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Stories & Blog

An Open Letter to Retired Missionaries

An Open Letter to Retired Missionaries

Dear Retired Missionary,

I’m facing the fact that I’m getting old. Now, I realize that age is relative and some of you look back longingly on when you were my age. But because I joined Crossworld when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, I’m not the youngster I used to be.

I’ve begun to pay attention to some of the tell-tale signs of aging, like straightening out the wrinkles in your socks only to discover you aren’t wearing any.

Being able to laugh about getting old is good, but getting old is difficult. It’s not for sissies. Like the final few kilometers of a marathon, these final years may well be the most challenging part of our entire journey.

I’ve asked several people recently, “What’s the hardest part of getting old?”

Their responses include:

  • watching my spouse decline mentally and physically and feeling helpless to stop it
  • feeling like I no longer have much value or purpose
  • feeling everything I’ve lived for slipping away
  • knowing that my best days are behind me and the future is not pretty
  • being alone
  • becoming a nobody: no one sees me or needs me or cares what I think

Knowing Jesus Christ may change our answer to that question, but it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the challenge. Christ-followers, like everyone else, get dementia. We experience loneliness, loss of independence, and chronic pain. Getting old is hard on believers like us, too.

A lonely old man was once asked by a young person, “What is life’s heaviest burden?” The old man replied, “Having nothing to carry.”

Have you felt that burden? Having nothing to carry except the weight of your own loneliness and your declining health? The burden of having no meaningful purpose, of serving no significant need?

I’ve heard it expressed many times in the statement, “I don’t know why God doesn’t just take me (or my loved one) home.”

You likely reminisce about the days when you were needed — needed as a teacher, a translator, a parent, a spouse, an advisor, a pastor, a grandma, or a Bible study leader. You remember the days when you had meetings to attend, prayer letters to write, sermons to prepare, Bible studies to lead, visits to make, people who counted on you, and disciples who looked up to you.

And today? Not so much.

So what is your purpose now? What is it that makes life worth getting up for in the morning?

I have good news for you. None of that stuff you used to do — the Bible studies, the sermons, the visits, the meetings, the prayer letters, the translation work, the long days that stretched well after sunset — none of that was what recommended you to God in the first place. And none of that should have been your purpose, your identity, or the measure of your value, even then. (Although I suspect for many of us, it was.)

God did not save you and call you into service because he needed help or because he needed someone to get all his work done. He saved you and called you to himself for one purpose: to know him.

He didn’t save you because he needed more workers. He saved you because he wanted more worshippers.

If anyone could have taken pride in what he had done for the Lord, it would have been the apostle Paul.

…If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6, ESV).

Paul once reminded his critics of his resume of suffering for Christ: imprisoned, flogged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, endangered by elements and enemies, sleep deprived, malnourished, and worse (2 Corinthians 11:22-29).

About all that Paul had accomplished both before Christ and after, he said this:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV, emphasis mine)

Dear Missionary, the only purpose of value that you have ever had or ever will have, is the same purpose you have right now — to know God, to love him, to believe in him, and to worship him.

And right now, for a little while longer, you get to do that by faith.

To choose to know, love, trust, and worship God by faith, right now — while you cannot see him and while you are surrounded by the difficulties of old age — is one of the hardest and most valuable sacrifices of love you will ever make.

It will be easy to know, love, trust, and worship him when we see him face to face, when all the pain and sorrow and loneliness of this life are forever erased. But to do it now, by faith, is of priceless worth to him.

That is your purpose. That is why you’re still here. And that is how to respond to the hardest part of getting old.

Dale LoschDale Losch joined Crossworld as a disciple-maker in France in 1988, and has served as Crossworld’s president since 2009. He is the author of A Better Way and Giving Outside the Box. He loves to motivate people to use their God-given passions to make disciples wherever life happens.

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