Midlife Mission

Never think it’s too late for ministry. God can call you to the mission field at anytime—even right in the middle of your life.

A midlife crisis is usually described as a period between ages 35 and 60 when a person goes through a slump or questions the direction of his or her life.

Some people in this stage go on spending sprees or seek out uncharacteristic adventures. Others fret about unmet goals and the emptiness of their lives and relationships. Regardless of whether your midlife comes with a crisis, if you are a believer, this season of life can lead to important decisions regarding life and ministry.

While my family’s journey did not include a midlife crisis, God did lead us to drastically change the trajectory of our ministry focus. After we served for 19 years at a Christian school in Des Moines, God moved us to Lisbon, Portugal. Our journey had begun almost 25 years earlier during the first year of our marriage, when we stood in front of a tiny congregation and made a commitment to “go anywhere and do anything” that God asked. Serving at the Christian school all those years, we knew we were keeping that promise.

Midlife Call

Fast-forward almost 20 years. We definitely qualified as individuals in midlife transition. At ages 43 and 41 we sensed God gently touching our hearts and letting us know that change was coming. His Spirit was nudging us toward something different, a new place to continue keeping the promise we had made in our 20s. As we prayed and sought counsel, we asked ourselves and others if God could be calling us now, in our 40s, to a missionary opportunity across the ocean. Did God desire to use our training and experience as a door to serve him in another place?

What began as simply exploring options turned into a cross-Atlantic move and 18 years (so far) of ministering at Greater Lisbon Christian Academy in Portugal. Our first steps were tentative and frightening as we anticipated leaving our church, friends, parents, adult children, and future grandchildren behind.

A verse that God laid on my heart when our journey to overseas ministry began—before we left American soil and boarded a plane to Europe—was Isaiah 41:13: “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’” (ESV). God assured me that he was not just sending us off alone to a new culture, language, and place of ministry, but promising to hold our hands and go there with us. His presence has sustained and encouraged us time and time again.

No Age Limit

Over our years serving in Portugal, we have had the privilege of recruiting and welcoming many educators who have come to serve alongside us and impact the hearts of students and their families. Recent college graduates, married couples, singles, retired teachers, first-year teachers, and experienced educators: each one contributes to the ministry here, obeying the Great Commission by spreading God’s truth to the students he places in our school. These teachers also get involved in local church ministries and outreach in a country where less than 1 percent of the population proclaim to be born-again believers.

While serving the Lord at an international Christian school, we have seen God use individuals from all generations. He brought us in our 40s and has provided many teachers in their 20s and 30s. Recently God has been sending us retired couples who desire to serve overseas during their retirement years. Retired educators come with a wealth of insight and life experience to offer. Because they often have the financial means to support themselves rather than having to raise financial support, they can get to the field quicker than younger people. Several years ago our school board decided to reduce the amount of support teachers must raise by providing housing for the first year they serve with us. The school also maintains and insures vehicles for short-term teachers to use.

Chuck and Linda Moehring came to our school for the first time in 2012 to provide teacher training. By 2015 they had retired early. They came back to teach for a semester, covering for a couple of teachers who were on furlough. We praise God that the Moehrings have been coming back to serve at our school each year. As they use their gifts and experience to shape lives, they also get to visit nearby castles and cultural sights and have even enjoyed trips to neighboring European countries over school breaks and holidays. Another retired couple joined our school staff just a month ago, and yet another is on their way to serve part-time while being involved in church planting.

We are now 64 and 62 years old. Looking back, we can see that accepting God’s call to us in midlife was the best move we could have made. His grace and provision have never failed us and have enabled us to stay the course. It has not always been easy, but we have no regrets. With confidence in the God who brought us here and is keeping us here, we have labeled this phase of our lives, not a midlife crisis, but a midlife mission opportunity.

Editors Note: This article was published in the Baptist Bulletin (May/June 2020), © Regular Baptist Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Joyce Voelker

Cal and Joyce Voelker have served with ABWE at Greater Lisbon Christian Academy since 2001. They have three married daughters—two in Des Moines and one in London—and enjoy their nine grandchildren whenever they have the opportunity.