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Baby boomers choosing missions to find ‘second half’ significance

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Look out, baby boomers: You are about to become one of God’s most valuable — and abundant — resources in missions.
The number of Americans over age 50 swelled to 72.4 million in 1998, more than a quarter of the population. By 2001, baby boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964) will be turning 50 at a rate of one every 6.8 seconds — 2.4 seconds faster than in 1996, when the oldest boomers started hitting “the big 5-0.”
By 2030, a staggering 115.5 million people will be over 50, according to the American Association of Retired Persons — about a third of the projected U.S. population by that date.
Today’s crop of aging baby boomers, however, isn’t ready to head for the rocking chairs just yet. Thanks to modern medicine, technology and economic prosperity, they are healthier, will live longer and plan to retire earlier than ever before. And as they always have, boomers as a generation will continue searching for ways to change the world.
So what does this mean for missions?
More and more Southern Baptists are looking at retirement — early or otherwise — not as a perpetual vacation but as a new opportunity to use their time, talents and resources for God.
Is it too late to start over after 50? Fifty-one-year-old Evelyn Malone doesn’t think so.
A Texas native, Malone taught elementary school for 23 years and helped lead church-based outreach cell groups that included Christians and non-Christians. Life seemed set.
While visiting her daughter, who was attending a Christian college in Chicago, Malone met one of her daughter’s favorite missions professors. He said something unexpected to her: “You’re not here just by chance. The Lord has something to do through you.”
“I was so surprised!” Malone recalls. “I just stood there with mouth hanging open.”
Malone learned about missions opportunities through the college and participated in several short-term mission projects. After working with teenagers in Bulgaria and singing praises to God in a Choctaw church in Oklahoma, she began feeling an intense passion to reach the lost around the world. She also began to seek full-time missions opportunities.
Chance? Hardly.
“What I see is the Lord preparing me for stages along the way,” she says. “When my daughter graduated from college, I was without excuse.”
She followed God’s leading to a two-year International Service Corps assignment in Mexico through the International Mission Board and is currently preparing for orientation. Malone will start a new career: teaching English as a Second Language at a college and starting Bible study groups — much like her cell groups back home.
“I feel like the Lord’s planned this from the beginning of the world,” she says. “I’m as excited about this as I was the first day I started teaching school!”
Malone is in good company.
Older Southern Baptists have been serving overseas through the International Service Corps since it was launched in 1990. More than 1,100 ISC missionaries over 50 years of age have been commissioned to serve in assignments ranging from four months to two years. The oldest ISC worker currently overseas is Margaret Burks, 84, in Tanzania.
With the number of Southern Baptist boomers continuing to climb, the International Mission Board recently launched the Masters Program, a new avenue for mission service with assignments of two or three years. Similar to the popular Journeyman program for college graduates under age 30, the Masters Program is designed for people age 50 and above. It offers service opportunities all over the world, such as:
— Church-planter intern in an unreached area.
— Livestock specialist/agronomist in Tanzania.
— Business manager/treasurer assistant in Ecuador.
— Youth worker in Portugal.
— English-as-a-Second-Language teacher in India
An even newer option for all ages is the International Mission Stateside Partners, which allows Southern Baptists to volunteer long-term on the International Mission Board’s home office staff in a variety of management, professional and support positions.
“If you are like many Southern Baptists, you may already be retired or facing that time of release from the daily grind with good health, adequate income and skills and experience that still hold great potential in God’s kingdom,” observes IMB President Jerry Rankin.
Second careers in Christian service or short-term mission projects are a great place to begin your investigation of the possibilities.
Programs like Masters and International Service Corps make productive use of time and offer flexibility, adventure and — most importantly — significance.
“Many people of the baby boomer generation have been very successful and done very well, but now they’re looking for significance,” says Jim Riddell, leader of the IMB missionary mobilization team. “So we want to provide them with an opportunity to have an impact on the world for the cause of Christ. This is an opportunity for them to make a dramatic shift in their lives.”
But there’s a catch.
Unless you prepare now, the odds you will actually follow up your “first half” with significant kingdom work are slim.
Many people hear God’s call but are afraid to step out into unfamiliar territory, writes Bob Buford in “Halftime,” a book about preparing for success in the second phase of life. They decide to wait and finish what they’re doing. But by the time they do, they’re too tired, and it’s too late.
“[Management expert] Peter Drucker tells me that retirees have not proved to be the fertile source of volunteer effort we once thought they would be,” Buford writes. “They cut off their engines and lose their edge. Peter believes that if you do not have a second career or parallel career in service by age 45, and if you are not vigorously involved in it by 55, it will never happen.”
With God’s leading and a little planning, your “second half” could become your most productive.
Otherwise, you may “join the ranks of those who are coasting their way to retirement,” Buford writes. “But if you take responsibility for the way you play out the rest of the game, you will begin to experience the abundant life our Lord intended for you.”
For information about the IMB’s Masters Program, e-mail [email protected] or call toll-free 1-800-789-4693. For information about the International Mission Stateside Partners Program, e-mail [email protected] or call toll-free 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1670. Information also is available on the agency’s Internet website, www.imb.org.

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  • Jenny Rogers