“I WANT TO BURN OUT, NOT RUST OUT!” my missionary father often said. Tongue-in-cheek, he added, “Retirement means re-tire—get a new set of tires for the journey.” He may have been inspired by David’s perspective in Psalm 71, “Now that I am old and gray, let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me.” David affirmed again in Psalm 92, “Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.” (NLT)
Reaching mature adult years with the prospect of retirement; glowing with promise or gloomy with fears? If work and productivity mean worth and value, does retirement mean loss of purpose and identity? Have dreams of freedom and rose-gold sunsets darkened with the possibility of declining health, loss of income and loved ones?
On the positive side, maturity can alleviate the stress of competition, and the ego drive to excel. More time for reflection gives us courage to evaluate ourselves. We can pan the gold out of the silt and pebbles of our mistakes. With the benefit of bonus years, we can dedicate our efforts to more Kingdom work with eternal value.
Since the beginning of STCH Ministries International, family mission trips included senior adults. They led classes in finances, business, Bible classes for all ages. They contributed their skills in medical clinics. They adapted Americano methods to Dominicano realities for construction. As we began “visioning” with President/CEO, Eron Green, about the possibility of mission trips uniquely focused on senior adults, God directed our steps.
Semi-retired, Larry and Carol Westfall proposed, “We would like to come during January, stay in the mission housing at Koinonia, cook our own meals and volunteer for a month.” They had served with their church, Trinity Baptist in Kerrville, for several summers. Although they spoke no Spanish, language was never a barrier. They painted, did maintenance projects, taught English and communicated love and acceptance with smiles, open arms and patience. One month grew into two, and then three months.
In 2018 we received a phone call from James Dickey, a retired optometrist. Passionate about missions, he read about the international work of STCH Ministries on the website. Jim wanted to inspire seniors to leave a legacy. “God has invested a lifetime of skills and experience into us. Now is not the time to quit and sit.”
In God’s perfect timing, in 2019 we received inquiries from San Antonio First Baptist Church and Shearer Hills Baptist Church. They were interested in a mission trip for their senior adults. Assured of God’s leading in this venture, STCH Ministries hosted two weeks of senior adult teams in the Dominican Republic, in February 2020. Although many were inexperienced in missions outside the USA, they possessed a wealth of experience in their walk with God. They were also equipped with willing hands and open hearts to share God’s love with children and families through a large variety of ministry opportunities.
Pre-trip planning allowed each group to collect supplies for sewing projects; pillowcases, curtains and tote bags for schoolteachers. Together, American and Dominican ladies cut, stitched, pinned, ironed, turned and top-stitched. Since sewing machines function in the same way irrespective of their location, they discovered that sewing is a universal language. One person remarked, “Even though we could not speak the same language, we connected through God’s grace and shared our hearts and hands to honor Him through our work together. They even taught me how to say ‘God bless you’ in Spanish!”
While the ladies sewed, others worked in the shop sawing, sanding and drilling. Russell Jerez and his staff had carefully analyzed the group’s capabilities and prepared construction projects accordingly. Although many participants had tackled projects large and small in the past, there were legitimate questions about this kind of activity. “What kind of construction would senior adults be able to do?” The group reported being pleasantly surprised. The projects of building beds, bookcases and desks were easily within the abilities of both groups.
The volunteers found delivering beds for the staff at the Higuey orphanage, installing curtains in their new home, and providing their first-ever pillows and pillowcases immensely rewarding. The blessings overflowed onto two schools as they installed new bookcases and teacher desks, and gifted the brightly colored tote bags filled with school supplies. Wood, screws, paint and sewing efforts communicated to the teachers, staff and children, “You are valuable, and God loves you.”
STCH Ministries vision states, “We desire to show the love of Christ to every child and family…meeting their needs in creative and innovative ways.” Accordingly, both senior mission trips offered multiple opportunities to bless the children in orphanages, schools and in the Samuel’s Fund sponsorship program. Their activities included: building and decorating bulletin boards, installing ceiling fans and painting railings at a school. They surprised the children with a mid-morning snack of apples and frosted flakes. At the Monte Plata Homes, one group created planters out of brightly painted cement blocks. Later, the children were surprised with ice cream after lunch; a rare treat when every penny is pinched to provide essential food and education. One participant stated, “I enjoyed working at the orphanage. It was great to get our hands dirty and work with the kids planting flowers around the trees.” Another couple shared that their favorite activity was taking a group of children to the Children’s Museum. “Their wonder and excitement were a joy to witness.”
