How to be Happily Productive in Old Age: 7 Testimonials From Retired Volunteers

“Jack, one of the first problems you need to tackle is the accounting system. It’s a mess.” My supervisor went on to orient me to other issues in my new assignment, CEO of Wycliffe Caribbean, but my mind was stuck on the first problem.

I’m the WordMan, I thought, not the NumberMan. Sending me to fix a finance accounting system would be as helpful as sending a firefighter to aim his spouting hose at a drowning man.

When I arrived in Trinidad, the bookkeeper explained that Caribbean countries use a British style of accounting, but all the Wycliffe accounting is done in a North American manner. No wonder things got confused! I wrote an email to Wycliffe International’s VP of Finance saying I was in way over my head and needed help fast.

“Okay, Jack,” he replied, “We’ll have someone there soon.” He was right. A few weeks later a retired couple arrived from Great Britain. They were experienced accountants familiar with both systems and started work immediately. In a couple of weeks they had solved the problems, revised our procedures, written a manual, and trained our staff in the updated system. Then they left for Barbados to enjoy the beach for a week before returning home – job well done.

Oh, how I appreciated those volunteers! Except for their meals, they cost us nothing since they came at their own expense. They radiated good will and oozed expertise. Like God the Creator, they turned chaos into order. Godly people.

They are not the only ones. Every year, hundreds of retired people volunteer to go overseas to practice their professions and skilled trades to build God’s Kingdom. Wycliffe Associates, Wycliffe’s lay organization, offers numerous opportunities for volunteers to get involved. http://www.wycliffeassociates.org/serviceopps/index.html

Wycliffe and many other mission organizations http://www.ibecventures.com deeply appreciate these types of highly effective volunteers. They come with every type of expertise, from medical doctors to marketing gurus, agriculturists to architects, carpenters to computer specialists, and economists to electricians, all doing what they love to do and doing it well.

I meet many of these people at Wycliffe Associates promotional banquets http://www.wycliffeassociates.org/ministries/banquet_regions.asp where they see videos and hear stories of volunteers advancing the cause of Bible translation around the world. They catch a vision of what they could do and sign up to receive more information. In due time they are “out there” happily doing their thing.

I often talk with happy, fulfilled retired volunteers and ask them questions. What moved you to volunteer? What did you receive from the experience? What advice do you have for other retirees? Here’s what they told me:

  1. In our retirement, we wanted to focus on what is important in our lives, and in the lives of those we love. So we spent lots of quality time with our grandkids but now we also volunteer where we can use our professional skills.
  2. In retirement, I wanted to do more things that I enjoy. Since I enjoyed certain aspects of my career, I look for opportunities to volunteer my services anywhere in the world in those areas.
  3. My wife and I volunteer on the mission fields where we can use our professional skills but also work at our own pace and our own time schedule. We also plan a time of vacation away from work doing something we enjoy.
  4. People in the medical or teaching profession spend their whole career meeting the needs of society. During my career I contributed only peripherally. Now that I’m retired, I focus on volunteering where I can directly meet the needs of individuals, show love to people and build God’s Kingdom.
  5. I have always loved being a businessman. Now I love consulting on site with people who have gone overseas to start a business that meets physical, economic and spiritual needs.
  6. I hope God gives me many years of healthy retirement since I just love helping missionaries use their computers much more effectively.
  7. I’m now 85 years old. I look on the two years my wife and I spent overseas helping Bible translators become more effective as the greatest years of my life.

“The godly will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” Psalm 92:14 (NIV).

Needed: Spinners of Goat Hair

One of my favourite Bible verses is Exodus 35:26, “All the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair.”

Any pastor, church leader or director of a Christian organization will immediately agree that this verse crystallizes a basic Christian theme.

Hundreds of passages in Exodus give detailed instructions on constructing the tabernacle—that great God-tent the Israelites erected in the wilderness well over 3,000 years ago—most of which refer to God-given skill and personal willingness to serve. Those goat hair spinning women were both “willing and had the skill”. That is a key combination. There is nothing quite so useless as a person who is willing but has no skills, unless it is a skilled person who is not willing to work.

It is God who gives people talents, abilities and skills and those who receive them become proficient in them with constant practice. God wants the equipped people to volunteer their expertise to serve in His work.

