By Amy Hanson
Bobbi Baxter always wanted to go on a mission trip, but didn't have the opportunity until she was 80 years old.
While other retired women might be baking cookies or watching television, Bobbi joined the Second Half Ministries team from Northshore Baptist Church (Bothell, WA) on a short-term mission trip to Nicaragua.
She is not the only older adult who has invested time and energy in the lives of the poverty stricken people of that country. In fact, 45 to 50 percent of all the volunteers from Northshore who do short-term mission work in Nicaragua are 50 years of age or older.
Older Adults Serving Overseas
The mission to Nicaragua was started in 2004 when Northshore adopted the small town of Los Cedros.
According to Richard Bergstrom, pastor of Second Half Ministries, "Our church has a strong mission mindset and some of our leaders had a vision to establish long-term relationships in a mission environment. We wanted to make missions real to the entire church, rather than something general."
Northshore serves the Los Cedros community through an elementary school that it built and through the Ebenezer church. The church was already established in Nicaragua, and Northshore has come alongside to assist in its ministry.
More than 400 people have visited the town as part of church teams that are involved in construction projects, medical clinics, feeding programs, Vacation Bible School and economic development.
All of the teams have included people who are 50+ in age, and retirees often return to spend more time ministering in the overseas community.
Jack and Katie Day went on a Second Half mission trip and were so burdened that they returned to Nicaragua on their own. They spent an entire month in the community developing business partnerships.
Currently, individuals have to travel a considerable distance for employment and spend nearly 1/3 of their wages for their travel. So Jack, a retiree from Boeing, felt compelled to use his own business experience to help set up possible employment opportunities in the community.
"Every missions team that comes back from a trip to Nicaragua has a deep concern that the community is able to sustain itself and this requires that people find jobs," says Tom Gillespie, part of the Second Half leadership team.
Specifically, Jack and other businessmen are encouraging a cabinetry company to base their business near Los Cedros.
Leona Bergstrom, also a Second Half Ministries leader says, "The second half people are apt to go back to the community because they have expertise that they can share with the people and the community. They are the ones with business savvy and life experience."
Older Adults Serving in the Local Community
The experience of 50+ age adults at Northshore follows a national trend of both secular organizations and faith-based communities recognizing the invaluable resources in the older adult demographic.
Research has shown that today's retirees have always been involved in volunteer efforts and are continuing this trend into their later years1.
A number of leading churches in older adult ministry are discovering that seniors need to be exposed to ministry opportunities and encouraged to use their time and resources for Kingdom expansion.
These churches create service opportunities by utilizing a variety of methods, including intentionally emphasizing service for older adults, forming intergenerational ministry teams and partnering with other churches to utilize retirees.
Rod Toews, the 77-year-old pastor of PLUS, the 50+ ministry at Peninsula Covenant Church (Redwood City, CA), has a vision for the church's older adults to have a representative in every social club in the seven cities that surround their church in northern California.
Rod himself is a member of the Redwood City Rotary Club. "It is more than just membership, but rather being actively involved," Rod stresses.
Rod recently had the opportunity to do the funeral of one of the women in the club. "Her husband knew that I was a pastor and he asked me to conduct the service," he says. "Since then, he has started regularly attending the church.
"I've been more involved in one-on-one evangelism through this club than I've ever been in my life."
For more stories from churches that are finding innovative ways to expand their older adult ministry, download Amy Hanson's paper Creating New Opportunities for Older Adults to Serve; 50+ Age Adults Reaching Outside the Walls of the Church.
1 Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Amy Hanson is a speaker, teacher, writer and consultant who is passionate about helping older adults discover a life of Christ-centered meaning and purpose. She formerly led the active adult (50+) ministries at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Today, she unites her doctorate in gerontology with her ministry experience to educate and equip leaders, students, health care professionals and older adults on the unique opportunities of an aging America. Find out more about Amy’s ministry at amyhanson.org.