September 2009 – Dan Blevins was shocked to learn that his degree in chemistry and his experience as a paper chemist could be used on the mission field.
He was at a Finishers Project (FP) seminar when the facilitator said, “I’m going to go around the room and have you tell me what you do or want to do, and I will suggest to you a ministry that would fit your situation.” Teacher? Electrician? Nurse? The leader cited various ministries appropriate for each.
“And what do you do, sir?” he asked Blevins.
“I’m a paper chemist.” The facilitator’s jaw dropped.
“Well, you stumped me with that one,” he admitted.
Then from the back of the room a voice said, “I just visited a ministry that needs a paper chemist.” (Read Dan Blevins’ story in next month’s AFA Journal.)
Boomers bust out
Blevins belongs to the baby boomer generation, a group who will soon be busting out the seams of society according to Don Parrott, FP president and CEO. FP is a ministry that matches Christian boomers with an appropriate ministry or mission for their senior season of life.
“A tsunami is coming,” Parrott said. “We think it’s hit big now, but we’re just seeing the early trickles of this thing. Right now, there are about 78 million boomers in the U.S.,” Parrott said. “About 12 million of those are Christ followers.”
FP hired a research company to analyze this burgeoning boomer wave and found that 54% of the 12 million indicated that, if they could see a clear and compelling vision of how they might invest their lives, they would leave their present jobs and take on something significant for the kingdom of God.
Recent economic circumstances may have diminished the numbers to a degree, but many baby boomers are still determined to avoid the unbiblical practice of “retirement” so prevalent in Western culture. They want to make a difference.
FP founder and chief innovation officer Nelson Malwitz, born in 1946, said boomer psycho-demographics begin in 1943 or ’44, and Christian or not, they are still looking to change the world. Malwitz grew up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, a denomination with a strong mission emphasis, and it was a focus that took root in his heart.
In his late 40s, Malwitz was going through what sociologists call middlescense – at the top of his career in chemical engineering, kids grown and gone from home, and wondering, “Okay, what’s next?”
In the mid-1990s, longing for a career in missions, Malwitz discovered barriers he believed should not exist – age restrictions, no agencies to connect boomers to ministry, lack of information. So he set about removing those barriers, subsequently founding FP in 1998 as an outreach of Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel, Connecticut.
In its first decade, FP expanded to become a major portal for boomers to enter missions. In 2006, Malwitz handed over the reins to Parrott, a seasoned executive with other mission groups. FP earned status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity the same year and began providing the service that Malwitz had found missing for boomers a decade earlier.
Pharmacy and faith
Anne Laine is another boomer who has found FP to be a Godsend in connecting her to meaningful missions. Over a period of several years, the Mesa, Arizona, pharmacist has been on two short-term mission trips to Mexico and two to Kenya, all of them with medical teams utilizing her professional background.
“It was after my second trip to Kenya in 2004 that I felt the Lord was sending me to Phoenix Seminary to prepare for full-time service on the mission field,” Laine said.
She began looking for a mission sending agency, and a friend suggested she check with FP. She soon learned about the “matching” feature FP offers and was eager to try out their system.
“You know Match.com or Eharmony.com,” Parrott said. “Well, we were doing that before they were.” FP lets a person complete a personal profile online, and then a match engine connects that profile with ministries that could use the person’s skills.
“I just filled out the survey/information sheet and submitted it,” Laine said. “By the next day, I had a list of several agencies that I matched with. I was then able to go through and look at them specifically. It was a great help to narrow the options.”
Laine applied to WorldVenture (WV) and was appointed in October 2008. She is in the final phase of determining where her future in missions will lead. She returned in June from a three-week vision trip to Uganda. Mission sending agencies such as WV often assist potential missionaries with such trips to help the candidate find focus and/or discover the Lord’s direction.