I have been looking for and working with skilled volunteers for forty-nine years while active in these ministries: Innisfail Baptist Church, Bible translation in Brazil, Wycliffe Canada, Wycliffe Caribbean, Wycliffe Associates, and Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship.

All Christian churches and organizations run on volunteers. Sure, some have a few paid staff to function as leaders and organizers, but the on-the-ground work is done by skilled volunteers who are willing to get to work.

So, how do you get skilled people involved in a project? The same way that Moses did. He described the great God-tent in heaven he had seen in his mountain top vision. He drummed up excitement among the people to be involved in building a model on earth.

The job of leaders is to cast a great vision, to demonstrate the excitement and satisfaction of those who are already involved and to challenge them to work at something so great it is worth the cost of time, effort, danger, and hard work.

Leaders also need to look for people who have the skills and abilities the project or the organization needs. They need to specify, in detail, what kind of skills are needed, what kind of work needs to be done. Exodus is incredibly detailed!

Then from among those who are skilled leaders need to find people who are willing to volunteer. How do you do that? Simple. Ask them.

Surveyors asked volunteers in a Christian organization. “What moved you to volunteer?” Most of them responded, “Because somebody asked me to get involved.” Then they asked some potential volunteers, “Why did you not get involved?” The response, “Because I wasn’t asked.”

It may not be spinning goat hair, but we all have some skills, talents or abilities with which we can serve God. We need to be willing to use them, not to erect a God-tent in the wilderness, but to build the Kingdom of God in the world.

And leaders, you need to seek out skilled people, knock on their door, and ask. You will find, you will have doors opened and you will receive. Jesus said so.

What the Recruiter Didn’t Tell Me.

Wow, this is cheap! I thought as I started to fill my gas tank. Gasoline at rural stations is usually way more expensive than at the discount stations in town, but at $0.70 a litre this was a bargain.

Then, just as I finished filling the tank, I saw the little note taped to the pump. “Sorry, our old pump will not count beyond 99 cents per litre, so the price will be doubled in the store when you come in to pay.” Whoops! At $1.40 per litre ($5.00 a gallon) that was a major unexpected expense.

Seventy-cent gas is not the only thing that looks attractive at first but in the end comes with a nasty surprise. A friend in high school had just enough money to buy a car he desperately wanted. It took all his income to cover the insurance, registration and fuel. Then the transmission went out. Whoops! Unexpected expense.

A young couple bought a house with a monthly mortgage payment that was less than the cost of the rent for their current apartment. They had enough income to cover the taxes, utilities, insurance, and yard and home maintenance. That fall the roof started to leak. Replacing the roof put them into debt for years. Whoops! Unexpected expense.

Missionaries are not exempt from this “Whoops!” scenario. I remember grinding along in low gear, four-wheel drive through sand, mud and thick bush on the last 70 kilometres of trail into the Canela village.

Suddenly a bearing broke and I saw the left rear wheel and axle sticking way out beyond the fender. The truck was loaded with food, supplies, equipment, and work papers. We couldn’t leave it sit unguarded to be plundered by local farmers or cowboys that used the trail to walk or ride to their fields. As I left Jo to guard the truck and walked the six hours back to town, I thought, Hmm, they didn’t tell me about this when they called for volunteers and I raised my hand at that missionary meeting. An unexpected whoops!

Then there were the times I had to treat two of my family for rabies with the dreaded daily injections into belly fat for thirty days. I’m sure no recruiter ever mentioned rabid dog bites. He mentioned tropical diseases, but I didn’t expect twenty years of regular on and off diarrhoea. The tears shed in mutual longing by parents in the village and their children in the boarding school, or their teenagers in college on another continent: Jo and I didn’t expect it to hurt so terribly.

The bumper sticker on our mini-motorhome reads My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter. To Him these costs of serving Him are not unexpected. Our Boss already knew what lay ahead for the Popjes family when Jo and I raised our hands at that missionary meeting. He knew about the coming mechanical problems, the rabid dogs, the loneliness, and the many trips to the outhouse.

To reach the rest of the world with His Good News, He still looks for raised hands, and for hearts that trust Him to take care of the unexpected costs – even $5.00 a gallon gasoline.