On average, one “baby boomer” (those both after World War II and before the Vietnam War) retires every seven seconds in the United States, and Wycliffe Associates is tailoring its programs with this in mind.
“Wycliffe Associates, which supports Bible translators in practical ways, is building a new volunteer mobilization center in Orlando [Florida] to recruit, train and mobilize the service contributions of what is expected to be a continued influx of mature, skilled volunteers,” said Martin Huyett, vice president of volunteer services for Wycliffe Associates.
Baby boomers make up a quarter of the total population in the United States.
“In their teens and 20s, they redefined pop culture,” John Hall of Texas Baptist Communications has written. “In their 30s ands 40s, they challenged the traditional role of women. Now in their 50s and 60s, baby boomers are poised to change American culture again.”
Todd Johnson, a research fellow and director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, confirms that boomers are more interested in being active than just giving money. Many are starting NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as orphanages, business centers and health clinics that minister at a local level. “Many retirees’ post-retirement plans are being built around missions,” Johnson said.
Although boomers are sometimes branded as members of a very self-centered and individualistic generation, many are experiencing a deepening desire to give back. They are coming to realize that significance is found in looking beyond oneself, studies show. Christian organizations, such as Wycliffe Associates, believe they have a great opportunity to match mature, highly-honed skills with ministry opportunities.
Although boomers are sometimes branded as members of a very self-centered and individualistic generation, many are experiencing a deepening desire to give back.
“It’s cheaper these days to go overseas. The entire world is more accessible,” said Huyett. “Today’s 60-year-old is mature and needs far less training in living skills than his or her younger counterpart. Traditionally, mission organizations send new missionaries in their 20s and 30s through an orientation process, like a jungle camp, to learn how to survive the harsh living conditions in the field. But a person in his or her 50s and above has triumphed through their productive years and has built-in strategies for success.”
Wycliffe Associates has experienced this phenomenon among its own ranks. One such boomer is Michael Willard, a retired US Army Special Forces engineer, who has taken his skills to the mission field. Willard’s career was spent designing and building airstrips for jets, so his skills are highly valued in places like Papua New Guinea and Africa. Without air transportation, missionaries in small villages would be at risk of greater isolation from food and medical supplies.
Willard was part of a Green Berets special unit that established military airstrips in jungles and other remote places. He used these skills in Papua New Guinea, where the local people rely heavily on small airplanes for transportation. Airstrips need continuous maintenance and care as the jungle intrudes. Recently, dozens of airstrips were too dangerous to land a plane. One particular airstrip had been torn apart by a small volcano. Willard and his teams restored ten airstrips there.
In 2005, more than 1,200 Wycliffe Associates volunteers served in thirty-six countries as part of the worldwide Bible translation team. Wycliffe Associates plans to send more than 1,500 volunteers to forty different counties this year to build and renovate facilities, construct roads and airstrips, teach Vacation Bible Schools, help with language development and office work, oversee projects, use their computer skills and much more.
Time magazine reported that boomers volunteer at a rate of thirty-three percent, contrasted with twenty-four percent for those 65 and older. Last year, 65.4 million people did volunteer work, but seventy-five million volunteers will be needed in 2010, the magazine reported.
As thousands of new volunteer missionaries rise from the ranks of retiring baby boomers, they will challenge the status quo of missions.
The need for volunteers is there, said Huyett. Wycliffe Associates currently has more than two thousand unfilled volunteer positions. Wycliffe Associates responds quickly to inquiries and then matches volunteers with appropriate assignments. Upon completion, the new volunteer mobilization center will be dedicated to coordinate volunteers to support and advance Bible translation.
“The benefit to adults who feel God’s call to ministry in the second half of life is an enriching experience, as they use the skills and knowledge gained in their younger years for eternal purposes,” said Huyett. “Free from the pressures of youth and middle age, the older adult can do exciting, meaningful things never dreamed of before. As hundreds of thousands of new volunteer missionaries rise from the ranks of retiring baby boomers, they will challenge the status quo of missions and how organizations will respond to them.”
(This article was edited from a Wycliffe Associates news release.)