In 46 years of mission ministry, my husband, Art, and I have experienced ministry on the mission field and off the field. Adapting to different cultures. Furloughs. Changing fields. Saying goodbye to our parents and siblings. Saying goodbye to our own daughters. Victories and seeming defeats. Helping people who turned to God and praying for people who turned away from him. But we are now making a change we’ve never made before.
Even though we’ve left the mission field, we’re not retired yet. We still have American churches to visit while we keep our fulltime missionary status, and we plan to continue to minister in our retirement years, but we’re beginning the transition to retirement. Change has begun. Almost everything in our life is changing in some way.
We had been searching for years for a national pastor who could replace us when, just 14 months ago, we found a pastor who was interested in the role. On the last Sunday before we took a short furlough. While in the States, we used Zoom and What’s App for church membership classes with Paul and Therese Gray. By the time we returned in May, Paul and Therese were taking an active part in the ministry of Tay Street Baptist Church. We spent 6 months mentoring them and helping the church work through the process of calling and employing its first paid pastor. 2023 was a whirlwind, but God blessed in amazing ways. At the end of that time, we left the church in the hands of Pastor Paul and Therese. The church had a lovely farewell time for us with the Christmas dinner. Two days later, we used our first one-way ticket from New Zealand and began the stateside part of our journey to retirement.
Having adapted to the culture and lifestyle in Taiwan and New Zealand, we now need to adapt to life in our home country. The America we left in 1980 to go to Taiwan is different from the country we’re returning to 43 years later. We’ve changed as well. What will retirement mean for us?
I’ve heard non-missionaries talk about the changes they go through in retirement. The husband doesn’t know what to do with himself and gets in the way of the wife’s routine. They might move a few hundred miles to be closer to their children. Medicare clicks in and they navigate through it. They might start having more physical ailments. They might fill the time emptied by leaving fulltime employment with volunteer jobs or part time employment. Some find it a time of renewed rest and special new joys. But ministry has been such a big part of our lives for so many years, it’s hard to visualize what retirement will mean for us.
Maybe you’ve already made the move to retirement. Or maybe you’ve watched family members make this transition and learned from what you’ve seen. But consider the changes foreign missionaries make when they return home for retirement. How do you pray for them at a time like that?
We’ve just left New Zealand and its culture and lifestyle are not a lot different from life here in the States. Yet I find change everywhere I turn.
In the last month:
- Art and I have left our home, the house we loved and decorated for 25 years, and left New Zealand to prepare for retirement in the US.
- We’ve said goodbye to all our NZ friends and our church ministry that has been such a huge part of our lives, not knowing if or when we will see them again.
- We’ve traveled 30 hours from an airport in NZ to an airport in Des Moine, Iowa.
- I’ve broken a tooth the morning we began that trip, and seen a brand-new dentist within 12 hours of landing.
- I’ve signed up for a dental plan on day one in the US and we’ve begun to work through medical plans and insurance for a medical system that is completely different than we used in NZ.
- I fried my computer in NZ and got almost everything off the hard drive to put on a “new” computer in the US. (I’m finding out that almost everything and everything makes a big difference in stress levels.)
- We’ve joined our family in the US for Christmas for the second year in a row!
- We’ve found a new home to buy and set the settlement date at January 30.
- We’ve begun to visit new churches to find a new church home.
- I’ve begun to drive a car I’m not used to, on the opposite side of the road than I’m used to, in a place I don’t begin to know my way around.
- We’ve begun to learn about new products and new brands in new stores for all the basic needs we have. (Including gluten free options.)
- We’ve started gathering and buying furniture for a house we’ve only been inside a few times.
We’ve only started making other key moves on our journey from full-time, active missionary service to retirement late in 2024. We’re looking forward to many things on the other side of this journey. I’m looking forward to spending more time writing and engaging in writing-related business. Art’s looking for his own ways to serve. We plan to remain active in ministry. We’re so thankful to live closer to our families and see more of them. But as I stand on the threshold of retirement, I begin to realize the scope of changes we’ll be making.
Change can be good, but change takes extra energy. Emotional energy, mental energy, spiritual energy as well.
In our case, we’re not returning to Colorado or Montana, the states we grew up in. Not even to a state where we’ve had supporting churches (with one small exception early in the 1980’s.) We’re moving here to be close to family. Iowa has many great churches and we’re looking for one to be our home church, but during the months we visit our supporting churches and look for a church of our own on the side, we don’t have our own circle of friends. Already I feel myself becoming self-absorbed from concentrating on all our needs without much thought for the needs of others. This feels different and wouldn’t be healthy if it continued for very long. Isolation isn’t a healthy place for a believer.
God has been so good to us as we’ve travelled down this road of transition. Both in New Zealand and now in America, the Lord has blessed us with friends, family, and virtual strangers who have shown amazing generosity that has helped us to leave one home in NZ and prepare to move into another one in Iowa. But even in ideal circumstances, transitioning to retirement involves huge changes for the missionary. We hold the needs of the field we leave behind close to our heart. We work to fit into life in a country which has changed substantially since we first left it. And we look for meaning and purpose in our new life.
I hope this peek into the life of one retiring missionary couple will help you understand this key part of a missionary’s life. The more you understand, the more you can pray for, befriend, encourage, and support your missionaries who transition and move into retirement status.