Following on from our last two blogs focussing on transition, today’s blog focusses on retirement, which is also a transition. We already have a blog for mission workers preparing to retire, and in fact we have an entire guide to retiring for them, so today we’re going to focus on how church can understand the nature of retirement for mission workers and effectively support them through this transition.
Every day people retire. It’s such a common event that like many other transitions in life – birth, starting school, graduating, marriage, divorce and being widowed – it is an experience so common to humanity that we often overlook the potentially traumatic nature of this transition. People often need support through the retirement process to help them come to terms with feelings like:
- I’m no longer a productive member of society
- I’ve lost my identity
- Nobody values me
- I’m just waiting for God
- How do I fill the emptiness?
These may equally apply to mission workers, who also have to cope with the challenges of becoming part of a society they may not have lived in for decades, and which can feel very alien to them even though they feel they ought to belong. They may have to cope with living without a sense of vocation, and need to integrate themselves into a church for which overseas mission is an optional extra in their range of ministries instead of the driving passion that the mission worker feels. They may be struggling with guilt over leaving behind a struggling church or a needy people group. All these factors can contribute to spiritual or emotional challenges which can make a retiring mission worker quite dysfunctional.
So what can their supporters do to help?
- Understand that they are not naturally unhelpful; they’re just struggling with a major life transition
- Introduce them to mission workers who have already successfully transitioned into retirement
- Find a way for them to have a significant role in the church, without overburdening them with responsibility until they feel ready for it
- Make sure they have a thorough debrief
- Listen to their stories sympathetically even when you’ve heard them many times over
- Recognise that they’re not really critical of the church; they’re just struggling to adapt to a different way of doing things
- Help them navigate the challenges of benefit/tax/housing bureaucracy
- Pay for them to go on a ‘Finishing Well’ retreat at Penhurst Retreat Centre
- Provide pastoral support/coaching/mentoring/counselling as appropriate
- Encourage them to continue to support mission work through their sending agency
- Be practical about providing assistance with daily living
- Talk them through things that have changed in your country since they last visited
And above all, please try to remember that they are (probably!) not naturally difficult people. They are grieving, hurting people who are struggling to find their feet in a culture they don’t feel at home in, who will need support for several years before they really settle in. It’s rather like the reverse of the process they started when they first went abroad, and the patience and support we gave them when they first went to a foreign country is exactly what they need now.
You can find more recommendations on how churches can support their mission workers effectively in our Guide for Churches.