by Jesse Joyner
As children’s pastors, one way we can minister to kids is through hospital visits. Being at the hospital is usually a very frightening experience for both a child and the child’s family. Showing up in person to offer prayer and some listening ears can do wonderful things. I’ve had a few recent hospital visits during which I noticed what helped them go well. Here is a list of helpful keys to a great hospital visit, in no particular order and by no means exhaustive:
1. Call ahead to make the proper arrangements for the visit.
Make sure you know the building, the floor, the room number and the best time to arrive. I call the child’s parent or guardian and express that I would like to make a “cheer up” visit to the child. With heightened security in children’s areas, make sure you know what kind of identification to bring along.
2. Call the child by name.
My wife gave birth to our first child a few weeks ago. While in the hospital after the birth, we were happy to receive a visit from the hospital chaplain for prayer. But we noticed that during the five- to ten- minute visit, he never asked my wife what her name was. Then when he prayed for us, he said something like, “Lord, please help the wife …” I appreciated his visit and prayer, but it seemed very impersonal not to use her name. All of us, including children, love to hear our names. So get the names and call them by name in conversation and prayer.
3. Bring along a “bag of tricks” (puppets, cards, games, coloring, magic tricks, etc.).
I happen to be able to juggle. So I bring along some balls to juggle for kids who I visit in the hospital. I also bring a few simple magic tricks that anyone can do (the change bag and the magic coloring book). But the real hit of my hospital visit is always the puppet friend. I bring along a small female puppet named “Sunny.” Sunny loves to play games such as “I Spy” and sing songs such as “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” If you are a seasoned ventriloquist, then that is great! But if you are like me and cannot do ventriloquism, do not worry. I have found that children are never looking at you anyway when the puppet is talking. So bring a puppet (or a sock or a brown paper bag if you do not have one) and have fun with it!
4. Be conscious of time-do not stay too long.
We can really wear out a child and the family if we stay too long or visit too many times. Every situation is different and every family is different. So exercise wisdom and discernment, depending on your situation. I have found that fifteen to thirty minutes can be plenty of time to connect with a child, play a few games and pray together with the family. The visit can be even shorter if there are scheduled check-ups and procedures the child needs to undergo. A visit that is too long can suddenly become counterproductive and become a drain on the child and the family.
5. Pray and read the Bible with the child and family.
Doing so helps us remember our purpose for coming. The puppets and magic tricks are good for cheering up, but ultimately we are there to offer spiritual comfort and encouragement in the name of Jesus. I believe prayer and Scripture reading are the best ways to facilitate this purpose. The prayers and Scripture obviously do not have to be long and drawn out, but rather sincere and appropriate. Passages from Psalms are a good place to start.
6. Be sensitive when it comes to discussing anything about the child’s medical issues or condition.
Why a child is in the hospital is really none of our business unless the family chooses to disclose that information. When speaking with a child in the hospital, I try not to talk too much (if at all) about the child’s medical condition. The child and family have doctors who work with them all day concerning the medical issues. When praying for the child and family, we can simply ask them how we can pray for them. Then we can pray accordingly. Furthermore, as pastors and leaders, we should not discuss any medical information with the public or the congregation unless given permission by the family.
7. Mourn with those who mourn.
Most of us have had to experience a chronic illness or death of a young person somewhere in the circle of our influence and ministry. Entire books are written on pastoral care for children who die or have chronic illnesses. I am not an expert in that area. All I can say is that we will never have all the answers and should never appear to have them. We are here to listen, pray, offer hope and mourn with those who mourn.
Hospital visits are an effective way to be the hands and feet of Jesus to children and families. May God guide you and your ministry when you visit the sick and pray for their needs.
Jesse Joyner lives with his bride of seven years, Sarah, and their brand new daughter, Keziah Grace (born Sept 30th, 2010) in Richmond, Virginia. For the past eleven years, Jesse has entertained and inspired audiences around the world with a juggling show that teaches kids about the Bible. He is also the Children’s Pastor at Commonwealth Chapel in Richmond, Virginia. He and Sarah are both graduates of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.
For more information on Jesse and his ministry, Jesse the Juggler, go towww.JesseTheJuggler.com. You can also find Jesse on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/JesseTheJuggler and on Facebook athttp://www.facebook.com/pages/Jesse-the-Juggler/139511922567.