In the afternoon, one of the groups dramatized Bible stories for the VBS class. A narrator told the story of Daniel through a translator. Daniel courageously prayed in spite of the threat of lions. Villainous men costumed in white paper robes grabbed Daniel and took him to the king, royally robed with a gold foil crown. Others with paper-lion masks crouched behind benches and growled fiercely in anticipation of their prey. The children watched fascinated, and later could recount every detail of the story.
Some participated in the Medical clinics. Working with Dr. Francisco, they helped package and hand out medication. With the help of young college-age translators, they enjoyed interacting with those who came. As the Spirit opened hearts, they also shared the Gospel. Many patients, especially the little children, came with misery and fear reflected in downcast expressions. Their medical concerns were heard with love and compassion. After prayer with each one, they received needed medications. Eyes crinkling at the corners, and a wide smile spreading across their dark faces, they responded, “Gracias, Dios te bendiga. God bless you.”
In addition to the diverse ministries that these senior groups accomplished, they enjoyed time for fellowship, building new relationships with Dominican brothers and sisters and strengthening bonds between the team participants. “One of my joys was getting up early and drinking coffee under the mango trees on the patio,” one senior reflected. “The trip to the beach was fun and the sunset was just beautiful,” shared another. “We stayed in the Koinonia house on the premises of the IBQ church and enjoyed hot water and air conditioning. The food was always delicious and no one ever went hungry.”
Throughout the trip God spoke to each heart, impressing them individually.
As a person reaches the later years, we want to be productive and follow God’s calling, but we question our worth and our physical abilities. The senior adult trips proved we still have much to give and gain by sharing God’s love at home, in the DR or anywhere God calls us to go.
Everyone in our group felt great about what we were able to accomplish in the short time we were there. We think that we had an impact for the DR people; but we know they had an impact on our lives.
Senior citizens have lots of experience and knowledge that we want to share for Christ. Our DR mission trip with STCH Ministries enabled us to share from our years of experience.
In the DR, when God puts a project on their hearts, they start doing knowing that God will provide in His perfect timing. I felt that they were willing to put their feet in the water as the priests did, carrying the ark across the flooding Jordan River before God acted. They have a faith that knows when God is guiding, He will provide. I pray that I will take this attitude of the DR people to my heart the rest of my days.
We are partners not sponsors. These people do not wait for STCH Ministries or Americans to pay for things. If God has told them to do something, they get started doing it, then watch to see how God will provide. I am thankful that we were able to go on this trip. It was much better than I had anticipated!
For some, it was their first mission trip. Others have served many times. Yet each one was impacted by the love of Christ given and received. Age has no bearing on that truth.
We had dinner with a local family one night. I was in awe of the work God is doing in this young woman’s life through her school that began in a chicken coop and now, through her faithful journey through cancer. Her testimony is one that touched my heart and inspires all who meet her.
It was amazing to see God fit each of us into something that maybe challenged us, and let us use our God given gifts.
As the trip ended, Priscilla Fisher from San Antonio echoed the feelings of many, reflecting on her mission experience,
“Going on a mission trip with seniors was not unlike going to youth camp when I was 16! You travel together, eat together, talk, laugh, pray, worship, work and follow the schedule, while remaining flexible! As a group of mostly retirees, we were very energetic and accomplished all that we planned to do, with the excellent guidance of the STCH Ministries mission team. Everyone stepped up to the plate when needed, which was easy to do for the loving people of the Dominican Republic. We were treated like royalty by our hosts, within a very comfortable, safe environment. The food was absolutely outstanding! This is a wonderful opportunity to live out Christ’s commission to ‘go ye therefore unto all nations…’”
The apostle Paul, the first missionary, encourages all of us no matter where we are in life’s journey, to stay vital and green when he wrote,
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2Corinthians 4:16.
STCH Ministries International invites many more seniors to consider a missionary journey in 2021. Find more information and dates at www.STCHM.org/INTERNATIONAL.