Shaped for Ministry: Bovina Baptist Church mission brings comfort to cancer patients
It began as an effort to help a friend and evolved into a ministry of love.
The Caring Shirts Ministry of Bovina Baptist Church makes shirts with a special purpose: to help people receiving treatments like chemotherapy or medical services better cope with their situation and feel better about themselves.
“We send them to anybody who’s got a medical device above the waist,” said Katherine Oldenburg, who organized the ministry.
“It gives you your dignity back,” Oldenburg’s granddaughter, Dani Oldenburg said. “Just to be able to wear shorts and a shirt; to give you some modesty.”
Dani speaks from experience. She received the ministry’s first shirts after she was diagnosed with lymphoma.
“I was hospitalized for a very long time and hospital gowns are embarrassing,” she said. “My co-workers at Riverhills Bank got together and bought several shirts, and one of the women altered them with buttons down one side so I could take them off.
“I was hooked up to chemotherapy for five days at a time for 24 hours. They would not unhook you unless they were changing bags. The shirts made for me had plastic snaps that allowed me to have MRIs and CAT scans and tests done.”
Her co-workers, Dani said, gave her seven shirts. That inspired Katherine.
“I loved them, the nurses loved them and I think my grandmother felt a little useless with me in the hospital, so this was her way of helping others in the hospital,” Dani said. “It gave her a new purpose and something to do while I was in the hospital. We ended up donating the shirts to the wing at the hospital, and the patients just loved them and it took off from there.”
Katherine, her granddaughter said, got the church involved. Since the ministry began, Katherine said, 2,238 caring shirts in sizes from 9 months to 5X have been sent to people in 47 states, four provinces in Canada, Ireland, Russia, South Africa and Australia.
The mission’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/caringshirts is full of comments and photographs of recipients wearing the shirt thanking the ministry. Katherine said many of the comments are grateful about the shirts “and how somebody has taken the time to help somebody we don’t really know.”
Requests come by telephone, mail or through the ministry’s Facebook page.
When a request comes in, Katherine said, she writes it down in a book with the size, where the shirt is to be opened, and then marks the shirt. What happens next is an assembly line-type process involving several people in the ministry.
The process begins and ends in Katherine’s kitchen, where the shirts are marked before they are sent to other groups of women who handle different phases of modifying the shirts for the recipient before returning the shirts to Katherine’s home, where the snaps are installed.
“We’ve cut them down the side, we’ve cut them down the front, shoulders, we’ll cut both sides, we’ll cut that shirt to access any problem that somebody’s got above the waist,” Katherine said.
“Shirts for women with breast cancer open down the front and have a pocket for their drains,” Dani said. “They’re all slightly different depending on the need.”
The shirts are placed in a white envelope and mailed, and a “Jesus Loves You” sticker is placed on every shirt, Katherine said. Information on the ministry and a copy of the Bible are also included.
“The sticker and the Bible are what we stand for and what we believe in,” she said.
“We work from one week to another week,” she said. “It’s a constant movement through this kitchen.”
She said the shirts are bought locally, with the exception of the 4X and 5X shirts, which are ordered. She added she purchases the shirts and the other items and is reimbursed by the ministry.
“There is never, ever a charge for a caring shirt,” Katherine said. “We are completely funded by love offerings and I’ve never had to ask for money but one time.”
The Rev. Randy Burns, pastor of Bovina Baptist Church, calls the ministry “absolutely fantastic.”
“We practice at our church and we preach that God gives us all a shape for ministry, and one of those things is that God uses our experiences to shape us for ministry,” he said.
“With Dani’s experience and their family going through that, they discovered a need, not just for Dani, but for a lot of other people in that same situation. So, this ministry was birthed from that need they discovered from their own experience, and we’ve seen how God has taken that from there. It’s just absolutely phenomenal and so as their pastor, it has been an incredible joy to see what God has been doing through this.”
“It’s nice to have something to make it a little easier for people going through chemo or who have life-threatening illnesses at different times; to give them a little control,” Dani said. “I’m so glad my grandmother took something that was so ugly to us and made it something wonderful for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people.”