Mary and Mel Elgersma, members of Oostburg Christian Reformed Church in Sheboygan, Wisc., have a unique ministry of care in their community. Since 2009 they have helped to care for canaries and finches in aviaries inside of local nursing homes, keeping the birds healthy and cheering the residents.
“The aviaries help combat loneliness,” the couple says, and watching the birds flit around is an easy conversation starter. “Having an aviary brings the outside in when the weather keeps you indoors and cheers you up when you hear the birds sing.”
Hobby bird keepers since 1981, the Elgersmas met an executive of the Pine Haven Christian Ministry after showing their finches and a canary at a 2008 fair. They were invited to take over an aviary in the local nursing home. Since then, Pine Haven has expanded to different locations and so have the aviaries. There are now eight different aviaries housing 10 birds each, and Mel and Mary take two days each week to provide food, water, fresh vegetables, and bedding. They also monitor the birds’ health, check bird nests, and even trim the birds’ nails.
The Elgersmas have raised parakeets, canaries, and finches and have also been chicken farmers. They say that extending their joy of these animals to others has focused their continuing efforts.
“We have grown to appreciate the senior community and love sharing the birds with them. We often hear from people how much they enjoy watching the birds and hearing them sing. It makes sharing our hobby with them worthwhile.”
In addition to their work in the aviaries two days a week, the couple is deeply involved in Oostburg CRC music ministry, where they play organ and piano duets. Since becoming members in 1996, either of the two have taken roles as Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder, church secretary, choir member, and accompanist.
Yet they say that their work with the birds has remained at the forefront of their commitment to serving others in the name of Christ. “We have to profess what a great God we serve when we appreciate such an intricate creature as an active, colorful bird and wonder at the diversity in such a tiny being.”