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Centenarian-and-Seven Has Ministry for the Ages

Miriam Jones has a passion for ministering to seniors — even though most are much younger than her.
As she reaches out to warmly clasp the wrinkled, soft, shaking hand of an elderly woman whose time for this world is now very uncertain, Miriam Jones leans forward and peers prayerfully and lovingly into the aged eyes. Her gentle voice speaks the love and compassion of Christ to the ailing woman. There’s no doubting the words are a blessing and comfort, as the simplicity and sincerity of Jones’ words seem to be given by God, soothing and reassuring to the soul.

Miriam Jones has a God-given compassionate gift for ministering to seniors. But what’s remarkable is, many of the seniors she reaches out to now are decades her junior — Jones recently celebrated her 107th birthday.

Born Aug. 28, 1913, Jones has lived through the ebb and flow of some of the most successful and some of the most unsettling times in history. However, it wasn’t until what many might refer to as “late” midlife, that she chose to accept Christ as her Lord and personal Savior. Although she no longer recalls the exact date, she was nearly 50 when she made the decision.

Jones recalls receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit in White Plains, New York, a few years prior to moving to Pinehurst, North Carolina, about 70 miles southwest of Raleigh in 1974. It was there that her Pentecostal beliefs and her passion for ministry to seniors really began.

In 1973, Jones and her husband of 40 years divorced. It was a very difficult and dark time for her, but it was also a time she can point to that God truly made His presence known, met her needs, and clearly directly her life.

“It certainly took the grace of God to bring healing and climb out of that emotional hole,” Eve Vitaglione, Jones’ daughter, observes. “But she made a wonderful and fruitful comeback.”

Around 1976, when Jones was about 63, she started meeting with a few people in her home for prayer and Bible study. Over the next few years, the numbers coming to Jones’ home steadily grew until it became obvious it was no longer just a Bible study.

In 1980, Jones helped found Sandhills Assembly of God in Southern Pines, North Carolina. As with any small church, volunteering for multiple positions was necessary.

“My memory is that she played the flute for church, was involved in finance, teen ministry, search committee, and most especially, senior ministries,” Vitaglione says.

“I started the senior ministry by going around to old folks’ homes and praying with them, comforting them, and finally bringing them to church midweek for lunch and a service,” Jones says. “This evolved into having a regular Thursday service at Carolina House Assisted Living for a full service with piano, sermon, and guest preachers.”

Although some people seem to equate retirement age as license to also retire from volunteering at church, Jones held no such belief. In addition to designing Sandhills AG’s first church building when she was nearly 70, she continued to lead the seniors ministry and be actively involved in volunteering at the church well into her 90s.

Even though as the years progressed, age slowed her some, Jones attended Sandhills AG faithfully and continued to be a part of the seniors ministry until she was 105. At that time, she moved to Raleigh to live at a complex that offers independent living as well as customized care opportunities.

“I am now a remote member of Sandhills,” Jones says. “I watch church on TV on Sundays and Eve and I do a meditation and prayer together during the week.”

“Mom spends a lot of time each day in prayer and Bible reading,” Vitaglione says. “She still has a ministry of intercessory prayer and a way to reach out to elderly people with great kindness. This really is a blessing.”

Frank VanArsdale, who’s 86 himself, is pastor emeritus at Sandhills AG, and has nothing but respect and admiration for Jones.

“There are great heroes in the kingdom of God — Miriam is a fine example, not only with her great artistic skills and generosity, but her faithfulness to this church for over 40 years," VanArsdale states.

On Aug. 28, Jones was treated to a special birthday surprise — a parade! As she sat under the flower- and balloon-filled village portico, honking cars decorated with signs, fire trucks and police vehicles with sirens sounding, family members waving flowers from their vehicles, and friends and fellow residents streamed by to wish her a happy birthday.

“It was amazing,” Vitaglione says. “Trader Joe’s donated masses of flowers and sent lots of staff in decorated trucks and cars for the parade, as did Bayada, her home health team. Even her doctor came! Mom loved every moment.”

Of course, with anyone who lives to be the age of Jones, the question that everyone wants to know is, “What’s your secret?” For Jones, physical and spiritual “exercise” play key roles.

She advises, “Follow the good instruction of your parents, have a strong spiritual life, eat healthy, no smoking or drinking, and exercise every day.” Vitaglione confirms that her mother still follows her own advice.

Even though Jones’ memories are beginning to fade, and like others of advanced years, her body is weakening, she remains committed to being a loving Christ-like influence to her senior friends and neighbors. For even though age now limits what she can physically do, she also understands that age is no limit to what God can speak through her.

To view a photo book, prepared by the staff of Independence Village of Olde Raleigh, that documents the 107 years of Jones’ life while also noting key events of the decades she lived through, click here.

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.