EDUCATION | JAN. 6, 2017
Thousands of students lead Bible studies every day on their college campuses to connect, make friends and grow in faith. However, 21-year-old Eric Zimmerman decided to take his Bible study in a different direction. In August 2015, the college junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) began leading a Bible study for the elderly at The Legacy Retirement Community in Lincoln. The adventure began while he worked for dining services at the retirement home.
As he filled coffee cups in the dining hall last year, Zimmerman overheard a table of ladies say, “What about Eric?” They then proceeded to explain their need for a new Bible study leader because their current leader stepped down due to poor health.Thousands of students lead Bible studies every day on their college campuses to connect, make friends and grow in faith. However, 21-year-old Eric Zimmerman decided to take his Bible study in a different direction. In August 2015, the college junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) began leading a Bible study for the elderly at The Legacy Retirement Community in Lincoln. The adventure began while he worked for dining services at the retirement home.
“It was one of those moments where I agreed to it so fast that I didn’t think about it too much,” Zimmerman said. “It involved a lot of trust in God.”
Zimmerman worked for the retirement home for four years before becoming an assistant youth minister for a local parish. He volunteers his time as a Bible study leader for 15 elderly people every Wednesday morning. The group begins with a prayer and then discussion of each person’s highs and lows for the week. They then continue with a Scripture discussion. The Bible study is nondenominational because participants come from various faith backgrounds. However, Zimmerman plans his topics around the Catholic liturgical calendar. He also uses the Focus (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) “Equip” app as a guide for the Bible study.
As Zimmerman explained, “It was a little bit of a challenge because many Bible study tools are for college students and young adults. There is not a lot out there for our retirement homes.”
Despite the challenges, Zimmerman said that this experience has been extremely rewarding. He often learns more about his faith because his participants regularly ask questions about Catholicism. He attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, but says he “works out his apologetics” during these meetings. “This Bible study really challenges me to think about my faith through someone else’s eyes,” he said. “Overall, it has been incredible.”
Zimmerman said the arrangement has an added blessing: He can spend more time with his grandmother, who lives in the same retirement home and takes part in the Bible study. He also develops friendships with other Bible study participants. In November 2015, he invited his Bible study members to attend the community night at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, which is the Newman Center for the University of Nebraska. Several elderly ladies “had a ball” attending the 10pm Mass, he recalled.
“They were blown away by the number of people we had at Mass,” Zimmerman said. “They talked about it for weeks. It was a great way for me to be able to show them a little bit about my faith.”
Resident and Bible study participant Doris Brown explained how much she enjoys Zimmerman’s study. She said that “getting a young person’s view of Scripture is refreshing.”
“Eric brings a closeness of individuals and an understanding of other people’s concerns. He helps us understand that there are other beliefs in the facility,” Brown said. “He does an excellent job.”
Zimmerman’s friends and family have been extremely supportive and moved by his efforts to reach the elderly community.
Friend and former co-worker Dianne Adkisson is the office manager at The Legacy. She said that Zimmerman “can bring a light to a room,” and “whenever he’s involved in something, it’s fun.” She said that this Bible study allows residents to “share something in common, which is Christ.”
“It gives them a chance to get together and have a little bit of fun, but also to discuss what speaks to their hearts,” Adkisson said. “I think they trust Eric. He has one of those spirits that they can connect with very easily.”
Luke Miller, a Focus missionary at UNL, met Zimmerman in 2015. He is proud that Zimmerman saw and acted on the need for outreach and discipleship in a retirement home. “Eric’s heart for mission is most inspiring. He is a man rooted in prayer,” Miller explained. “Because of his prayer and closeness to Christ, he saw the opportunity to bring Christ to the people placed in front of him.”
Zimmerman’s mother, Sonya, explained that she and her husband are very proud of their son.
“This Bible study was a need that hadn’t really been met,” she said. “We are so struck by how his faith is real in the everyday part of his life. It is just in him.”
Zimmerman said he would eventually like to do some type of mission work outside of Lincoln, but does not have plans to end this Bible study anytime soon. He explained that the group’s “level of gratitude” is the most rewarding aspect of this endeavor.
They thank him for “taking time out of his busy day,” but he said that while that is true, he wants to be there.
“The elderly can be pushed to the outskirts of society and forgotten about. There is still such a need for Bible studies within these communities,” he said. “These people, who have so much life experience, can teach me just as much as I can hopefully teach them. They inspire me each and every day.”