Visiting homebound church members and neighbors may not be a popular pastime for most kids, but seven-year-old Julia Eskridge has been doing it since she was only two. She's following in her mom's footsteps and her Nana's too.
"I like to see them, say 'hi' and have chats," says the first-grader who attends Jeffersontown United Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. "I like making friends."
It's easy, she says, to converse despite the generational differences. For instance, she has a special bond with her friend Mildred Breckenridge, age 86. "I love visiting her; she's nice to talk with. We ask about each other's day," Julia said. "I like to tell good stories about my day at school." Mildred lives near her school, so she can drop by for a chat and play with her cats, Sweetie and Mercury.
"I'm always so glad to see Julia. It's good to have someone that young to talk to," said Mildred. "There was sort of an immediate smile between us. It pleases me that she sends me cards and the sweetest little notes ... she writes extremely well for her age."
"A child that age who's so thoughtful, she's going to be very special in whatever she decides to do," she observes. "She's like a little sponge. She's very receptive."
Mildred recalls when she was a child, she also developed a friendship with an older neighbor. "I found that lady so interesting; I've never forgotten that. We'd sit in the swing and talk. I kind of think it's reproduced itself with Julia and me. If you give a young child an opportunity, you never know what will blossom."
Kay Eskridge, Julia's mother, grew up visiting homebound church members from First United Methodist Church in Bedford, Indiana, with her own mother, Elizabeth Collins.
When church members become homebound, they miss the fellowship of their church friends. Home visits on behalf of the church can help maintain meaningful connections.
"There were just certain older people we would go visit who really became your pals, your friends. The best part was when it was someone you already knew from church who maybe had been your Sunday school teacher, but then they became shut in," recalls Kay. "You loved them, and now you can do this for them. My siblings are also amazing at this ... there are people who are now shut-in or older homebound people from my home church we each have relationships with and visit when we're back home or have long phone calls with regularly. We all do that because my mom put that in us ... my church family in Bedford was and still is a huge part of my life, and I try to give that to Julia."
Elizabeth was a teacher, so they visited often in the summer when she wasn't working. "A lot of people tend to forget people they don't see as much, and it bothered her," said Kay.
"I took Kay with me from an early age," said Elizabeth. "I knew people would like to see her, and that was a joy ... I think Julia has inherited that basic nice, kind attitude about people."
Elizabeth believes it's important to take the personal time to give of yourself to people. "There are lonely people in this world regardless of whether they have children or a spouse," she said. "You're bringing you to them to say 'I love God,' and I want you to know I care about you because of that."
Today Kay leads the care ministry at her Kentucky church, which includes ministry with the homebound. Julia, who's been in the garden since she was six months old, plays a significant part as the "garden girl." In the summer, she takes flowers and bags of produce grown in their garden to those she visits with her mother. The idea originated from a comment by one man who said there was no extra money for fresh produce on a limited income.
"We plant tomatoes a lot, and the baby tomatoes … like the yellow ones that are small -- like that big," Julia says, holding up her fingers to indicate their size. "We grow sugar snap peas ... they're kinda smaller 'cause we don't grow them that good, but then we also have green beans, cucumbers, whatever you can imagine. This year we're planning on planting stuff like edelweiss, pumpkins, a bunch of plants. We usually grow yellow and red roses, and we like to use the rose to make rose hip tea. Maybe only one year we did that."
"When you give them a tomato, they remember when they were a kid, and they grew tomatoes," adds Kay. "It's like a trip down memory lane."
"I think it's important for the church to see people visiting those who are shut-in and being active in their lives," she said. "And kids can learn so much from different generations and hearing their stories. You want to be a witness and say these people do need you, and they are alone. Even a phone call can make a world of difference."
Julia agrees. "It's important to visit older people so they know they have a friend," she said. "It's what Jesus would have done."
Diane Degnan is a freelance public relations professional in Nashville, Tenn. United Methodist Communications contact is Laura Buchanan.
This content was published on April 27, 2023.