We're celebrating very special anniversaries this coming week at Bethany Good Samaritan Village.
Bethany is marking its 35th anniversary with a week of festivities Monday to Friday, Sept. 26-30, and on Thursday, Sept. 29, staff from Bethany, Woodland and Pine River Good Samaritan Centers will gather to honor the start of the entire Good Samaritan Society 83 years ago.
Here in our chapel at Bethany, we have a glorious symbol to mark our anniversary. It is a lovely vase, filled with 35 long-stemmed, silk roses. When the roses were delivered, I thought to myself, "How appropriate they are for our celebration!"
During the past 35 years here in Brainerd, and in the 83 years of Good Samaritan's ministry throughout this country, we have known good times and bad, fragile blossoms and sturdy stems, roses and thorns.
Did you know that the Good Samaritan Society got its start in a six-room house in Arthur, N.D.? The founder of our work, the Rev. August Hoeger, was a Lutheran pastor who was sent to a North Dakota parish because it was a place no one else wanted to serve. (I wonder if other pastors assumed no "roses" could survive on that section of prairie?)
Not only did he serve his congregation, but Pastor Hoeger also encouraged the most fragile of life to flourish on the wind-swept plains when he began a home for physically and mentally disabled children whose parents could no longer care for them. Once word spread that there was a home for children, penniless old people soon arrived on Pastor Hoeger's doorstep, and rooms were provided for them.
That's how the Good Samaritan Society got its start. People whom no one could care for (perhaps the "thorns" of a small town) found they could not only live but also blossom (as "roses") when they received a bit of loving care. From such humble beginnings on the North Dakota prairie 83 years ago, the Good Samaritan Society has grown to include more than 240 care centers around the United States.
Now, that's something to celebrate!
Do you know how hard it is to grow roses in our climate? There are so many reasons why even the hardiest of roses fail to survive, especially in our northern climate. Long-term care could be considered a hardy rose. Here at Bethany, the roses of our ministry have had to endure really tough times during the past 35 years. And, even today, the growing conditions we face are not conducive for a spectacular show. But, we continue to plant roses. Let me explain.
Throughout Bethany's history and Good Samaritan's existence, operating costs and health-care regulations have always presented nearly impossible odds. Pastor Hoeger began the Good Samaritan Society in a tiny town and had a tiny budget. He fertilized his roses with abundant prayer and deep faith, and lo and behold, they took root!
The same can be said for Bethany. When Bethany opened its doors in 1970, only one resident was willing to enter. For a few years, the rooms and hallways were only partially filled, but still, the staff remained committed and gradually, Bethany grew from an unknown nursing home to one of the leading facilities in the area.
Non-profit, long-term care has always survived in harsh growing conditions. Pastor Hoeger wrote of his struggles to find staff and pay their salaries in the early 1900s. In 2005, the same challenges remain. Our staff work hard and receive minimal benefits and low salaries -- salaries that are determined by the state Legislature.
For someone looking for a career in health care, long-term care is considered a "thorn." Yet, Bethany's employees come back, shift after shift, and they come bearing armloads of "roses." Their roses are their loyalty, compassion, patience and willingness to return in spite of the physical, emotional and spiritual strain of their work.
You may wonder how Bethany can actually celebrate 35 years of long-term care when it faces so many "thorns" for its continued existence. We celebrate because the Good Samaritan Society was begun with hopes and prayers, and that is what continues to sustain our work today. In the midst of the Great Depression, people would drive by the first Good Samaritan facility in North Dakota and they would say, "We watch the Home because it is the only place around that looks like people there have hope for the future."
Bethany will celebrate 35 years next week because our staff and residents still believe there is hope for the future. We may not know what the future will hold, but as Pastor Hoeger wrote during the Depression, "The days are not dark because God is with us. Even in our greatest hours of trial, He has always found a way out."
Roses and thorns. Thorns amid the roses. Yes, because God does the planting, we will celebrate! And as you drive by or visit, we hope our celebration will give you a reason to hope and to entrust your future to God's garden and God's harvest.
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