Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just What Is "When Swing Was King"

A missionary friend of mine wrote the other day, "Would you tell me more about the ministry When Swing Was King.  I have no idea what that is.  Does it have anything to do with dancing?  I was converted out of the dancing world, and would like to know what this is and how you use it for the Kingdom.  What do your presentations consist of?  Perhaps it is just the name that confuses me."

Here's my answer:

"When Swing Was King" is now our primary ministry to nursing home and assisted living residents. Throughout our 30 years of Vital Signs Ministries we have had various outreaches that we called "Mercy Ministries." For 20 years of that time, that meant monthly team visits to Mercy Care Center here in Omaha. We visited, played games, brought kids for entertainment, brought pets, did all kinds of crafts, came in costumes, made treats, did sing-alongs, etc. Out of that outreach grew an adopt-a-grandparent program to help individual families better develop ongoing friendships with the residents. It was a very effective way of winning the right to be heard and the staff there let us get away with a lot of "religious" activity because they liked us, we were very faithful (we were the only group that visited every month), and we did things that the residents enjoyed being a part of.

Well, Mercy Care closed. So we next went to another nursing home. But because our team had dwindled to a handful, the facility kept putting restrictions on our activities, and more and more time was being needed in caring for my Mom, we put things on hold. Except for individual visits with certain seniors that Claire and I were doing, our Mercy Ministries was in jeopardy of passing away.

And then -- "When Swing Was King."

We initially conceived it as a one-time event to entertain my Mom and some of her friends at Life Care Center where she was then living. (This was in July of 2010.) But even before we were finished putting together the first program, we had a feeling this might go beyond that single presentation.

And, boy howdy, has it ever.

Here's the key elements: 1) 13 big band songs played by the original artists in each volume. 2) A couple of hundred photos playing simultaneously on a screen through a Power Point program. These photos generally are taken from the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. 3) A commentary that I do which includes introductions, interesting (and brief) tidbits about the musicians and/or songs, and every once in awhile a piece of trivia related to what they're seeing on the screen right then.

4) Personal visits before and after the presentation. This has opened doors to prayers, sharing our faith, other visits, gifts, introducing them to friends, etc. 5) Friendships with activity directors and other staff. 6) A winsome witness for Christ as people understand why we do this ministry. 7) We do it completely free of charge.

8) Beginning in 2012 we pared down our schedule so that we are going to the same 11 facilities every month. This emphasizes the relational element while freeing us to get our other pro-life work done. 9) The program is beloved by the residents who are hearing the music of their youth -- and having someone show interest in, awareness of, and even a measure of expertise about things they know and love. 10) The program is beloved by staff because it gives residents a lovely trip down memory lane but one that stimulates their mind visually, aurally, intellectually and relationally.

11) We currently have 17 different volumes. 12) And we love doing it! 13) And after tomorrow's presentation, we will have now presented "When Swing Was King" 185 times!