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Boomers: A new force in missions

For Gary Gardner, “retirement” involves regular trips to the mill to pick up 25 pounds of tortillas — daily rations for the children he and his wife, Nancy, serve in Cozumel. Half a dozen kids bounce excitedly in the back of his truck.
It’s a far cry from the way most Americans spend their time on this sun-swept island, soaking up the rays or splashing in the sea off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
The Gardners could be right there with them. Gary, 55, was vice president of finance and administration for a large chemical company. Nancy was a middle school teacher.
But instead of heading for the beaches, the couple joined the ranks of baby boomers in mission work. They became adopted grandparents to 21 orphaned, abandoned and neglected children in the Ciudad de Angeles (City of Angels) ministry.
“My generation has received many, many blessings,” Gary Gardner said. Born in the post-World War II years, some of the boomers became hippies or “flower children” during the 1960s and 70s. “That attitude of concern, service and the simple life has stayed with us,” he said.
Baby boomers David and Linda Gregersen have lived the simple live in Kalomo, Zambia, since June 2005. They teach at George Benson Christian College and work in evangelism at Namwianga Mission.
When they told friends that they were leaving their teaching and ministry jobs in Austin, Texas, to move to southern Africa, they got two distinct reactions.
“People thought we were crazy or they thought we were saints,” Linda Gregersen said. “We are neither. We just made ourselves open to God’s call, and he has blessed us with the health and resources to serve him in the mission field.”
The United States is home to an estimated 76 million boomers — born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s. Thanks to advances in medicine, they’ll live longer than previous generations. Thanks to advances in transportation, they can go farther.
“Boomers have a lot of energy,” said Stuart Jones, who coordinates Senior Adventures in Ministry, or Senior AIM, at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas.
Many boomers have achieved financial success and are “trying to find significance in their lives,” Jones said. The Senior AIM program trains retirees to work in ministry — at their home congregation or around the world.
“We try to broaden their horizons,” Jones said.
Boomers also see themselves as a hands-on generation. They want to do something meaningful — not just write checks.
Cliff and Beth Fullerton do both. Members of the Richardson East church in Texas, the Fullertons help fund-raising efforts for Predisan, a medical and evangelical ministry in Honduras.
Cliff Fullerton, a family physician, also makes regular trips to the Central American country with medical mission teams.
“We believe strongly in the mission of Predisan,” Beth Fullerton said. “The staff has consistently impressed us … and encourages us to serve the people of Dallas.”
For the Gregersens, a medical mission trip to Zambia in 1999 with their two teenage children sparked an interest in full-time work.
Not long after the trip, Linda Gregersen, who taught for 15 years at Brentwood Christian School in Austin, heard a speaker discuss Deuteronomy 32:11. “The verse describes the way a mother eagle stirs up her nest to make it uncomfortable so that the eaglets will want to leave the nest and learn to fly,” she said.
It would have been easy to see the young eagles as her children, both college-age and leaving home. Instead, Linda herself felt a nudge to leave the nest.
“Our hardest times have been when our children were facing crises back home and we weren’t around to help them,” Linda Gregersen said. “But God has been faithful to put other Christian ‘parents’ in their lives to help them when we can’t, and for that we are thankful.”
Royce and Holly Gambill took early retirement from their jobs in education to serve as missionaries in Warsaw, Poland. After five years of helping the church in this Central European capital, the couple faces a second retirement. They’ll return to their native Oklahoma in 2008 as a new team of missionaries arrives in Warsaw.
At ages 57 and 56, they don’t intend to stop working. They may get jobs in education again, said Royce Gambill, who was an elementary school assistant principal before he left for Poland. But they intend to keep spreading the gospel wherever they are.
Returning to their family and friends will be a joyous-yet-difficult transition for the couple, whose lives were transformed by their missions experience.
“We know we will never be the same,” Holly Gambill said. “You can’t go home again, but I hope we can pick up some semblance of where we left off.”
For many boomers, the concept of retirement itself is somewhat relative.
“I plan on retiring full time in 2016,” said Steve Shaner, a member of the Naperville, Ill., church. And retirement itself may be a full-time job. Shaner, who owns and operates a marketing consulting firm, plans to use his free time to become more involved with Habitat for Humanity in nearby Chicago and to continue his short-term mission trips to Belize.
Shaner’s firm helps nonprofit organizations and Christian ministries. “Perhaps I won’t be doing much different when I retire,” he said.
The Gambills plan to stay involved in missions to Poland. When asked if they ever saw themselves buying a recreational vehicle and heading for Branson, Mo., Holly Gambill quickly shook her head.
“We feel honored to be able to share, in some small measure, the work in Poland,” she said. “It will always be a part of our lives.”
Unlike the Gambills, Jerry and Connie Tallman did indeed join the ranks of retirees in recreational vehicles.
The Tallmans’ is a beauty — a 39-foot diesel Presidio motor home. But don’t expect them in Branson — unless they’re conducting a Bible seminar there.
Jerry Tallman served for 25 years as minister for the Rochester church in Michigan. After writing a book and producing a film series on how to conduct Bible studies with the unchurched, he found himself overwhelmed with requests for the material. From there it was “just another step of faith” to sell the house and hit the road, the minister said.
In a year, the Tallmans have conducted 22 evangelism seminars from Tennessee to Alaska. Along the way, they’ve stopped to take in the scenery. An accomplished painter, Jerry Tallman commits the landscapes to canvas and sells them to put gas in the tank. Churches schedule workshops through the couple’s Web site, hiseternalplan.com.
“I’m not really counting it as retirement,” the minister said on a cell phone call from Destin, Fla. Churches across the country need to rekindle their evangelistic spirit, and he and his wife feel compelled to help because “you only have so many breaths.”

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