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The Tea Lady of Leisure World

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To people in her church and in her community, Leona San Severeino is known as the “Tea Lady.”

To the people she visits in their homes, sharing tea and cookies she has made, Severeino is a godsend. Severeino, who is 72, has become a friend to seniors in her community who are often shut-ins and have little outside contact.

“Usually, I stay about an hour,” says Severeino, her Boston accent flavoring her words. “It just depends how they feel.”

About a year and a half ago, Severeino went to her pastor at Leisure World Assembly of God in Seal Beach, California, asking if she could begin a home visiting ministry.

“She said that the Lord had spoken to her about starting a ministry,” Pastor John Heide says. “She loves to serve other people and she loves to cook.”

Leisure World Assembly of God is in a gated community of 9,500 seniors. Severeino wanted to begin a tea ministry to serve people from her church unable to attend services. She cooks Italian cookies and other pastries and brings an assortment of teas. To add to the experience, she brings a full tea service – bone china teacups and saucers, a teapot and a lace tablecloth.

Severeino then loads everything up in her golf cart and heads to a neighbor's home. Everyone drives golf carts in the neighborhood.

“It's like an old-fashioned tea party,” Severeino says.

Some of the people Severeino visits have recently lost a spouse. Severeino can share in their loss. Her husband of 40 years died five years ago. Recently, Severeino brought her tea party to the home of a couple that had been married for 60 years. They were in their 90s and hadn’t been able to come to church at Leisure World. Severeino visited them on their wedding anniversary. The next month, the wife died.

“The husband mentioned that the tea party had been so special,” Severeino says.

Another time a woman Severeino knew from church lost her husband around Christmas. Severeino went to her home with her tea and cookies, hoping to bring her some joy and peace.

“I talked to her about her life with her husband and about their experience with the Lord,” Severeino says. “If they talk about how they feel, if they can remember something good that happened, it's surprising how happy it makes them feel.”

When Severeino’s husband died, she says she went into deep despair. She knows what the Bible’s message and an outstretched hand of friendship can mean during that time. Besides visiting people from Leisure World, she also reaches out to unchurched people in her community.

“After my husband died I took it very bad and I ended up having a bad breakdown and ended up in the hospital,” Severeino says. “Thank God I came out of it.”

Now, Severeino, during her retirement years, wants to be used by God.

“She has a vision for living. Not dying,” Heide says. “That's what we try teach at our church. You can make a difference at any age.”

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