“It appears that the Lord may be leading me in a different direction [than pharmacy] for my long-term service,” she said. “Discipleship is my heart, and it seems to be how the Lord is leading, but my specific ministry has still not completely been revealed.”
A member of Red Mountain Community Church, an Evangelical Free Church in Mesa, Laine said her walk with Christ has changed a great deal since her first mission trip to Kenya in 2002. “In this process, I have found myself wanting to surrender more to Him, and wanting to be obedient to His will for my life.”
Creative access options
“My wife and I read a poster at our church about a Finishers conference in 1998,” said another missionary* from the U.S. “We attended the conference and became very excited about the organization’s mission.” They eventually pursued missions through their church, and have now been serving in Southeast Asia for two-and-a-half years.
“The role that FP played was to encourage us that missions could be a second career for those over 50,” he said.
Both of them wear several hats, one being that of student. Their church requires that they study the language of their host country for at least two years. He also serves as a city team leader coordinating the work of other missionaries. Finally, he manages a business enterprise that provides work visas for his co-workers in the city. “My wife is still a language student as I am,” he said. “Second, she is an employee of the business, and third, she teaches medical English at a local hospital.”
He hosts a business English session each week, and they lead a Bible study for leaders of a local house church.
How has this season of serving impacted his walk with Christ?
“Oh, I could write a book here,” he declares. “First of all, God clearly spoke to my heart that I am no longer a citizen of the U.S., nor am I a citizen of this country, but I will always be a citizen of Heaven.” He said they will always be foreigners in their adopted home. And when they come “home” to the U.S. to visit, they really don’t feel as if they fit in anymore.
“Now,” he said, “it’s very hard at times to relate to people who are owned by so many things in the U.S.”
He confessed to occasional bouts of frustration. For example, he’s certain that a language is best learned when one is under 30, so it’s a big challenge for him.
Yet, he finds God always faithful. One recent morning, he rode his bike through crowded, early-morning streets. People were everywhere going to work, to school or shopping. He was missing his sons back in the U.S., but God turned his heart back to Himself.
“As I was riding,” he said, “God reminded me that He loves these people very much. That is why we serve here.”
This couple in Asia, Dan Blevins in the Philippines, Anne Laine perhaps in Uganda – they are typical pictures of Godly men and women who desire to serve Christ for all of their lives. Their common thread is in Finishers Project, where they found information, encouragement, challenge and a portal to viable ministry.
Paraphrasing Acts 20:24, Malwitz said, “I count my life as no value, if only I can finish the task the Lord has assigned me.”
He is eager to challenge his generation and those that follow to make a difference and finish strong regardless of age.
In the last 10 years, Malwitz has been on every continent, working with tribes in the Amazon, church leaders in Australia, mission executives in Latin America, secularists in Asia and villagers in Africa.
He loves the memory of traveling to a village in Rwanda with a local pastor. Villagers were collecting water from a three-inch pipe coming down a hill. The outlet was just inches above a pool of muddy water, so their containers routinely scooped up muddy water with the clean.
The engineer in Malwitz thought, “Hmmm, I can fix this easy enough.” Then he discovered there are no Home Depots in Rwanda. Still, he persisted until he found the supplies necessary to attach a pipe stand onto a pipe into the water source and raise the outlet high enough to deliver clean water.
“It was a hundred-dollar project that changed a village,” Malwitz said. And it made the local pastor a hero.
Malwitz noted that his generation is the healthiest, best educated and most mobile generation ever to walk the planet. They are well equipped to do what the Lord asked: that His followers disciple the nations. It is easy to make a difference, but to be His witnesses, we must show up to qualify.
“You and the Holy Spirit are a majority,” Malwitz said. “You can still make a difference.”
*Names and details are withheld to protect the couple and their work.
Finishers Project has adopted the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. Core values include: to glorify God, to engage in fervent prayer and to operate in a Biblical manner in order to be above reproach. More than 80 mission sending agencies use Finishers to find missionaries.
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