Why not stay on?
Even if you do decide to retire, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to leave the country you’ve been serving in. After a significant amount of time spent in your host country, it may feel more like home than your passport country. You have friends there, you speak the language and understand the culture, and your children grew up there. You are aware that things have moved on in the country you came from, you have few friends there, while the opposite is true of where you’re serving. It feels comfortable, and you have a sense of belonging there. So why not stay on?
Well, if you do decide to stay, you need to be aware that it comes with new challenges:
- Health. All of us are aware that as we age there is an increasing risk of our health deteriorating, and you may not be able to get access to affordable healthcare, or even the type of medication you need. Once you are over 70, you may find it impossible to get an affordable insurance policy. While you may have access to cheap local doctors, you must bear in mind that if disaster strikes – you are badly injured in a car crash or need chemotherapy – you may not be able to afford life-saving treatment if you have no insurance policy.
- Finances. While we all (in theory) trust in God for our finances, in practical terms most of our financial support comes from friends who have walked with us on our journey, unless we’ve been involved in ‘tent-making’ or business as mission. Most of them will be of a similar age to us and as they start to retire, they may have less disposable income to be able to support you. When they die, your income dies with them. Furthermore, if you’ve chosen to ‘retire’, your church may decide to wind down its financial commitment to you and transfer their funding to ‘active’ mission workers. You may get a state pension which can fill the gap for a time, but if you live abroad, it is likely that your pension will not be increased each year in line with inflation. It will not take many years before it doesn’t stretch very far.
- Teamwork. The mission workers you have worked alongside for many years will probably leave and be replaced by younger people you don’t know. While you may have many friends in the church, the agency which you were once part of may start to seem like a stranger to you. You may feel isolated from support you need.
- Visa. You may have a residence permit that is dependent on you working for the agency. Once you have retired, if the agency has a limited number of visas, it may choose to withdraw yours and give it to an ‘active’ mission worker, which will mean you have to leave. Try to get round this well in advance by getting a permanent residence permit.
- Family. You may well have parents and siblings in your passport country who are getting too old to travel. They won’t be able to visit you, and if your finances are getting weaker you may not be able to go and visit them. So plan to say meaningful goodbyes to them.
Nevertheless, you still have a lot to offer. You can continue to work as a volunteer, acting as an interpreter, preaching in churches, mentoring younger mission workers and local Christians, teaching in Bible colleges, and passing on cultural and linguistic help to younger people. Have a look at Christian Vocations’ booklet Goals in Extra Time for some ideas.
A grey head is a crown of glory, it is found in the way of righteousness.