"I've taken a look at the Bible from beginning to end on what it has to say about longevity," said Harvey, 85, whose background includes former president of Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland, dean of students at Hope College in Holland and vice president of William Rainey Harper Community College in Palatine, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and author of Christian books.
"What I found is essentially the Bible confirms what modern research says about successful living for seniors," added Harvey, including Psalm 92:14: "They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green."
Modern-day research includes supports this belief: 70 percent of people who live long lives do so because they have taken intentional steps within their control, and not because of their genetic makeup, according to Harvey.
"In the 20th century, the life expectancy in 1900 was 47 years," said Harvey. "In 2000 it had gone to 77 years. We added a third to life but there is still a mindset that when you retire, you have the right to leisure. All the research is saying that's the wrong thing for seniors to do."
That's where Encore Alliance of Greater Grand Rapids' ELP comes in.
Partner with churches
Harvey said he wants ELP to provide churches with a program they can integrate into their senior adult ministries that will aid older adults in using their gifts and increase their life spans. At this point, Forest Hills Presbyterian Church in Cascade and Grandville Bible Church have linked their ministries to seniors with ELP.
"Part of our niche is with churches where we find some gaps in what they're doing for seniors to help them and their effectiveness," said Harvey.
Think of ELP's program as a "wheel" with five "spokes" — or "pillars" — that comprise its focus. The wheel includes research on successful aging and biblical truth and the spokes or pillars consist of social, mental, spiritual, physical and service, with a coach offering one-on-one teaching.
"We have a survey for each of the pillars that allows seniors to inventory their lives in each of the five pillars," said Harvey. "They are also asked to fill-out an annual living plan to stretch them a bit. Research shows people who stay active with each of these areas live longer and are healthier."
Somewhere down the road, Harvey would like to see a senior village or mall established in the Greater Grand Rapids area where all of its services would focus on senior adults' needs, such as a hair salon and health facility, a movie theater that shows classic films and a comedy club because "research shows people who laugh a lot live longer," said Harvey.
Socializing with other people is vital for older Americans, said Harvey.
"As seniors grow older, they tend to withdraw from society, to the point where their energy and mental faculties are diminished somewhat," said Harvey.
"And now I'd like to pass that on to other seniors," he said.
The time is right
Harvey said there is a deep concern with what's happening to seniors in America.
More than 38 percent are obese, which leads to other diseases including heart disease and diabetes.
They are the fastest group that is engaged in binge drinking alcohol.
And the suicide rates are going up for older Americans, as are sexually transmitted diseases.
"Our society honors youth and we kick seniors to the curb," said Harvey. "We found a niche that we don't believe is being filled and we have a ministry for seniors we believe is not currently covered."
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