Missionaries Never Retire?!

By Judi Chow

I know people who retired in their forties or fifties when they were financially secure. That means they don’t have to work for money anymore and finally get to enjoy life. I know pastors who retired in their sixties from church and travel to different mission fields to help out. When I ask missionaries about retirement, they usually give me a blank look meaning they have not thought about it. When I proceed to ask:

Where would you like to retire?
Don’t know!
Are you financially prepared for retirement?
Huh, what…not sure… Jehovah Jirih- the Lord will provide.
What do you want to do if you retire?
Continue to serve the Lord for as long as possible!

Faithful to the end, that’s what missionaries are called to – a lifetime of service by faith. That’s why some people say missionaries never retire, therefore they don’t need to think about it or plan for it. Maybe another reason we don’t talk about it is because we are focusing on recruiting missionaries, younger missionaries for that matter so they have more years to serve. In the last several years, the average age of missionaries sent out from Hong Kong is around 47. If a missions agency requires their missionaries to retire at the age of 65, that means they only have 18 years of field service. Whereas if missionaries don’t retire and if they live to 80 years old, that could add another 15 years to a total of 33 years of missionary service! From the economic point of view, isn’t it better for the Kingdom of God if missionaries do not retire?

That’s all very ideal for those who are able and capable; how about that single missionary who was forced to retire early due to a physical and/or emotional hardship? What about that missionary who was killed accidentally on the field leaving his wife (also a missionary) and young children behind? I have seen missionaries in these conditions suffer from lack of financial and relational support when they return “home.” On the other hand, there are senders who stood by their missionaries in sickness and in health, in effectiveness and in incapability. Eventually, the practical question will be raised – How long or how much should a sending church and/or missions agency continue to provide for these missionaries who are no longer actively serving on the field? Are they still considered missionaries?

I have raised more questions than provided answers on the issue of missionary non-retirement. As a missionary, maybe I should begin to think about what to do if I reach a point where I am not able to function as a missionary no matter how old I am. Do I expect my family members, friends, sending church, and missions agency to take care of me? Should I add this burden onto them? No, I don’t… but traditional Chinese’s belief is for children to take care of their parents when they get old. Some missionaries might unconsciously transfer this concept into expecting their senders and supporters to take care to them in their golden years. If things don’t turn out the way they expect, feelings might get hurt and relationships broken.

As missionaries, how do we walk by faith and be responsible at the same time and not fall into a fatalistic mentality of folding our hands and leaving it all up to God since He is in control of all things in all time? Our Lord created us to have freewill and desires us to partner with Him, from God creating the animals and Adam naming each one of them to missionaries sharing the Gospel and the Holy Spirit moving each heart to accept the Gift of eternal life. Let us be responsible partners, taking the time to ask our Lord how we should partner with Him in retiring or not retiring.

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