The other day I was in a setting where an acquaintance introduced me this way: “Richard was missionary in Kenya for many years, now he is semi-retired.”
I was shocked. Semi-retired? Where did he get that? This person does not support our work and doesn’t read our monthly reports so; in essence, he really doesn’t know what I do. His comments did cause me to pause and wonder what other people think of my role as a non-resident missionary.
RETIREMENT – When I think of retirement a few things come to mind. First would be that I travel overseas to teach cross-cultural church planting in my leisure time, that’s my ministry is a part-time activity. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, what I do is a full time job. Every year I am away from home at least half of the year. And, when I am in the field I am, as they say, full on. My teaching schedule is between four to eight hours each day...two to three weeks in every setting. In many ways my work output is greater than those who reside in the country. Resident missionaries live lives like other people… taking care of their families, having a social life and playing golf. And they should. A non-resident missionary commits to non-stop ministry and catches up with the other aspects of life when he gets home.
Many times when I am serving in another country my accommodations is sparse, sometimes quite challenging (no water, power outages). What a non-resident missionary does is not leisure travel; no five star hotels or fine dining in the best restaurants. Those of us who serve the national church in this capacity do so knowing that it’s not a vacation with a purpose, but it is really hard work.
Semi-retirement conjures up an image of financial independence. I wish it was so, but the reality is that most non-resident missionaries face the same financial challenges that every resident missionary must tackle. Those who support our work invest in a cause…the cause of training and equipping others for the ministry. As for myself, I don’t have another source of income, not even Social Security. I don’t have a part-time job in the states, I am 100% committed to missions, which means I have deferred from finding other means of income to remain in the system of partnerships with churches and individual donors. We believe our ministry is so unique it can best be advanced through financial partnerships. Like every non-profit registered 501(c)3 organization, our board sets the parameters of monies received and how it is dispersed.
ASSUMPTIONS – Part of my friend’s misconception of what I do is based on the assumption that real missionaries live in a foreign country, not in the U.S. I understand that thinking, but it’s a wrong assumption. Missions and missionaries are those who have committed themselves to cross-cultural work. If I was still living in Kenya or some other country I would no doubt be involved in cross-cultural work, but it would be narrowly focused to one region of the world. As it is for me, after thirty-eight years of living in three counties and working in fifty different countries the breadth of my work is far reaching beyond the confines of one region. That is not to negate the need for resident missionaries, far from it, we need more. The point is that it’s not necessarily the physical location of a person that makes them a missionary, but the work they are involved in.
NOT SHORT-TERM - What I do as a non-resident missionary is certainly not the same as the countless thousands of people who go on short-term mission trips each year. I have worked and lived overseas for a good chunk of my adult life, my role is far different from those who take their vacation time to on a mission trip for two weeks. My teaching/discipling in church planting, cross-cultural communication and cultural anthropology is not theory but part of my career in missions.
Conclusion, I’m not a retired missionary. In fact, I am more engaged in worldwide outreach than ever before. There will be a time when I will indeed have to hang up my suitcases, but I’m not there yet. I’d like to be doing this work into my 80’s, but I know that depends on my health (which is still good) and what the Lord has for me in my future. I do what I do because I truly believe that what I do in equipping national missionaries for cross-cultural service is vital. The many churches and friends who partner with LCCTI are very much aware of our vision and purpose. Until then, let it be known, I’m not retired.