On average one Baby Boomer retires every seven seconds in the United States, and Wycliffe Associates is tailoring its programs with this in mind. Indeed many who will take vacations in this category will spend it doing volunteer work overseas.
Wycliffe Associates has built a new Volunteer Mobilization Center in Orlando, Florida, to recruit, train, and mobilize the service contributions of what is expected to be a continued influx of mature, skilled volunteers.
Boomers make up a quarter of the total population in the United States.
“In their teens and 20s, they redefined pop culture,” John Hall of Texas Baptist Communications has written. “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, confirms that Boomers are more interested in being active than just giving money. Many are starting NGOs, non-governmental organizations such as orphanages, business centers, and health clinics, that minister at a local level. “Many retirees’ post-retirement plans are being built around missions,” stated Dr. Johnson.
Although Boomers are sometimes branded as a very self-centered and individualistic generation, many are experiencing a deepening desire to give back—not only by volunteering domestically, but also by doing volunteer work abroad. They are coming to realize that significance is found in looking beyond oneself, studies show.
Christian organizations such as Wycliffe Associates believe they have a great opportunity to match mature, highly honed skills with ministry opportunities in missions that allow them to do volunteer work overseas.
It is cheaper these days to go overseas. The entire world is more accessible. Today’s 60-year-old is mature and needs far less training in living skills than his or her younger counterpart. 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.
Wycliffe Associates has experienced this phenomenon among its own ranks.
One such boomer is Michael Willard, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces engineer, who is taking his skills to the mission field. Spending his career designing and building airstrips for C-130 and C5 Galaxy Air Force jets, Michael’s skills, abilities, and experience are highly valued in places like Papua New Guinea and Africa. Without air transportation, small villages and the missionaries who work there would be at risk of greater isolation from medical and food supplies.
Michael was part of a special unit in the Green Berets and oversaw the establishment of military airstrips in jungles and other remote places. He used these skills to do volunteer work abroad in Papua New Guinea where the local people rely heavily on small airplanes for transportation, as there is very little in the way of a highway or rail infrastructure. The jungle grows very thick and fast, and as it does, airstrips need continuous maintenance and care. Recently, dozens of airstrips were too dangerous to land a plane and had water damage beyond repair. One particular airstrip had been torn apart by a small volcano. An example of putting his professional skills to the task of missions, Michael and his teams restored 10 airstrips in Papua New Guinea.
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, Time reported.
The need for Boomers to do volunteer work overseas is there and Wycliffe Associates currently has over 1,600 unfulfilled international positions. Wycliffe Associates is responding quickly to inquiries and then matching volunteers with appropriate volunteer work abroad. The organization has built the Volunteer Mobilization Center in Orlando to help coordinate the volunteering.
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. Free from the pressures of youth and middle age, the older adult can do exciting, meaningful things never dreamed of before.
“I think [Boomers] are attracted by seeing some things that other people are doing with their lives that is really counting,” said George Young of Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, as quoted by John Hall. “I think they realize they are not going to be president of that or this other, so they might as well do the best they can right now.”
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. Wycliffe Associates is 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 by equipping them to volunteer abroad.
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