Wycliffe reaches out to pending volunteer 'boom'


OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Empty nesters nearing retirement, Randy and Carol Horton are looking ahead to retirement. But this certified public accountant and his teacher-wife have no intention of spending their free days on the golf course or at the shuffleboard court.

"We have a lot of skills and resources," Carol, a special education teacher in Escondido, said. "We have plenty of money. We don't need someone to sponsor us. We want to be a service to other people, to help other people."

In July, the Oceanside couple, now in their early 50s, will venture to Africa to spend three weeks assisting Wycliffe translators. Randy will provide accounting services, while Carol helps to teach a Vacation Bible School.

The Hortons are not alone in using their retirement years in missions work, according to Wycliffe Associates. In fact, late last year the international missions organization—citing the fact that one "baby boomer," on average, retires every seven seconds in the United States—announced it was tailoring its programs to meet the needs of older volunteers.

Among its plans is the construction of a new Volunteer Mobilization Center in Orlando, which will recruit, train and mobilize the anticipated influx of "mature, skilled volunteers," Martin Huyett, vice president of volunteer services, said in a news release.

The 35,000-square-foot facility will act as a central coordinating hub for thousands of volunteers. Last year alone, 1,500 volunteers assisted in the Bible translation effort through various support roles and the numbers are increasing annually. The cost of the center is estimated at $2.8 million, which is being kept manageable because of labor provide by volunteers.

Cultural shift
Baby boomers, those born between World War II and the Vietnam War, represent about 25 percent of the total population in the United States, representing a major volunteer pool.

"In their teens and 20s, they redefined pop culture," John Hall wrote in the Texas Baptist Communications. "In their 30s ands 40s, they challenged the traditional role of women. Now in their 50s and 60s, baby boomers are poised to change American culture again."

Dr. Todd Johnson, a research fellow and director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, also acknowledges the trend, saying that boomers are more interested in being active than just giving money. Many, he said, are starting non-governmental organizations, called NGO's, such as orphanages, business centers and health clinics that minister at a local level.

"Many retirees' post-retirement plans are being built around missions," Johnson said.

Freedom in service
For Randy Horton, the opportunity to serve short-term at the sunset of his career offers a certain freedom.

"I've always wanted to do the mission thing, but I never liked the idea of going around raising funds," he said.

Now, he said, he can afford to pay his own way, eliminating the uncomfortable fund-raising element. He can also put a toe into the water to see if overseas missions suits him as it did several years ago when his wife spent three weeks home-school consulting in Uganda. Randy's not certain how well he will fare with his chronic allergies.

"I'm not really the strongest candidate for that type of (village) work," he said. "This is an opportunity for me to scope it out and see if I can hack it out in a Third World country like my wife.

Carol describes the missions effort as her "second adulthood."

"The second time you are doing more of what you want to do," the teacher said. "Most of what we've done in the past has benefited our family; we want to benefit other people."

That second adulthood has proven to have its own built-in benefits and should not be viewed as a second-string labor force.

"Today's 60-year-old is mature and needs far less training in living skills than his or her younger counterpart, Huyett said. "Traditionally, mission organizations send new missionaries in their 20s and 30s through an orientation process, like a jungle camp, to learn how to survive the harsh living conditions in the field. But a person in his or her 50s and above has triumphed through their productive years and has built-in strategies for success."

Dramatic need
Even as Wycliffe builds the new volunteer center, the need remains immense. This year, they anticipate sending out 1,500 volunteers to 40 different countries. Still, more than 2,000 volunteer positions remain unfilled.

Volunteers are needed for a host of projections, including to build and renovate facilities, construct roads and airstrips, teach Vacation Bible Schools, help with language development and office work, oversee projects and use their computer skills.

Historically viewed as a self-centered generation, "Time" magazine reported that boomers volunteer at a rate of 33 percent, contrasted with 24 percent for those 65 and older. Last year, 65.4 million people did volunteer work, but 75 million volunteers will be needed in 2010, the magazine reported.

"The benefit to adults who feel God's call to ministry in the second half of life is an enriching experience, as they use the skills and knowledge gained in their younger years for eternal purposes," said Huyett. "Free from the pressures of youth and middle age, the older adult can do exciting, meaningful things never dreamed of before.

"As hundreds of thousands of new volunteer missionaries rise from the ranks of retiring baby boomers, they will challenge the status quo of missions and how organizations will respond to them. (We are) positioned to usher in a new era of evangelism, Christian service and missions by involving thousands of boomers in the acceleration of Bible translation worldwide."

In the meantime, the Hortons are eager to take that first step.

"We are still very active," Carol said. "As long as you are healthy you should do what you can."

ACTION POINT: To find out more about volunteer opportunities with Wycliffe, call 1-800-THE-WORD or visit wycliffeassociates.org.