“When I began my ministry as a youth pastor in 1976, I had no idea that God would burden my heart with the plight of lonely people in senior care facilities,” said Reverend Jerry David.
Thirty years later, he felt so strongly about filling those needs that he founded Gentle Shepherd Ministries. Working as a missionary through the American Missionary Fellowship (now called InFaith), David has spent the last 15 years ministering to people who are often forgotten by society.
“Some of the loneliest and most forgotten people are residents in senior care facilities and inmates in jails,” David said. “Even before COVID-19, about 70 percent of residents in nursing homes received no regular visitors.”
Some of the loneliest and most forgotten people are residents in senior care facilities and inmates in jails. Even before COVID-19, about 70 percent of residents in nursing homes received no regular visitors.Jerry David
Now, David and his 50 volunteers visit more than 60 senior living facilities in many southern Minnesota counties, as well as other areas of the state, and several jails as well. Their ministry also helps inmates re-acclimate to life after serving their sentences. While COVID-19 has affected how David and his volunteers can interact with those they serve, they’re still as committed to the service as ever.
A heart for seniors
Although David grew up attending a Baptist church in Evansville, Ind., he chose to go west for his pastoral education. At Denver Baptist Bible College in Colorado, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Practical Theology. Then, from 1976 to 1980, he fulfilled his passion for reaching youth for the Lord by serving a church in Arvada, Colo. He came to Minnesota after accepting a call from the First Baptist Church in Anoka, where he also served as a youth pastor.
After ministering to youth for seven years, David began to consider a different church position, one that served a congregation of people of diverse ages.
“I was sensing that God wanted me to be a lead pastor or a senior pastor,” he said. “I heard about a position at the First Baptist Church in Lake Crystal, applied and got the call. I was only 30 years old, but I loved visiting the seniors in the church. But eventually there came a time when I just became burned out. I felt the time was right to make a change.”
Just ministering to the seniors, God broke my heart for them, especially those who don’t know the Lord. I saw that the need was so great, and I felt that God wanted me to go to multiple places to minister to seniors.Jerry David
So, he left his position in Lake Crystal. The change involved having four part-time jobs, two of which were not related to his calling: working in car sales and delivering flowers for a floral center. He also became a chaplain at what was then the Mankato Lutheran Home (now Ecumen Pathstone Living) and an associate chaplain at Immanuel-St. Joseph Hospital (now a Mayo facility) in Mankato, both of which provided life-changing experiences.
“Just ministering to the seniors, God broke my heart for them, especially those who don’t know the Lord,” he explained. “I wanted to get the message to them and to provide guidance to believers. God was leading me into this ministry. I saw that the need was so great, and I felt that God wanted me to go to multiple places to minister to seniors.”
Starting a new ministry
Having served a church in Lake Crystal for 20 years, David was acquainted with other pastors, some of whom were interested in becoming volunteers with Gentle Shepherd Ministries, others in encouraging their church members to become involved.
“I knew I had to reach out to [seniors], but there was no way I could do that alone,” David said. “So, I began recruiting volunteers from area churches.”
He made a list of nearly 300 names and sent letters asking for support. The initial result wasn’t quite what he had hopefully anticipated.
“From that first letter, I got only one response, but it was a generous response of $100 on a monthly basis,” he recalled. “I continued a mail campaign, as well as making personal contact with churches and individuals. It took about a year to raise enough support. Some people became supporters because they knew me, and some because they had a burden for the residents of senior care facilities.”
GSM’s mission is to partner with churches to provide effective services in senior care facilities, supplementing established programs—to reach out with God’s love, to share Biblical truths of hope and to demonstrate compassion and care for people in need.Jerry David
David contacted senior care facilities and independent living facilities with his ministry offer. He received permission to hold a church service at an independent living facility and contacted other facilities as well, offering a church service, a Bible study and personal visits to the residents. As outreach succeeded, he began to seek volunteers to help fill the ministry opportunities.
“GSM’s mission is to partner with churches to provide effective services in senior care facilities, supplementing established programs—to reach out with God’s love, to share Biblical truths of hope and to demonstrate compassion and care for people in need,” he said. “We will work alongside any evangelical church or other organization that desires training to share the gospel, disciple believers and show the love of Jesus while comforting and encouraging people.”
More people to serve
After David received a phone call from a nurse who took care of inmates at the Watonwan County Jail, he saw another need.
“The nurse told me that there was a despondent inmate at the jail,” David recalled. “I visited him for two months, and then he was transferred to another facility. I thought that was the end of that, but I got a call from another inmate, and that was the start of the jail ministry in 2008.”
David recruited a semi-retired pastor, Steve Hultengren, as the first jail ministry volunteer. Hultengren also came up with the ministry’s name, Broken Chains Fellowship. Broken Chains operates under GSM’s non-profit umbrella.
Someone reached out to me when I was a troubled teenager, and now I’m reaching out. I must have connected with more than 100 inmates over the years… I continue to correspond with some of them.Steve Hultengren
Several years later, Matt Letourneau became the volunteer associate director of BCF. At a church meeting, David met Letourneau, a minister who works full time as a security counsel (guard) at the state hospital in St. Peter. As BCF’s contact with jail administrators grew, volunteers began meeting with inmates in county jails and helping them find housing and employment after their release. A follow-up discipleship group that had met every Wednesday evening at a fast-food restaurant in Mankato began to meet online after COVID-19 began.
“Someone reached out to me when I was a troubled teenager, and now I’m reaching out,” Hultengren said about why he got involved in the ministry. “I tell them, ‘Heaven will not be filled up with good people; heaven will be filled up with forgiven people who knew they needed a Savior.’ I must have connected with more than 100 inmates over the years, with Bible study and encouragement. I continue to correspond with some of them.”