Story by Tess Wahlmeier
LINCOLN (SNR) - University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore Eric Zimmerman has worked at The Legacy Retirement Communities for more than four years, but recently, his faith and work collided in an unexpected way.
With a college student’s busy schedule of working, serving as one of the pro-life chairs at the Newman Center, doing homework, and preparing to become a language arts teacher, Zimmerman still finds time to lead his own Bible study every week – at the retirement home where he works.
“It’s just one of those things where the Holy Spirit nudged me in that direction and it snowballed into a huge thing,” Zimmerman said. “It was very much God’s will working through. All of us at the time were not really anticipating that this would become as big a group as it is.”
Ten to 15 residents attend the Bible study every week, where they share in faith and fellowship together. Although some of the members are not Catholic, Zimmerman said they love sharing their faith with each other and listening to others share, as well.
“It’s very much a community. Everyone is very respectful in their beliefs and is very open to hearing everyone else’s beliefs, which is just a beautiful thing,” he said.
Their Bible study has been in action since last September, when Zimmerman heard some of the residents talking about him at dinner.
“I go, ‘what about me?’ and [one of the residents] goes, ‘oh no, he’s too busy,’ and I’m like, ‘nuh-uh, we’ll see!’’’
After that, no questions were asked and the group decided on the days and times when they would meet. Zimmerman said that he had been a part of Bible studies before, but this was the first one he had ever led.
“It’s been fun, coming up with my own lesson plans for each week,” he said. “The Bible study that they had before was completely different.”
Before, the Bible study consisted of listening to one of the ladies read scripture, without any discussion or dialogue.
“I scrapped that,” Zimmerman said, laughing, “and we all sit around the fireplace now and we all have our cups of coffee in the morning. A lot of the ladies will bring snacks in, and we talk about our lives. We go through our happies and sappies for the week, and then we do prayer intentions and I open with a prayer.
“Then from there is where we get into the Bible study, and a lot of times, they just want to talk, and they love being able to talk about their faith. They love being in a community that they can talk about their faith, which is awesome.”
Zimmerman uses Bible study material from FOCUS Equip, an application designed by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) to help student leaders obtain resources, ideas, and pre-planned Bible study materials.
“There’s a bunch of different categories that apply to different people at different areas of their life,” Zimmerman explained, “and so since it is an elderly Bible study, it’s interesting because I’m not elderly... and so my experiences in life are very different from what they’re experiencing now. It’s a challenge to adapt it.”
Zimmerman said he uses the Bible studies like jumping points and tweaks the lesson plans in order to make them more impactful for the residents.
He said, “A lot of what I try to do is focusing on how they can better impact the people that they live with in the retirement community, as well as their families back home. A lot of them have families that are fallen away from the faith, and it really concerns them and so they want to bring them back into the faith.”
Zimmerman said the members of his Bible study love hearing about his faith and his own life, as well.
“I tell them about the Newman Center and they just cannot believe it. I told them about the very first Mass of the year, how it was just packed, like 850 people, and they were like, ‘850 students?’”
The churches some of the residents attend are elderly dominated, with no young families, according to Zimmerman. He said it’s a new idea for the residents to hear about young people being actively involved in their faith and being on fire for their faith, as well.
When Zimmerman told them about “Community Night,” a Newman Center event every Thursday after the 10 p.m. Mass, the group got very excited and asked if they could go, too.
“One of them goes, ‘well, ladies, we’ll just have to bring coffee and we’ll just come back late!’” Zimmerman laughed.
The amazing thing is that they really did. Last Thursday, four members of Zimmerman’s Bible study attended Community Night at the Newman Center.
The theme was “Bingo Night,” complete with suckers, taffy, and cranberry juice, and one of the residents even won a can of Cheese-Whiz as a Bingo prize – which might sound strange, but is a typical prize on a college-student budget. The students were delighted that the residents came with Zimmerman, and needless to say, everyone had a wonderful, laughter-filled night of fellowship.
With all the attention and support from the community, Zimmerman said they have all been given hope for the future that more Bible studies start up in nursing and retirement homes.
“The elderly just appreciate young people so much,” he said, “and it can grow so much from here, which is just so cool to think about.”
Zimmerman said he hopes to be able to teach other students how to adapt Bible studies for the elderly, and he hopes many will take up the challenge of offering Bible studies in nursing and retirement homes.
“It’s been a great experience,” Zimmerman said, “and a huge learning experience for me. I’ve learned just about as much from them as I hope they’ve learned from me.”
Although he plans on training other students to lead this type of Bible study, Zimmerman said he’s not going to leave his own group anywhere in the near future.
“They are such a blessing in my life,” he said. “It’s crazy, and we can really see that it’s what God is calling us to do. I love doing it!”