lebanon.

Eid showed him around the center.

“I discussed the services that we offer and stressed that we serve all seniors who require assisted living and that we are happy to be hosting residents from all religions and sects,” she says.

A few days later he visited again and offered a sizable donation for the center in honor of his mother, who died last year.

Reimer says as a Christian in the Anabaptist tradition, a reconciliation story like that makes him want to help however possible.

“Here is the leader of a party so recently destroying Christian homes, Christian lives and now was wanting to be nurturing,” he says. The center’s work helped that happen.

“When people have that courage, we need to make sure that it’s a success,” says Reimer. “We need to do everything we can to make sure their efforts are a success. We are supplying the center with anything they ask of us.”

Eid contacts Reimer whenever she runs into something she’s never done before, usually related to policies, procedures, regulations or other paperwork.

“The challenges are mainly due to the need to explain what is assisted living. It’s very new, the concept is new,” Eid says.

As a result, there were no in-country options for Eid to receive training or to train her staff. She has deeply appreciated the help of Reimer and the observing she did at Palm Village. It helped her make decisions related to marketing, accounting, budgeting, dietary needs, how to choose and train staff and more.

Reimer quickly realized perhaps the biggest problem he could help with is the center’s isolation and started raising money for her to attend conferences that would connect her to other senior care networks.

The residents she met at Palm Village grew to know Eid. After she left they met once a week until recently to pray for her and the center’s needs. They also donated to her training.

Many retirement caretaking groups are in the U.S., but because of cultural differences, an especially important connection Reimer helped Eid make is in Egypt.

“In the Middle East we have the same cultures of how we take care of our elderly,” Eid says. She said the kinds of activities they provide, the necessity of social support and familial support are more similar between Middle Eastern cultures. Typically the elderly move in for care with a family member.

“I think our nation was there maybe two generations ago, where a senior moved in with an adult child and made the best of it,” Reimer says. “That isn’t always possible and isn’t even always the best. But they’re dealing with some of those challenges.”

Eid says that since Moadieh opened in 2012 a few other assisted-living facilities have popped up in Lebanon. “It’s been very rewarding in the sense that people are seeing [assisted living] as an actual need,” she says.

For Reimer, the relationship-building work in Beirut has become one of the most important things he’s doing. “It’s just one of those things you can’t walk away from,” he says.

This article by Kelli Yoder is reprinted by permission from the July 21, 2014 issue of Mennonite World Review.

PHOTO: Joyce Eid, center, director of the Moadieh Evangelical Center in Bei­rut, Lebanon, enjoys a Grandparents Day barbecue with residents. — Moadieh Evangelical Center

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