My wise husband used to say, “you don’t retire, you just get tired.” The longer we served overseas, the more this proved true, making it easy for us to relate to Paul’s words to the younger Timothy:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
There are several issues in life that can lead us to recognize it is time to go home. Whether your sending organization or church has stipulations on retirement age or not, no one can deny that the older we get and the longer we serve, the more our bodies tell us it’s time to pass the baton and rest. Knowing this and being able to do it with confidence and grace is another thing.
Though the idea of “retirement” is a new concept in society, every culture has a time when elders step back and pass on the work to another, newer generation. The apostle Paul never retired because he ended up in jail—under house arrest in Rome. Though now restricted from travel, he still ministered, writing letters to the churches and sharing with those closer at hand.
Retiring from cross-cultural service does not mean we stop serving.
Even an aging John, exiled on the island of Patmos, remained sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance, who led him to write the book of Revelations to encourage a struggling and persecuted global Church. Having conversations with your spouse or family is important in preparation for the day when the Spirit leads you to a new level of service back home.
Not only do we age on the field, but our children do as well.
For some of us, the natural season of children entering college or becoming adults in your home country is when the Lord makes clear that you too need to make a change. For some children, the thought of separation can be devastating, and you may need to take a leave of absence or bring your overseas service to an end in order to help them transition to a new environment. Children with learning disabilities need their parents nearby, and your choice to leave the field will help them to move more easily into unknown territory.
Taking time to ensure our children are well-settled and adjusting does not mean God will not use us to encourage the church base or continue in some form of ministry.
Whether our return is for retirement, children’s needs, or our own health issues, we can still grieve the idea of leaving behind a ministry and people group we’ve grown to love. Just because the step to return is clearly from the Lord doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Empowering and blessing those you leave behind will be a great boost to your own ability to leave with grace and peace. Show your confidence in passing the baton to fellow ex-pat or local believers, entrusting to them, as Paul did to so many in his years in ministry, the task of carrying on the good work of the Kingdom.
Don’t be afraid to shed tears over those you leave behind and the work to which you’ve been faithful. Grief is a natural part of every closed door, even the one clearly shut by God. Give yourself time to grieve while looking forward to new doors he’ll open once you’re settled. Rest in him, having run the race by his…
Grace and Peace
For more about knowing when it’s time to go home, read When Doors Close: Changing Course in Missions Without Losing Your Way.