What happens when a missionary retires?

Celebrate! This is the crossing of a finish line in a marathon race! Make sure they have time to be properly honored and told her story. Give them access to Sunday school classes, small groups, and the youth group. Help them put together presentations that give glory to God and perspective on their ministry over the years. Really very few missionaries who start out for the field so young and energetic get to serve for 25 to 50 years on the field. That level of faithfulness, sacrifice, and steadfast service should become a respected model for everyone in your congregation.

Now, those honored servants will have special needs. The missionary enterprise in North America is at a unique juncture in history. There was a huge wave of missionaries going out to the field in the 10 to 15 years immediately after World War II. Most of those went out with bright ambition and filled with faith to new fields, new horizons bristling with opportunity for the Gospel. Most of those have already retired.

New missionaries, going out in the 1960s and 1970s, stepped out to push those pioneering boundaries even further geographically, technologically, and linguistically. In the footsteps of the earlier generation, mission agencies and their missionaries often thought in terms of “the Lord will take care of you” without planning for financial security in retirement. Thankfully, most mission agencies by the late 1970s to mid-1980s started building serious retirement increments and plans into their missionaries support schedules. There have been agencies (and still are!) which counseled their missionaries to opt out of Social Security. So, missionaries who left the shores of the United States assuming that “the Lord will take care of us”, the church will take care of us, God’s people will take care of us, and made no provision for retirement finances and even opted out of Social Security, those missionaries have nothing.

Hopefully, your candid conversation with your missionaries will include some indication of their financial plans for retirement. Their resources for retirement may include : their family, their inheritance, their capacity for meaningful work or contribution to ministry for remuneration, Social Security, other government programs for insurance or disability, special missionary retirement facilities, arrangements with their mission agency, some level of continuing support. It would be wise for someone in your congregation to sit down with your missionaries early in their planning stages, even 10 to 20 years before their anticipated retirement, to help them think through financial planning for their future.

It’s a good thing to establish regular checkpoints for tracking with your retired missionary no matter where they settle. Find out about their ongoing health concerns, their relationship with their family, and their financial status or needs. If they settle away from your church area, it would be gracious and helpful to make sure that someone from your church stops by to visit them from time to time to check up on them.

 

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