High in the Himalayan mountains, where Nepal edges up against China, a line of sun-worshiping laborers stare into the rising sun and pray desperately for enough sustenance to make it through another day. Just one more day.
All around the world, billions of people perform myriad rituals and offer an untold number of sacrifices before hundreds of millions of deities in desperate attempts to curry favor and win their help. In southern India, one village prepares to sacrifice a little girl to the local goddess. A seven-year-old child’s life in exchange for the hope of a disaster-free year, and, should the goddess be pleased, the village’s continued survival.
In countries from northern Africa to the Middle East and onward, Muslim fanatics volunteer to blow themselves up—as well as anyone unfortunate enough to be close by—in exchange for a promise of immediate admittance into paradise.
Because people everywhere are in a frantic search for hope. Because they are desperate to find meaning in this life and the promise of something positive to come. As Christians, we know that true hope only comes through Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives meaning to this life and the promise of an eternity in the presence of God. But so many in the world have never yet heard the name of Jesus. Or if they have heard, they don’t know He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
There was a time when folks plunked a couple of dollars in the offering plate on Sunday mornings and trusted that enough money would be peeled off to support the career missionaries whose job it was to share to the ends of the earth. But the times, they are a-changing. Missionaries and mission fields are not what they used to be. The world has changed. We have changed, too.
It used to be that the face of missions was that of a man freshly out of Bible school prepared to take his wife and little ones to spend their lives in Africa . . . or India . . . or China . . . or some other place no typical person ever intended to see. That’s no longer the case. Today, missions has a whole new face, and increasingly that face is chiseled with wrinkles and topped by graying hair. A whole new wave of unexpected missionaries is washing across the globe, and they are much different from what many of us traditionally expected. Instead of that young couple, it’s the couple’s parents who are boarding the plane. Or maybe their grandparents.
Welcome to the stage, baby boomers!
I grew up in the church, but I must admit I was never much interested in missions. To me, being sent to faraway countries seemed a punishment God meted out to people who had displeased Him. Either that, or missionaries were far greater saints than I ever hoped to be. I dozed through more slide shows than I can count. But I heard enough to know I did not want to be doing what those people up in the front of the church did—troop through unlovely places trying to convert unwilling locals. I prayed fervently to be spared the fate of being “called to be a missionary.”
My attitude changed after I was asked to edit a book for Partners International. The purpose of the book was to explain the idea of Western ministries that partner with indigenous ministries in order to achieve jointly what neither Western nor indigenous could achieve alone. Ordinary people could actually use their own talents and skills to step alongside our brothers and sisters around the world and work together to grow God’s Kingdom—not to remake ourselves to fit into a premade missionary mold, but to reshape that mold to fit what God made each one of us to be. What a concept!
When I found out about Finishers Project and its focus on the baby boomer generation, I could hardly wait to go to the www.Finishers.org website and plug in my own profile. Within the month, I had an opportunity to actually meet some of Finishers’ one hundred-plus ministry partners.
Today, high in the Himalayan mountains, where Nepal edges up against China, a fifty-two-year-old woman sits with a clutch of women gathered around her as she teaches them to make candles. Later, she will show them how to make soap. Under her tutelage, the village women have started a businesses of their own, the first ever “store” in their area. They walk miles to neighboring villages to barter for such necessities as rice and beans and oil, then they bring it all back and stock their shelves. Now they will add candles and soap to their inventory, two luxuries no one in the area has ever had before. No longer will the villagers need to worry about sustenance for tomorrow.
In southern India, a village prepares its children, but not for the goddess. Child sacrifice was recently abolished. For the first time, the village children are going to school—even the girls. The teachers are Indian, but they were trained by retired American teachers who spent three intensive weeks demonstrating various teaching methods. “For God . . . so loved . . . the world . . . ” a seven-year-old girl reads as her teacher points out the words printed on a chalkboard.
Two retired businessmen have their bags packed, but they couldn’t tell me where they were going because the area in which they will spend the next three months is too sensitive. “Just say North Africa,” one suggested. “That’s close enough.” One man is an accountant and the other has expertise in the area of marketing.
A retired paralegal is on her way to Tanzania, although she had to get out a world map to see just where Tanzania is. “They have such a backlog of social justice cases there,” she said. “I will be there for a month, so I can at least get some things moving through the system.”
Another woman with a simple résumé—she is a mother and grandmother—is on her way to an orphanage in South Africa where she will sit in the sun-dappled courtyard under flowering bougainvilleas and cuddle AIDS babies. She has an entire repertoire of lullabies to sing to them: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” . . . “Amazing Grace” . . . “How Great Thou Art” . . . “Jesus Loves Me” . . .
Men and women in the second half of their lives, living out the love of Jesus in their actions. Through their words, pointing the way to forgiveness. Opening the door to meaning in this life and hope for the next.
Welcome to retirement, twenty-first-century style.
You have just read the introduction of
The Second-Half Adventure: Don’t Just Retire–Use Your Time, Skills & Resources to Change the World
released October 2009
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.